Boston is a college town. With this comes a constant turn-over of new artists, new ideas, and new energy. Much of the independent scene in our city is built on this energy, and fed by the yearly supply of graduates looking for their place in the world.
This column is the first of several planned pieces that will look at some of the work from the student population, who are often ‘off the radar’, with an eye towards the future of the scene and the growth of the arts in Boston.
Kristen La Lond
Each year the students of photography at the Art Institute of Boston (one of the schools of Lesley University, located in Kenmore Sq) hang their senior show at the school’s building at 601 Newbury Street. These shows last for a week and, like many student shows, are seen by far fewer people than they should be. Anyone looking for a glimpse at the future of Boston, or for work with a definite sense of immediacy, will find a lot to absorb in these fleeting exhibitions.
This past December, one such show caused my jaw to hit the floor. Not only were the images strong and well-crafted, but the immediacy and power of the work within contemporary discourse is something rarely seen in a senior show.
Kristen La Lond was a sergeant in an engineer battalion sent in the first waves of troops to Iraq. Her images are stark black-and-white, grainy as war photography should be, filled with uniformed troops, desert vistas and the ever-present Humvee. They are mostly from Kuwait, and show (in Kristen’s words) “how the army failed to use us properly. We were there, ready and willing to do a good job, but instead we just sat around looking for anything to do.”
Anyone looking for blood and gore, D-Day heroism or tragedy will be disappointed in La Lond’s images. They are not war photography that we see on the History Channel. Instead, they are the diary of one soldier, sent into harm’s way to rebuild roads and remake Iraq after the invasion. They show soldiers waiting in tents, sleeping in groups on the floor, boarding a commercial airliner dressed in body armor for combat. They show an excitement and a willingness to do their duty, waiting for a day that never came.
La Lond explains that although her battalion was sent to Kuwait to build roads, that task was taken up by an independent contractor. So, these soldiers who were uprooted from their lives were left to sit and wait. La Lond made the photographs as a record, but as the military has been cracking down on soldiers speaking out lately, there was a bit of courage required to hang this work for her senior show. They may not be as condemning as images of murder or abuse, but their quiet patience, and the betrayal of these soldiers sense of duty, make them very strong.
“Images From Kuwait” by Kristen La Lond was a week-long show with a power, an immediacy and a political importance too great to have been seen by so few. It is my sincere hope that Boston can find a venue for this work to reach a larger audience before its power fades, before the immediacy is lost.
All images are courtesy of the artist.
Matthew Nash is the publisher of Big, Red & Shiny.