FURSCA Profile — Research leads student to garages across state

The objective of the Foundation for Undergraduate Research, Scholarship, and Creative Activity (FURSCA) is to support original research, directed studies and creative endeavors for students in all disciplines. By awarding Academic Year Grants, FURSCA aids in covering the costs associated with student research projects. For the 2006-2007 calendar year, FURSCA awarded 31 research grants. Katherine Devoursney, Muskegon senior, sat down with The Pleiad to discuss her FURSCA project.

DeVoursney spent her summer not at the beach, but inside garages. Her summer FURSCA project, The Michigan Garage, took her across the state and into a once ubiquitous space of the American home — the garage.

What was the idea behind the Michigan Garage Project?

I wanted to teach myself how to use really nice digital cameras, because I just use my own digital camera that’s not a single-lens reflex (SLR). SLR is the best you can get right now. And I needed a theme, obviously I needed something to take pictures of, and there’s this artist, Mark Menjivar, and he took pictures of inside people’s refrigerators and he called it the “You Are What You Eat” project, and I really liked that idea.

So why garages?

I was just interested in people’s garages, and I wanted a space with a lot of stuff and personal things.

Looking back on it I can say it’s an awesome way to look at American consumerism. I think garages are really awesome for exposing just how much stuff we all have and all of our shit, pretty much.”

Did people have a hard time understanding what you were doing?

Most people were like “Oh yeah, you can come take a picture, just let me clean up first.” And I was like, “No, that’s not really the point. I want them to look like they look normally.” Most people don’t want you to go into their garage.

Where did you shoot for the Project?

I did it in five different cities in Michigan: Muskegon – my hometown, Albion, Lansing, Detroit, and Ann Arbor. I chose Albion obviously because I was going to stay here, Muskegon because it was my hometown, Lansing because it was the capital, Detroit because it was Detroit, and Ann Arbor because it’s like the major city. But mostly in Detroit and Ann Arbor I was in the suburbs.

And whose garages did you photograph?

I didn’t approach strangers. I would just go by familiar ties, friend of friends, or friends of family, or whatever. Like when I told my aunt that I was coming home to do this she lined up all of these ‘garage appointments’, I was calling them.

Okay, but garages are a pretty big space – how did you decide exactly what to photograph?

At first I didn’t know what angles or point of views I wanted – I didn’t know if I was going to do the whole thing or focus on little abstract thingies in the corner, but then I found my niche and found what I wanted to do, which was longer – not the whole garage – frames that showed multiple different objects in it.

What did you use to shoot?

I borrowed an SLR camera from the school. Digital cameras are really great for the garage stuff because they can pick up really really tiny details way more than film can and get really sharp, crisp kind of images.”

You said earlier that part of the reason you did the Project was to learn about digital cameras. What else did that entail besides the camera itself?

Printing, learning how to use the digital printer because it didn’t like me and I’ve never used it, teaching myself a little bit of Photoshop.I don’t like pictures that look overly photoshopped, but I wanted to experiment and try things. I just wanted to push myself and see what could happen.

So what’s next for you? This is your last undergraduate year of life.

I’m applying for the New York Arts Program for the spring semester. And there’s this conference.

What conference?

The Midwest Society for Photographic Educators Time for Light Conference. It’s at the end of September, Sept. 30 to Oct. 1. I was so excited because I’ve never entered anything like that before, I didn’t think I’d get. People from all over the Midwest applied and I was one of the ones picked. There’s going to be a professional portfolio review so I’m going to that and they can look at my photos and tell me what I’m good at.

But until then, are you still taking pictures?

I thought I was going to be like, ‘Yeah, I can take a picture of whatever I want!’ But I can’t really bring myself to take digital pictures right now. I thought that was really funny, I didn’t expect that of myself.

Photo courtesy of Katherine Devoursney.

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