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Holladay Journal

Local artist chronicles pandemic with her photos

Jun 11, 2020 12:06PM ● By Sona Schmidt Harris

In Brandi Gilbert’s “Untitled,” a particularly haunting image of a mother and child look out the window of a front door. (Photo courtesy Brandi Gilbert)

By Sona Schmidt-Harris | [email protected]

University of Utah art student and lifelong Holladay resident Brandi Gilbert is a chronicler and interpreter of our time through the lens of her artistic observation and camera. She is part of a modern-day “Decameron” project spearheaded by Professor Edward Bateman at the University of Utah. The images she’s taken will later be published in a book.         

Gilbert brings years of experience to the project. “Starting at age 12, my parents bought me my first point-and-shoot, little kid camera, and ever since then I haven’t been able to put my camera down,” she said.

Bateman refers to the project as “a creative response to our current pandemic situation.”

During the plague in March of 1348, a fictional group of seven women and three men fled from Florence to the Italian countryside. In the evenings, each member of the group told a story. There were 10 nights of this storytelling resulting in 100 stories in all. This premise resulted in “The Decameron,” a work by Giovanni Boccaccio created during The Middle Ages.

“We have been doing the same thing photographically, telling the stories of this time and are creating a book to document what it is like to live in this pandemic crisis,” Bateman said.

In Gilbert’s photographic storytelling for the project, windows are featured prominently. In “Escape the Night,” an arm reaches out into the darkness from an open window. In “Untitled,” a particularly haunting image, a mother and child look out the window of a front door. The mother’s gaze is one of a fuller cognizance of what lurks outside of the door, while the child’s is one of whimsical curiosity. However, the child’s hand is on the door indicating that she would like to step out. The composition of the photograph is complex with a flowerpot in the foreground decorated with handprints.

In Gilbert’s, “Longing for Sunshine,” even a plant reaches for the window wanting to escape into the light outside.

“I love being able to express that…you can almost be all the way outside, but you’re still partially inside,” she said.

“Brandi is extraordinarily perceptive,” Bateman said. “She quietly watches the things around her, absorbing details. This allows her to work with symbols and ideas in her photographs that wait to be discovered by a viewer who takes the time to really examine her work. It also makes her a wonderful storyteller. In our class gatherings on Zoom, I always liked to hear how she would read and understand the photographs of the other students.”

Gilbert, who will obtain her bachelor’s degree in fine art with a photo emphasis, said, “I give a special thanks to honestly, just my teacher and my classmates because I feel like through their help and their words to me, it helped me to be inspired to create some of this work, so I owe a huge thank you to all of them for being there with me and pushing me creatively.”

For the upcoming “Decameron,” 10 photographic themes of the book are: “At This Time,” “Collectively Disconnected,” “Routinely Interrupted,” “Photographs Not Seen,” “Silver Linings,” “Solace and Inspiration,” “Indoor-Outdoor,” “Collapsing,” “CHAOS! In the Supermarket,” and “Heroes.”