Illini Union’s “hidden gem” hosts A Familiar Place: Photography by Larry Kanfer this Homecoming

By Kelsie Travers, Staff writer

Tucked away in the northwest corner of the Illini Union next to the President’s Lounge is the “hidden gem” of the Illini Union, as Jenna Wicks, Program Advisor of Student Programs and Activities calls it — the Art Gallery.

Currently on display at the Illini Union Art Gallery is A Familiar Place: Photography by Larry Kanfer. Kanfer is a professional photographer, University alumnus and owner of a local Champaign art gallery. For Homecoming and the University of Illinois’ 150th anniversary, the Illini Union Board are choosing art from closer to home.

“Since the school is celebrating an anniversary, the artwork had something to do with the University, whether the artist is an alum or someone that works with the gallery,”  said Jeffrey Tsai, Director of Arts Programs for the Illini Union Board said.

They especially liked Kanfer, not only because he is an alumnus, but because of how the students would respond to his artwork.

“The artwork is familiar to a lot of students on campus,” Tsai said. They hope that the familiarity will draw more students in.

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    The exhibit displays a compilation of photographs of the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana, Central Illinois and Chicago. Kanfer describes it as “places people can identify with even if they haven’t been there. It’s a familiar place in your mind.”

    Although he has traveled around the world taking photographs, he continues to return to the University and Central Illinois to take pictures. In regards to A Familiar Place, he likes the sense of home it gives to him and the audience.

    “There is a kind of heartwarming, a solidness of home. That’s not only emotional, but physical,” Kanfer said, “when it comes to the rural areas, you know that every spring there is going to be corn and beans and every fall they will be harvested. It is something you can count on that oftentimes you cannot count on in other places.”

    This, he describes is the same thing that happens at the University. There are repeated occurrences and similarities year after year, but small things change, and that is why he likes photographing these “familiar” places in different ways.

    “Say I photographed the Quad ten years ago, maybe now there is a nook or cranny or a different way of seeing the Quad now,” Kanfer said.

    And this is what he likes—the subtle things and changes that exist, but may go unnoticed. These things are not only enjoyable to show students and visitors of the Illini Union, but he likes going to discover something new as well.

    “In my work I try and show the serendipity,” he said, “it’s like Where’s Waldo. It’s always fun to try and find something or run across something.”

    When it comes to photographing these places, Kanfer prefers the smaller locations with character rather than large groups of buildings, which gives a different perspective to students as they may be more focused on looking at buildings around them. Kanfer wants to use his photographs to point out subtle differences.

    These kinds of differences he describes as things you can’t necessarily feel, but can sense or understand in some way.

    “You could look at the Quad in snow and not think much of it, but if you have to walk across the Quad with all your books, it’s a whole different experience. That’s kind of the subtle difference that I am referring to,” he said.

    In A Familiar Place, students may see something that they had not noticed before, or they may gain a deeper understanding of and connection to the places that exist around them.

    “This isn’t off-the-bat considered the nicest place on earth. Students come expecting nothing. By having photographs of the midwest and Central Illinois, that helps people. They might see something or they might be open-minded to say ‘hey maybe this isn’t so bad,’” Kanfer said.

    Even for him, thinking differently about a place, learning the history or better understanding how people connect to it is something that he really enjoys in his work, such as learning why a hay bale is round or how students connect to the Alma Mater. He wants others to stop and embrace the little things, just as he has done in his work.

    “People need to stop and see the subtlety. It’s easy to see mountains and the beauty of this and that but if you stop for a minute and look at the beauty right in front of you, it’s really kind of exciting,” he said.

    Working around the University and around students is something Kanfer really enjoys because it is a constant flow of new ideas coming in. He can see through each generation the changes that come and he loves learning about them—especially with technological changes in photography and just people’s day-to-day activities.

    This is really noticeable in his work at A Familiar Place as he uses different materials and methods of composition for his photographs. He used infused aluminum, canvas and regular photographic processes to compose these images.

    Kanfer’s favorite piece in the Illini Union Art Gallery—if he had to choose—is those of the gathering places spread out on the south wall.

    “At the exhibit, there is one wall of gathering places with The Sidney Dairy Barn and the donut truck. I am intrigued by gathering places where people are having fun without technology necessarily. That is kind of my growing current trend,” Kanfer said.

    The expanse of photographs in the exhibit show a range of Kanfer’s works, but all are representative of places students could connect with. This was the Illini Union Board’s goal in choosing an exhibit for Homecoming and the time leading up to it.

    Thus far, the exhibit has been a success. The primary measure of the gallery’s success is based on the opening night’s attendance. “The openings usually attract an average of 70 people—give or take. Once someone finds out about these places, we regularly see people coming back—especially for the art gallery openings,” Tsai said.

    Tsai and Wicks both feel that the Art Gallery benefits students and is a good addition to the Illini Union. “It’s a good way to express how people are feeling on campus and it really enriches the experience of students who get to get to see it,” Tsai said.

    The only other campus-based art gallery is Krannert Art Museum, which operates normal business hours. The benefit of the Illini Union Art Gallery is that it is open whenever the Union is. “Student unions are considered the living room of a college campus—where you live, eat and come together,” Wicks said, explaining why the Art Gallery is a great addition to the Union.

    Kanfer’s collection will be at the Illini Union Art Gallery through Homecoming Weekend and is open from 8:30 a.m. every day until 11:00 p.m.

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