Natasha Gibson, a junior nursing major, lit up the McClelland Art Gallery with the first exhibit of the school year last fall. In a stunning collection of masked portraits, Gibson captured her subjects and the attention of the campus alike.
Gibson was certain of two things growing up, the first being her love of photography. She began staging photoshoots at a young age using whatever was available to her and uploading the images to Instagram. The second, that she would attend Union College.
Chanelle Dames Watson, Gibson’s mother, graduated from Union in 1994 and encouraged her children to take advantage of what Union College has to offer. As Gibson’s siblings all ended up attending, in 2018 Natasha followed suit, unable to pass up the advantages of Union’s renowned nursing program.
Though Gibson had signed on as a nursing major, she continued to pursue her passion for photography. Wanting to learn more, she registered for photography classes as soon as the opportunity presented itself.
With the sudden shutdown of campus due to COVID-19 in March of 2020, the last photos that had been hung in the art gallery located in the campus Visitor Center were from another student in Gibson’s very own photography class. Upon returning to campus and seeing no change, she took it upon herself to get involved. With the permission and support of Bruce Forbes, director of the art and graphic design program, Gibson set about creating a new exhibit to represent the new masked faces of campus.
“When I put it all up, I really wasn’t expecting anything,” she said. “I had no idea that people were going to care about my exhibit, but the response has overall been very enthusiastic, very supportive. I honestly figured people would walk past it not caring, but instead, people saw the beauty in what I was doing. I had my friends and professors coming up to me saying how impressed they were with my work, and that was just amazing. It’s all just made me very grateful.”
Capturing the personality of an individual while half of their face is covered is no small feat, but one Gibson was excited to take on. Encouraging the subjects to be as involved as possible, whether it happened to be as simple as not smiling or unearthing a fire extinguisher to use as a prop, the sky was the limit. Originally Gibson had intended to keep the collection black and white. This would allow the viewer to forget about any details that would be distracting from the subject’s eyes or smile. Or perhaps, as Gibson will admit, it was to indulge her pension for a more dramatic flare.
Taking on the project in addition to regular classes would be daunting to any college student, and Gibson quickly realized this would not be a project accomplished alone. Recruiting her best friend, Jenifer Galvez, Gibson got to experience one of the best things about Union—there is no shortage of people willing to help you. It was at Galvez’s suggestion that Gibson steered off her original plan of black and white and implemented some color photos.
“The ones I did in color happened because my friend suggested that the focal point should be someone’s eyes or the interesting color of their hair,” Gibson explained.
“Something that Union has taught me is the fact that—and I know this is going to sound cheesy—but I really learned that community and your peers are willing to support you through no matter what,”
she said. “When I have these big ideas but I don’t know how to execute them, I definitely know I can lean on my professors for support and they’re going to be there for you. Union has taught me that we’re really in this together, you know, and we support one another.”
by Gabrielle Nappi, a senior English major from Hamburg, Pennsylvania