Expanding the Photographic: KCAD Alum Awarded for Innovative Image-Making

Posted May 14, 2018 in Alumni, Photography

In today’s digital age, how does one document the spectral nature of memory? Is there more than what a simple photograph can accomplish?

Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University alum Sara Fahling (’14 BFA Photography) explores the fragility of memory through photography, book arts and textile-based imagery. A current graduate student at Indiana University, Fahling recently received a Society for Photographic Education (SPE) Student Award for innovations in image-making. The prestigious award is reserved for work that demonstrates unique and experimental uses of photographic techniques.

Fahling’s awarded work, “Up the Hill,” is from a larger series of work titled “Unmended,” which focuses on familial legacy and the home in transition. “Unmended” merges photographs, textiles and hand embroidery in order to investigate the ways in which photographs construct personal histories. Printing images directly onto silk organza, cotton broadcloth and Belgian linen, Fahling then begins to layer, stitch and mend the photographs together, meticulously building upon each until completing the final piece.

Image of a house on a hill"Up the Hill" by Sara Fahling (image courtesy of the artist)

The images, layers, and stitching in “Unmended” represent recollection and loss, and as the materials accumulate to obscure and alter the images, a metaphor for the fragmentation of memory begins to emerge. “Memories can become altered and indistinct when revisited,” Fahling theorizes, “The layering of textiles, photographs and thread makes the images less legible, confusing time and space, and illustrating the fragile and impressionable nature of memory.”

“Unmended” is a personal project for Fahling, who describes it as “an attempt to hold close the memories” associated with her grandparents’ home, which has been a part of her family for over a century. Fahling’s documentation began during her undergrad studies at KCAD when she was focusing on themes of memory and nostalgia: “My grandmother was suffering from Alzheimer’s and my grandfather had just broken his hip, so neither of them were living at the home.” Just as Fahling was planning her move to Indiana for her graduate studies, she got the news her grandfather had passed away.

“It was then that I knew I wasn’t finished documenting this home. My grandmother was still alive, but her condition was getting worse. I became even more fearful of memory loss as I watched the impact Alzheimer’s had on my grandmother and our family. Becoming a stranger to a loved one is never easy.”

Ultimately, Fahling’s study into her own familial legacy has not only reached a bigger audience, but it has become a larger commentary on grief and loss. “Currently, both of my grandparents’ have passed away and I am using these images to comment on the fragility of memories in hopes of keeping my memories close and intact.”

“This award is such an honor and ultimately validates all the hard work I have put into this project throughout my graduate career,” Fahling remarks, adding that the accomplishment has “opened up new opportunities” she would not have had otherwise.  

“It is a continued reminder that what I am making matters not only to me but others as well.”

See more of Sara Fahling’s work at sarafahling.com.


Learn more about KCAD’s Photography Program.