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Duncombe-Mills explores rituals

Elle - Contributed
Contributed photo


In the Bucksbaum hallway between Roberts Theatre and the dance studio hangs a photo exhibit by Elle Duncombe-Mills ’16 that has sparked debate on campus. The photos show the rituals and implements of someone with disordered eating. Duncombe-Mills considers herself one of many girls who dealt with body-image issues throughout high school and college. Because she was among the people who “went to the extreme” and had disordered eating but came out on the other side, Duncombe-Mills decided that it was time to tackle the topic.

“I’ve noticed that it’s something no one really talks about. Even in the media, you only see one image of the anorexic: she’s really skinny and she doesn’t eat and she’s kind of crazy, like she has some pathological issues. It’s a very monolithic image,” Duncombe-Mills said. “Basically I wanted to show that [disordered eating] affects so many more people than that and it’s on a spectrum. It can affect people of any size, you have no idea. I wanted to show the realities of someone who has this disorder.”

Duncombe-Mills practiced her photography skills last summer through an internship with renowned photographer Richard Misrach.

“He’s a photographer and an activist, so when I sent him my photos earlier this semester I got feedback from him, which was really nice,” Duncombe-Mills said.

Duncombe-Mills contacted Lesley Wright, director of  the Faulconer Gallery, to discuss spaces for the exhibit and together they decided on the Bucksbaum hallway.

“The space was definitely a big thing because at first I had been talking with the Wellness Lounge and Active Minds and we were thinking about putting it in the JRC but I thought that was too central. So we decided on this location because it was really the only other option. I thought it was a lot more out of the way than the JRC,” Duncombe-Mills said.

The exhibit has received feedback from students, some of which criticized its public setting because of the charged subject matter the photographs display. Duncombe-Mills said that a student talked to her about how it spoke to truly to her experience and that it was somewhat triggering for her.

“I totally understand her experience, but I also feel that the rhetoric of triggering can also deter people from engaging with it, and the thing about disordered eating is that it has power when you don’t talk about it,” Duncombe-Mills said.

She also had a lot of positive feedback about how it’s a topic that needs to be talked about. Students have told her that they’re happy someone is addressing the issue of disordered eating.

“They say the images resonate a lot with them, which means a lot to me,” Duncombe-Mills said.

Duncombe-Mills is happy that she was able to showcase her work, but wishes that there were more official gallery spaces for students to tackle issues similar to the topic she chose.

“I’ve been talking about it and I really feel that there should be another student gallery space that is more private. The only one that’s official is the one in JRC and that’s incredibly public. I feel like sometimes it deters people from doing more politically charged or uncomfortable art projects,” Duncombe-Mills said. “I really hope people start taking on bigger issues, even if they are going to be debated or uncomfortable. I hope people take on more politically charged and uncomfortable issues because there needs to be more dialogue about those things here.”

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