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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

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Feven Getachew
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Michael Lozada
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Nathan Hoffman
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Harvey Wilhelm `24.
Harvey Wilhelm
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Mary Zheng photography explores everything from flowers to bathrooms

Mary Zheng – Contributed

Mira Braneck

Mary Zheng’s ’15 first photography exhibit recently displayed at Relish, a local foods restaurant in downtown Grinnell. The exhibit, if all goes well, will fund Zheng’s upcoming trip around the Mediterranean, during which she will spend eight months to a year visiting more than eight countries and taking photos of one of the most disregarded rooms in the house: the bathroom.

“A bathroom is such an overlooked place that is really intimate,” Zheng said. “I feel like because it’s so intimate, it’s linked really closely to people’s core and who they are.”

Zheng titled the collection “One” because it is her first exhibit and because it features her best work. “One” explores a variety of subjects, from black and white shots of trees to saturated colored photos taken in Washington D.C. One wall is adorned only with flowers, all titled for the name of their color in Chinese.

“With art, I’m so tired of seeing white faces everywhere and English and romantic languages,” Zheng said. “I wanted to inject a little non-Western culture.”

Zheng went on to discuss the inspiration behind the composition of her photographs.

“I like to photograph normal things that are given a new spin through my lens,” Zheng said. “I focus on lines a lot, and the absence of light … people may see an object but I see the things that the object is comprised of, … rather than the object itself.”

Mary Zheng - Contributed
“Darwin.” Contributed by Mary Zheng.

Zheng never took an art class while at Grinnell College, although she took photos and painted as a child. Instead, she majored in anthropology and Chinese. Zheng’s anthropology major is playing a role in her upcoming project.

“As an anthropology major, I’m just so interested in people—what people’s personalities are and how you can find ways to figure out someone’s personality,” Zheng said.

However, Zheng’s interest in bathrooms was born long before her time at Grinnell. As a self-proclaimed obnoxiously snoopy child, Zheng would go with her father to someone’s house for acupuncture and snoop through her bathroom.

“I was really young and I would just wander around and go through her bathroom, open up the cabinets,” Zheng said. “I feel like you can get a pretty good sense of someone when you look through their bathroom …Bathrooms are kind of a sacred place. It’s where people cleanse themselves. It’s where people deal with all their bodily functions. It’s where people put on makeup—put on their faces, take off their faces, get naked and vulnerable to shower.”

Her latest project will look at both the personal and public, as she plans to mostly stay in people’s houses while traveling, but expects to spend some time in hostels as well.

Zheng plans to start in Morocco and then go north to Spain and Portugal, then France, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Lebanon, Israel and Egypt. She hopes to spend one month in each country.

Zheng is still living in Grinnell, where she works at Relish and AmeriCorps. She is the afterschool enrichment coordinator for AmeriCorps and works to ensure that afterschool programs are academic extensions of the school day. Her exhibit at Relish is running through March 2.

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