JACOB KARLIN '17
Joey Strella is a Jewish mother’s dream. Not only a man who one day aspires to enter the medical field, Joey also paints, sculpts, and photographs. He is a relatively quiet man with a fondness for white sneakers and acid washed jeans. I know Joey as a TA in my photography class, a friend of mine knows him as the former TA of her biology class. On multiple occasions Joey and I have worn the same outfit. Joey’s speech is always concise and informative, and one feels rather appreciated after talking with him.
I sat down with Joey to discuss his artwork in the CFA courtyard. As he ripped up bits of grass, he explained to me the two spheres of his interests. In science, there are questions and there are answers. In art, there are questions that beget more questions, and so on. There are no definitive answers.
He explains that photography is an inherently contradictory medium. The photographer sculpts reality through the lens of a camera. It is therefore a subjective medium. But reality implies objectivity, and there is where the contradiction lies. How can the photographer be true to reality, and nod to the fact that the reality portrayed in a photograph does not exist?
Reality is a topic Joey thinks about a lot. He is fascinated by the concept that reality itself can be disturbing. His photography explores this perversion of reality, the more disturbing sense that our perception of reality is false. Imagine waking up one morning to find that what you’ve always assumed to be reality is not your reality, he tells me. This thought gives him chills.
Joey’s journey into the disturbing began when he started art classes at a local recreation center in Bethesda at the tender age of 13. There, under the guidance of a South African painting teacher and a nurturing group of elderly women, Joey learned how to paint. At Wesleyan, Joey took Tula Telfair’s painting class, and he fell in love with the medium. After painting, he took Photo I and Photo II, the work from which can be found on his website. The versatility of his work comes from a need to designate a medium to an idea. The idea comes first and the medium follows.
In “what’s her face”, a collection of photos formally titled “Clockwork Orange”, Joey’s photos prompts viewers to ask what it means to have a normal perception of reality. Our social construction of reality, according to Joey, is an agreement that there is one way that things should exist.
It is as if Joey is using a surgeon’s scalpel to dissect this agreement and reveal to us reality’s perverse, unsettling nature. One gets lost in the bright, simple color schematics of his color photography and caught up in the tensions of his black and white photos. There is something unsettling about the timelessness of the photographs and their abstraction of space. The first color photo that appears in the collection displays a band-aid oozing a blue liquid from the corner of a room. We are forced to question if the room is alive, and if so, is it actually hurt? A chair stands in the corner of a room but the line dividing the walls is gone. The colors are aesthetically pleasing but do not draw attention away from the optical illusion Joey presents us as the viewer. We try to find a stable point of reference, but we are left with an unsettling sense of perspective that leaves us captivated but uncomfortable.
The black and white photography in “what’s her face” makes us notice how eeriness permeates our daily lives. Joey plays with shadows and light to highlight relative size and ratio of buildings and objects to create a sense that there are other ways by which we can view the world around us. An ominous black cloud hovers over a deflated black dress in a chair. One can find no answers to this peculiar situation.
Joey’s parents find his photography uncomfortable. He says they are not fans of his photography, that they think it is too “disturbing”. I’m sure Joey is happy they think so. He says that, like most parents, they hope that Joey will eventually go to medical school. At the moment, Joey is already planning his next project, a photo book, but he will not tell me what it will contain. Watch out for Joey Strella, who might permanently distort our sense of reality and keep us forever guessing how we perceive the world around us.
Check out Joey's portfolio at http://josephstrella.weebly.com