Friday, August 18

Student uses photography to shed light on religious, political issues


First-year art student Frances Tyska will be attending The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art in the fall. Her series "Heavy Elephants" features images of young progressives – including one of her coated in red paint – in a response to the election of President Donald Trump. (Farida Saleh/Daily Bruin)

First-year art student Frances Tyska will be attending The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art in the fall. Her series "Heavy Elephants" features images of young progressives – including one of her coated in red paint – in a response to the election of President Donald Trump. (Farida Saleh/Daily Bruin)


Frances “Frankie” Tyska started out snapping photos of family and friends. Now her images tackle topics of religion and politics.

The first-year art student has four cameras, which she uses to capture images that reflect political events and spark conversation among viewers. Tyska said that she wants to make visual thesis statements with her work, using details in her pictures as supporting evidence.

Her cameras will also be traveling with her as she moves from Los Angeles to New York City to attend The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art next fall to study art.

[Related: “The Self-Worth Project” captures participants’ fears and insecurities through photography]

Although Cooper Union is an art-focused college, Tyska didn’t attend an arts high school. She took her first photography class during her sophomore year of high school in Madison, Wisconsin. The class introduced her to art critique for the first time and opened her eyes to photography as an art, she said.

“That’s when I was, like, ‘I’m not a photographer; I’m an artist,’” Tyska said.

In the beginning stages of her journey as a photographer, Tyska’s pictures depicted friends and family members. But as she learned more about photography in her high school classes, she created more complex, meaningful work, she said.

Tyska completed her first series, “The Way Home from Church,” in her junior year of high school. Growing up, she went to church with her parents and remembers repeating words from religious texts while simultaneously wondering if she actually believed in them.

The photos in her series document the moment when children start to question their beliefs by featuring children that stare into the distance. In the photos, Tyska plays with gazes, small glimpses of sunshine and lilac colors in order to symbolize their spiritual reflection and curiosity.

“It’s kind of a critique but also a self-reflection because I don’t think it’s wrong to have your children growing up with spirituality,” Tyska said. “But it’s an interesting thing that it’s thrust upon them, and you don’t always get a conscious choice.”

Tyska completed her most recent series titled “Heavy Elephants” at UCLA. The project is a photographic reflection in response to the election of President Donald Trump. The project depicts young, progressive Americans who have grown up during former President Barack Obama’s presidency but must now live under a new presidency.

The series makes indirect and direct references to the election, featuring a nude body lying down with elephant figurines on top of it to illustrate the weight of Trump’s Republican administration and a broken picture frame of Obama and his wife Michelle Obama.

First-year art student Lena Howell first met Tyska in their art history discussion in fall quarter. Howell’s clothing style appealed to Tyska, so Tyska asked her on Facebook if she could take pictures of her. They met for a photo shoot in the Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Garden on campus and immediately hit it off, Howell said.

Howell also helped photograph and paint Tyska red for a piece in “Heavy Elephants.” In the photo, Tyska’s hair and body are completely covered in red paint as she faces away from the camera.

“Just seeing (Tyska’s) work, she’s incredibly dedicated to her concepts, and no one works as hard as her,” Howell said. “She will always climb buildings, get injured and scrape her legs to get a shot.”

Howell introduced Tyska to first-year art student Francesca Consagra, who also helped paint Tyska for “Heavy Elephants.” Although Consagra has taken a few photos of Tyska, she said that Tyska usually takes pictures of her. In one photo from “Heavy Elephants,” Consagra wears a patriotic bathing suit while floating in a pool.

“(Tyska) is just always doing something related to photography – always thinking of new ideas, going on shoots and going to random places to get props,” Consagra said.

Tyska said she hopes to add more forms of art, such as video and sculpture, to her arguments in the future, but her main goal is to create art that people can talk about.

“I want to make work that illuminates political ideas and scientific ideas, and is culturally relevant,” Tyska said. “I want to make work to bring light to stuff that hasn’t been talked about.”

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