Lycoming professor finds photography passion at a young age

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Not many kids grow up knowing, without a doubt, what they want to do wittheir lives. But for Andreas Rentsch, the answer came at the tender age of 12.

“When I was 12 years old, I borrowed my brothers camera and I was immediately hooked,” explained Rentsch. “I was infected with the photographic bug and I ‘never got cured.’ “

At that young age, Rentsch said he knew that his future would be in photography.

“All these years later, the passion for the medium has not dissipated,” said Rentsch. “In fact, I am more than ever interested in the medium and how we can expand it. I feel very blessed that I am making my living with something that I profoundly love.”

Rentsch, 54, is an assistant professor of photography at Lycoming College. His work is currently on exhibit at the Lycoming College Art Gallery in downtown Williamsport as well as at the Heckscher Museum of Art in Huntington, New York and at the Westlicht Museum of Photography in Vienna, Austria.

“The exhibition is called The Polaroid Project,” explained Rentsch. “It’s a major retrospective of artists who have used Polaroid film. It’s a two-year traveling exhibition with stops at two U.S. museums and three in Europe.”

Having grown up on a prison compound in Switzerland where his father was the warden, Rentsch spent the first 18 years of his life witnessing what he describes as the “cruelty and humanity of incarceration.” These experiences were what gave him the inspiration for some of his earliest work.

Seeing firsthand the vulnerability of the prisoners led to his ongoing exploration of the connection between fate, geography and politics in the direction of justice.

His father, he noted, was a true believer in rehabilitation and the need to treat each man with respect and dignity, regardless of their crimes.

“I am acutely conscious of the vulnerability of prisoners. I have been especially troubled by cases of individuals who were wrongly accused and convicted, their freedom denied for years, trapped in a system without the possibility of a meaningful defense.”

His experiences growing up on a prison compound are what led to his collection, “Entangled with Justice.”

Eventually, Rentsch left Switzerland to explore his fascination with the U.S. He landed in New York City in 1988 and fell in love with the excitement of the city, where he found success as a photographer and artist. He enjoys exploring ways to translate his ideas within the photographic medium.

“As I have always been interested in pushing the boundaries of photography, other art forms have become important in my work,” explained Rentsch. “My art practice includes performance art, as the figures in my work are usually myself performing in front of the camera, and my work of late has a very close aesthetic relationship to painting and drawing — I paint with photographic chemicals on X-Ray film and use a flashlight to outline my performances.”

Additionally, he has made a short movie where instead of using a video or movie camera, he used 2600 still images.

“The incorporation of other mediums has been a vital aspect of my art making, and this expansion opens up new avenues of expression,” said Rentsch.

In his more recent work, Rentsch said his process has become part of the meaning.

“I often circumvent a manufacturer’s specification on how the material should be processed (i.g. exposing light sensitive film to light before it is processed). Often I allow the material to develop and decay over a period of weeks, months, or sometimes years. By allowing the chemical phenomena to randomly and arbitrarily impact the once available information in the image, the resulting shapes and forms in essence become metaphors for our own unpredictable existence.”

In teaching, Rentsch said he wants his students to understand that photography isn’t just about making pretty pictures.

“My teaching is very much guided by experience of finding my voice as a photographer and artist,” he explained. “Photographs create meaning and can have a transformative aspect in their historical, political, and social context. I want my students to realize the power of photography and art as a mean of communication that articulates their ideas, memories, and desires in their own unique and individual prism. I want them to understand that photography is a visual language.”

Rentsch has had his work on display all over the world, but said he considers the solo exhibition at the prestigious photo museum Musee de l’Elysee in Lausanne, Switzerland to be the highlight of his art career.

“I am proud of the various museums that have included my work in their collection,” he said.

Rentsch has won numerous awards for his work, including two New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowships. Now as a teacher, he said he looks forward to sharing his craft.

“Having had mentors throughout my career, I am happy to give back and share my experiences and expertise with young, aspiring artists and photographers,” he said.

For more information on Rentsch and to view his collections, visit www.andreasrentsch.com.

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