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Katherine Frey captures ‘American Dream’

Professor of Photography Gary Colby and University President Devorah Lieberman speak with photographer Katherine Frey via Skype video chat at the opening of Frey’s Carlson Gallery exhibit Sept. 8. The exhibition, “American Dream,” features some of her best Washington Post photographs that capture the human side of the recession. / photo by Danielle Navarro

Branden del Rio
Editor in Chief

Lauren Creiman
News Editor

A mother struggling to make ends meet, a recently widowed army wife and the economic decline in the Chesapeake Bay.

These subjects are part of the humanity that Katherine Frey captures in her exhibition “American Dream.”

With her photographs, Frey, a photojournalist for the Washington Post and University of La Verne alumna, asks if the “Great Recession” is truly over.

“As a Washington Post photographer, many of my assignments, although not directly related to the economy, seem continually to circle back to the problem faced by Americans struggling to make ends meet,” Frey said in her artist’s statement.

The exhibit houses 29 photographs Frey took on the job from September 2006 to February 2011.

The power of the photographs is only heightened by the captions provided in the handout at the front of the gallery.

The emotions evoked by a photo of a soldier laying in a casket with a woman leaning over him, for instance, are further elevated when the viewer finds that the soldier is Army SFC Ofren Arrechaga and the woman is his 22-year-old widow.

Frey’s interest lies with the human condition.

In her statement she decries the disconnect between Capitol Hill and its constituents.

She aims to tell the stories of suffering American citizens from a first hand view, such as Caroline Frazier.

Frazier must care for her 3-year-old granddaughter after her daughter went missing in August 2010.

One photograph of Frazier captures her on a dimly-lit Washington, D.C., street with a stack of missing person fliers.

But Frey’s photography does not ignore hopeful Americans.

Four photos capture Washington-area High Tea Society, which offers college-prep courses and stock market advice to girls from low-income backgrounds.

Frey’s use of light is a standout feature of her photography.

She does not manipulate it, but allows natural light and shadows to tell the story in the photograph.

In one photo taken at dawn, the subject is shadowed to the point of a silhouette, yet the contrast only strengthens the message of a child bidding farewell to his father, a soldier who was redeployed to Afghanistan.

Frey’s use of beautiful, but common, subjects to tell a riveting and emotional story is another key feature of her exhibit.

She chose a setting of beautiful houses along the edge of Chesapeake Bay to photograph.

To Frey, this illustrated how such development near Annapolis has contributed to the decline of sea life in the bay.

The exhibit will be open through Oct. 7 in the Irene Carlson Gallery.

Branden del Rio can be reached at

Lauren Creiman can be reached at

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