Imagining the lives of women students from Macalester’s past was the start of an ambitious photo project for Alexandra Greenler ’15 (Stoughton, Wis.) last year.

Greenler, a history major and former student worker in the college archives, tackled the project for an Introduction to Photography class taught by visiting art professor Eric Carroll. Each semester Carroll gives his class a specific topic to base their final projects around; last semester he directed them to work with an archives. Some students chose off-campus resources, but others—like Greenler— chose to engage with Macalester’s own archives.

She decided to choose a portrait of a woman student from each decade—beginning in 1915 and culminating with her own graduation year of 2015—and to re-create that portrait using herself as a model. “I had the idea of putting myself in their shoes,” says Greenler. “I asked myself, what was it like to be a student at Macalester in 1925, 1955, or 1975?”

To find her historic models, Greenler pored through old yearbooks, past issues of The Mac Weekly, and other archival sources. seeking women whose clothes she could replicate and whose hairstyles she could reproduce (“brunettes like me were easier,” she laughs).

Although Greenler did not directly contact any of the surviving women, she did research their lives. “I tried to find out what their college life at Mac was like and where Macalester had led them later,” she says. One woman, for example, was in the choir at Macalester and still sings in a choir in California. She discovered that another of her photo subjects, Gay Eggen Tempas ’65, of Radnor, Pa., was attending her 50th reunion at Macalester last summer, but alas, Greenler was unable to meet her.

Greenler’s job in the Macalester Archives, as well as her relationship with campus archivist Ellen Holt-Werle, were a big help as she did her research, she says, as was her long-standing interest in photography. Greenler belonged to the student organization Mac Pics for several years (and was its president for a time) and took many photos while studying abroad in Alicante, Spain (one picture from that semester appeared in Macalester Today).

“I’ve loved photography for a long time,” says Greenler, “and I know I will continue doing it in some capacity.”

Her latest adventure, however, is geographic rather than photographic in nature. In August, Greenler, along with some classmates, headed cross-country to Seattle, where she hoped to find a job in a museum or some sort of creative field.

If her photography project is any indication, she would be an asset to any museum. Photography teacher Carroll was impressed with her ambitious work. “Alex’s project was one of the best in the class because she combined scholarly research and creativity,” he says. “In the end she created a project that commented on the fashions and trends in dress, style, and photography.”

The final portrait in the century-long series, fittingly enough, was a self-portrait of Alex today.

LYNETTE LAMB is editor of Macalester Today.

November 3 2015

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