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Ohio State student takes historical self-portraits for class, assignment goes viral

May 9, 2014

seamon.17@osu.edu

Although Annalisa Hartlaub has yet to become a collegiate pupil of Ohio State, the 16-year-old Westerville native already implemented almost 100 years of “time and change” to her likeness.

Hartlaub, a post-secondary student at OSU and a junior at Columbus Metro Early College High School, was assigned a portraiture project in her Photography I class at OSU spring semester. Her submission of 20 self-portraits replicating two distinct countercultures from each decade, beginning with the 1920s and ending in the 2010s, was something she hoped the teaching assistant would like.

As a result, she received a grade of 100 percent for the project, and the Internet began to show interest on the A+ assignment.

“I posted (my project) on my Tumblr and it slowly gained some notes and out of no where, Hank Green, who is … a big part of the YouTube community reblogged it,” Hartlaub said.  “And then, Wil Wheaton reblogged it as well.”

Green is known for his YouTube channel, VlogBrothers, and the videos he uploads featuring him and his brother, John Green. Wheaton is an actor known for his role as Wesley Crusher on the television series “Star Trek: The Next Generation.”

Since then, “Counter // Culture,” the title of Hartlaub’s series of historical selfies, has received more than 100,000 notes on Tumblr and has been featured on The Huffington Post and BuzzFeed, among other websites.

Hartlaub said her interest in each era’s counterculture and its effect on society and values inspired each “character” in the shots.

“I would describe (counterculture) as a subculture that deters from what is the norm, so whatever isn’t acceptable. The group of people that challenge what is considered good and right and how it’s supposed to be,” Hartlaub said.

From hippie to hipster, each coupled portrait is analogous in Hartlaub’s expression but changes with each decade’s distinct style in both fashion and photography.

Hartlaub’s research for each look was extensive, but her budget for the entire project, which took two weeks to complete, was minimal.

“I tried researching to see which specific counterculture I wanted to do since, of course, there’s tons of different subcultures in each decade,” Hartlaub said. “Then I started looking at celebrity photos and advertisements, but in the end, I only used items that I already owned, so it was limited to what I could and couldn’t do.”

Hartlaub only accepted a helping hand when hanging a sheet in her bedroom, which acted as the backdrop for each photo, and to remove the curlers from her hair.

When rating each look on its difficulty to portray, she explained the ‘70s look was the easiest for her to recreate, given “you can immediately pick out a hippie if you see one.” The lack of discernible subcultures in the ‘30s, though, as well as the most recent decades, gave her the most trouble.

“Like 2010 and now, the 2000s and now … when you’re going through time just living, you always feel like, ‘Oh, I’m part of a blank generation,’ and you never realize what the counterculture and what the styles are until it’s really over,” Hartlaub said. “Because it’s so recent, there is little written on the overall styles because it’s so close to where we are now and it’s hard to pinpoint what was the fashion.”

Hartlaub said her favorite of the looks are those representing the 1980s.

“I’d say ‘80s was most fun for me to do, but it took a lot of work, a lot of hair and makeup,” Hartlaub said. “I actually have gotten a few people saying it was very inaccurate, but I still think it was the most fun to create.”

Hartlaub said responses to “Counter // Culture” on the Internet were mixed.

“Some of (the comments) were just criticisms, which of course are never bad, like ‘Oh, this is great, but I would have done this and that differently,” Hartlaub said. “Some people were like, ‘Anyone could have made this, give me 20 minutes and an Instagram and I can make this,’ or ‘This sucks, this is crap.’ Some of them were just so harsh, and I actually got one saying (the project) was racist.”

However, she said the project received positive feedback, as well.

Shane McGeehan, a second-year graduate student in photography and Hartlaub’s TA for Photography I, said it was clear Hartlaub took some inspiration from course lecturer Aspen Mays’ teachings. He said the viral response the project has received is cool for someone Hartlaub’s age.

“Aspen (Mays) teaches the history of photography to 200 people at a time (during lecture),” McGeehan said. “Annalisa took inspiration from the history of photography and created characters with commentary on mainstream outfits versus counterculture. I thought (Hartlaub’s project) was interesting, especially for a 16-year-old, someone so young.”

Hartlaub said she would love to attend OSU following high school graduation. Her interests in study, however, lean more toward the sciences, such as biology and oncology. In fact, she is currently doing Capstone research at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in neuroblastoma, a cancerous tumor developed from nerve tissue that usually occurs in infants and children.

Her interest in science, though, is conjoined with her love of art and photography, she said, and she explained the two disciplines “should always go hand in hand.”

In the end, Hartlaub said she is glad people liked “Counter // Culture,” and she hopes her audience saw she put effort into it. However, growing up has given her the maturity to take and brush off criticism, something she said she would have been unable to do were this project posted two years ago.

“I just think I’ve become more confident in myself and my ability as an artist and less worried about being told, ‘Oh yeah, this is good,’ and more just being happy with I am making art for the sake of making art,” Hartlaub said. “I’m not hoping for a reaction or recognition, I just want to make art to make art and be creative and get it out there.”


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Comments (2)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    Clearly a smart person! I hope she does go to OSU.

  2. E Morehouse says:

    WTF is a “collegiate pupil”? Write in normal English.

    Very creative, Annalisa. Well done.

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