May 18, 2006

Sibley hosts 'artist-in-orbit' Gordon Sander's photo retrospective

Writer and photographer Gordon Sander '73 celebrates his multifaceted relationship with Cornell in "My World," a photography exhibit on display through June 16 in the Fine Arts Library in Sibley Dome -- the largest retrospective of Sander's 40-year career.

The exhibit is a personal and wide-ranging essay, with 74 photographs depicting Cornell through the years, New York City scenes and travels to Europe and California. The images are more than moments captured by the artist's shutter; even Sander's most pictorial work has a surreal edge and the sense that something is about to happen.

"He's very diverse," says Sander's co-curator, J.J. Manford '06. "Editing was tough; the final deciding criterion ended up being the visual beauty of the images."

Sander's work is in the collection of the Johnson Museum at Cornell, and he has donated some of his photographs to the university. He attended Cornell as an architecture student (later transferring to Arts and Sciences) from 1968 to 1973 and documented the times; protest slogans are scrawled on buildings in many of his Collegetown photos. He returned as an artist-in-residence at Risley Residential College for the Creative and Performing Arts from 2002 to 2004.

"Suddenly I had 200 kids," he says. "I saw it not just as a way of doing my work; I really got into the counseling part of it. My door was always open to the students. In a way Risley was the last vestige of the student-empowerment movement of the '60s."

He jokingly but proudly claims the unofficial title "honorary artist-in-orbit" at Risley, where he still mentors former students and hosts pop culture-themed programs while working out of Sibley.

"This library is my creative base," Sander says. "It's my greenhouse. I came back to Risley to write, and came to realize I do my best work here [at Cornell]. This exhibit was kind of a way to repay them for making a home for me."

A display case in Sibley features Sander's books and magazine articles.

"I've had this sort of quixotic career," Sander says. "I don't have children; I have projects."

He authored the Pulitzer Prize-nominated 1992 biography "Rod Serling: The Rise and Twilight of Television's Last Angry Man" -- the late "Twilight Zone" creator once lived in Interlaken, and a photo of Serling's California swimming pool leads off the exhibit. During Sander's Risley residency, he wrote "The Frank Family That Survived" (2004), a historical account of his family's Holocaust survival, and he recently completed a screenplay. The Cornell Daily Sun serialized his novel "C-Town Blues," a fictional college memoir, from 2004 until recently.

"I did it as a service to students," he says of the novel. "There's a lot of curiosity about what it was like to be here in the '60s. Collegetown was like Berkeley."