This article appeared in the September 14 issue of the Old Gold & Black.
Seeing Before Words, a solo photography exhibit by Wake Forest alumnus Marcus Keely, opened on Sept. 14 at the START Gallery in Reynolda Village.
Keely’s exhibit showcases his 27 months in Mongolia with the Peace Corps displaying with roughly 200 photos for the entire Wake Forest community to experience.
The START Gallery has been featuring Wake Forest alumni work since soon after its opening.
“We decided to show the work of successful alumnis of different ages and professional directions during Homecoming,” said Paul Bright, director of galleries for Wake Forest. “They are sometimes chosen to augment a thematic or pedagogical thrust in the department, or to catch the alumnus at what seems a pivotal moment in their trajectory.”
For Keely, being selected to be featured in the gallery is a full-circle since he worked for the Hanes Gallery and the START gallery during his time at Wake Forest. He worked for the Hanes Gallery for three years and was a manager for the START Gallery after graduation.
“It’s hard to describe how honored I feel to be on the other side of things as an exhibiting artist at the START Gallery,” Kelly said. Friends of mine had mentioned the possibility when I started my Peace Corps journey, but I never seriously thought that it would happen.”
During his time in the Peace Corps, Keely taught English in Mongolia — something he didn’t exactly choose.
“I can be really good at micromanaging and overthinking things, so it was nice to engage in a process and experience where I was forced to set that way of being aside and, instead, embrace uncertainty,” Keely said. “I didn’t choose Mongolia and I didn’t choose to be an English teaching volunteer. Those were chosen for me, and I just said ‘okay, let’s try it out.’”
When it comes to photography, Keely’s previous experience came from his introductory to photography class at Wake Forest, where he learned the basics. However, he delved into photography more after his time at Wake Forest.
“When I decided to join the Peace Corps, I felt like it was the right time to really throw myself into photography and invest in some equipment and software,” Keeley said. “27 months in a foreign land lends itself well to trial and error.”
Keely wanted a way to document his time in Mongolia, and felt that photography was the best way to do so.
“My photography in Mongolia grew out of a desire I had even before I left for Mongolia to document my experience and share it with friends and family back home in the United States,” Keely said. “I chose to primarily use photography as the medium through which to capture my experience because, honestly, it involved the least amount of work.”
Photography was not just a method of documenting his time in Mongolia, but a way to interact with the locals.
“Photography offered me a tool to connect with other Mongolians when words failed me,” Keely said. “It was a way to engage in a situation when my limited Mongolian vocabulary might hold me back. An image doesn’t require translation — so I could share my photos with Mongolians and they would instantly appreciate them.”
“I was impressed by the range and quality of his photos in Mongolia,” Bright said. “He obviously used his camera as a tool for trying to understand his circumstances, his new world, and to connect with people.”
Jay Buchanan, manager for the START Gallery agrees that Keely utilized his camera to make the most of his time abroad.
“What makes this one so special is the combination of both a really fantastic, rigorous theme with an experience of Homecoming for Marcus in every sense of the word,” Buchanan said.
Seeing Before Words will be featured in the Start Gallery until Oct. 6.