Note: This story is a behind-the-scenes look at the Chapel Arts Center’s current exhibit, written by Fr. Celestine Hettrick, O.S.B., the assistant curator. In writing about the exhibit, he said, “I was deeply grateful in my role as the assistant curator of the Chapel Art Center for the opportunity to curate this exhibition with the director Fr. Iain MacLellan, O.S.B. It deservedly honors Elsa and her accomplishments as a photographer and teacher.”

The exhibit runs through April 19, 2024.

She has taught photography at Saint Anselm College for almost 30 years and continues to teach students the fascinating and challenging art of darkroom photography.

Else Voelker speaks in the Chapel Art Center

Some Saint Anselm students visiting the gallery for the exhibition have gushed over Elsa’s vivid close-up images of flowers in works that show two daisies colliding, the iconic-sized detail of the luxurious red folds of an opening amaryllis, or the repeating patterns in the purple and green hood of a Jack-in-the-pulpit. Elsa’s photographs have a gentle but firm way of inviting you in, to see with her the fascinating colors, patterns, and relationships that she discovers in the world around her.

Elsa’s work ranges from colorful digital abstractions of nature to classic, black-and-white, gelatin silver print portraits. All of her photographs display her skill and mastery of the artform. Elsa’s work is often guided by her use of a macro lens, which requires a familiar and close proximity to her subjects. If it is her courage that leads her close, it is her confidence and care that allows her wide-range of subjects - which include flowers, horses, family, friends, and strangers - to reveal to her and to her artistic vision, something about themselves that is simple and essential. She captures magic.

Talk at the Chapel Arts Center

Students have also gravitated towards her black and white portraits. One portrait, titled “Mr. and Mrs. Brown,” is a clear favorite. The couple in the photo are singing a comical duet and are seen making horrible but humorous faces at each other. It is a moment of affectionate relationship marked with humor, humor which Elsa identified and joined in joy as her film camera’s shutter snapped open and closed. Whether it is a frog on a face, or child playing with a doll, Elsa’s ability to find humor in life is indomitable.

Another way playfulness marks Elsa’s work is the photograms she makes of flowers. Photograms are an old and simple method of photography, made by placing an object on top of a photo-sensitive sheet. The exhibit features several fine examples of the process, the black-and-white results giving an almost x-ray vision of the flowers, revealing their natural translucency to light. In tandem with the Fine Arts Department and the Chapel Art Center, Elsa led students, professors, staff, and visitors in making their own photograms – I participated, and enjoyed making photograms in the darkroom as much as seeing the other participants creation.

Talk at the Chapel Arts Center

The courage Elsa has as an individual and artist, and her need and ability to document all aspects of life, comes through in a black and white series on her mother. Two works from the series of her mother’s last day are on display. There is a tender image of her mother’s hand amidst the gentle folds of fabric on her hospital bed. The second image, entitled “She is Not Alone,” is a wide shot of her mother in a hospital bed, with pictures of family and friends placed around her. With these photographs Elsa embraces the difficulty of loss, and the power of love which unites. If there is a particular characteristic of Elsa’s photographs, it is her ability to show how sight itself, is a form of appreciation and love, it is intimate.

The Chapel Art Center is hosting a special opportunity to listen to Elsa Voelcker speak about her photography on April 10 at 12:30 p.m., and I would encourage you to come! Please visit our website to learn about this and our other upcoming exciting programs including:

  • Art and Careers – a program about art and making a living! – Wednesday, April 4 at 4 p.m.
  • Faculty Chamber Concert – Thursday, April 11 at 6 p.m.