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Photos Reveal Quiet Fortitude Against Adversity

Photographer Terttu Uibopuu draws parallels between her homeland of Estonia and her new home in America in a collection of photos currently on view at the University Galleries in Uptown Normal.

A photography award in 2001 sent Uibopuu off on the road to a new country and a career as an artist. Her exhibition, "E.S.E.," captures her journey of discovery, revealing a quiet strength in the face of adversity.

Jason Judd is the curator of the show, which is the largest solo exhibition of the artist's work to date. The photos feature landscapes and portraits from both Uibopuu's homeland and her new home in the U.S.  Judd noted that the photos blend together in a shared human condition and display of perseverance in the face of difficulty.

"When you walk around the exhibition, you see a variety of photos. You see portraits, you see landscapes, you see very dark and brooding voyeuristic photos as well. So it looks like she's covering a lot of area. "

The artist is searching for real sense of recovery and fortitude, explained Judd.

"You might ask yourself how is she grafting those words and that concept onto that landscape and onto those people. And I think it comes from her own history and her own sense of fortitude, being an immigrant from Estonia, growing up in the Soviet Union coming here on a one-way ticket."

The plane ticket was purchased with the money Uibopuu won in a photography contest.

"She flew to the United States and found herself in northern Illinois, then New York," said Judd. "That kind of perseverance that she had, that kind of life experience really affords her the ability to find people who have that same sense of fortitude that she knows herself."

One photo depicts a woman sunbathing in a bleak Estonian landscape. It's called "Sunbather."

Photos of sunbather.
Credit University Galleries
"Sunbather" by Terttu Uipobuu captures a quite moment of hope on a sunny day in Estonia.

"When I first saw this image, the first thing that came to my mind was a very famous painting called 'Christina's World' by Andrew Wyeth," Judd remarked. "That depicts a woman in this farmland reaching back for the farmhouse. That woman had polio and Andrew Wyeth talked about her fortitude and her challenges as a human being, where people saw her life as almost worthless. Aesthetically, the photo is set up like that. But instead of that female protagonist reaching back for a farmhouse, the sunbather is looking up into the sky, with her hands clasping her face and bathing in the sunshine. Instead of a farmhouse, there's these Soviet-style apartment blocks back there. There's not this longing to go back there, but this reprieve from the challenges of everyday life."

"E.S.E." is on display at the University Galleries through April 1.

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Reporter, content producer and former All Things Considered host, Laura Kennedy is a native of the Midwest who occasionally affects an English accent just for the heck of it. Related to two U.S. presidents, Kennedy appalled her family by going into show business.