Former FPU professor exhibiting work in retrospective show

  • Former Franklin Pierce University professor Elsa Voelcker will display a collection of her photographs in a retrospective show entitled A Life's Work, 50 years of Photography in the Thoreau gallery. Photo by Elsa Voelcker—

  • Former Franklin Pierce University professor Elsa Voelcker will display a collection of her photographs in a retrospective show entitled A Life's Work, 50 years of Photography in the Thoreau gallery. Photo by Elsa Voelcker—

  • Former Franklin Pierce University professor Elsa Voelcker will display a collection of her photographs in a retrospective show entitled A Life's Work, 50 years of Photography in the Thoreau gallery. Photo by Elsa Voelcker—

  • Former Franklin Pierce University professor Elsa Voelcker will display a collection of her photographs in a retrospective show titled A Life’s Work, 50 years of Photography in the Thoreau gallery through April 2. Above: A photo of Voelcker’s mom during her final hours. Photo by Elsa Voelcker

  • Former Franklin Pierce University professor Elsa Voelcker will display a collection of her photographs in a retrospective show entitled A Life's Work, 50 years of Photography in the Thoreau gallery. Photo by Elsa Voelcker—

  • Former Franklin Pierce University professor Elsa Voelcker will display a collection of her photographs in a retrospective show entitled A Life's Work, 50 years of Photography in the Thoreau gallery. Photo by Elsa Voelcker—

  • Elsa Voelcker with one of her many photographs. Courtesy photo—

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 3/3/2021 4:02:03 PM

Elsa Voelcker said her mother Kathryn was “impossible to photograph.” But as her mother approached her final days, Voelcker knew she wanted to capture some of those raw moments before her mom passed. She found one, a photograph of her mother’s hand wearing a ring that belonged to Voelcker’s great-grandmother, particularly moving. 

“I took it in her last hours of life,” Voelcker said. “It was powerful.”

She has shared that photograph with countless students over her teaching career at both Franklin Pierce University and Saint Anselm College to show just how impactful a camera in hand can be.

That photograph, as well as a collection of others that Voelcker has snapped over her five decades behind the lens, is part of her retrospective exhibit entitled, A Life’s Work, 50 years of Photography, in the Thoreau Art Gallery at FPU, where she taught for 27 years. Voelcker, who lived in Antrim for 36 years before moving to the Exeter area last year, still teaches at Saint Anselm, where she also started teaching in 1991.

The exhibit was supposed to happen last March, but because of COVID-19 it was pushed off a year. It opened on Wednesday and will be on display through April 2. There will be a reception for Voelcker on March 31.

“When I retired from Franklin Pierce, they asked me to do a retrospective,” Voelcker said.

Voelcker, who bought her first camera at the age of 16 and studied art history at Boston University and later photography at the Museum of Fine Arts School in Boston, said she tends to work in series and snippets of those collections will be a part of the retrospective. She began by photographing family, learning how to develop film and make prints from her sister Kit Hartman.

After quickly finding a passion for the art form, she studied under Carl Chiarenza at Boston University and later with well known American photographer Nathan Lyons. She also helped teach dark room photography at Tufts.

“I thought this is a good way to make a living,” she said, thus putting her on a path to educating others on the fine nuances of photography. She furthered her own education at the Visual Studies Workshop in Rochester, New York with Lyons.

Voelcker is a self-described introvert, but having a camera allowed her to connect with others in a way she may never have been able to.

“I could hide behind a camera at a party,” she said.

Over the years, Voelcker has never missed an opportunity to capture what would otherwise be a fleeting moment – like her daughter Carla at the age of 13, showing the young adult that was ready to emerge.

She shot 100 rolls of film of her grandfather Henry Rogers for a series called A Heritage, which she turned into a book.

“I always worked on projects rather than being a street photographer with a camera always around my neck,” she said.

Voelcker said she learned early on to always look for a moment that would make for a good photo.

“You have to keep shooting or you lose it. It has to be a habit almost,” she said.

She loved working in book form, studying book-binding and creating many one-of-a-kind collections.

Pieces from her piercing portraits, which chronicled life in piercing and tattoo parlors, will also be part of the retrospective show, as will pictures she calls “rite-of-passage” photos, using black and white film and a method known as gelatin silver prints.

Voelcker said the FPU show has a little bit of everything, from film to digital photos, from book projects to self portraits. She said she provided the school with 30 framed photos along with 30 matted prints, which are available for purchase.

“Anytime you can have a one-woman show, you take it,” she said. “Having it all in one room, it’s wonderful.”

Voelcker is also part of the “COVID” Art exhibit currently hanging in the Cunningham Gallery of the Jaffrey Civic Center through March 27. She chose some of her earlier color works, investigating the interior of flowers, using a macro lens to convey a flower’s presence.

The closing reception for the FPU show will be held March 31 from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. Voelcker said the hope is that it will be nice enough where the doors can be open to provide more air flow and that visitors will be required to wear masks.

For more on Voelcker’s work, visit https://www.elsaphoto.com.


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