While Beverly Shores photographer Joel DeGrand's South Shore Arts exhibit is titled "Uniforms," the surroundings in his creations are as vital as the wardrobes.
"I call these environmental portraits," he said. "It shows head to toe of everything that they're wearing, but body language is in this, and background information is involved in this and plays into it. The uniform is the main thing, but the other aspects of it come into play."
Celebrating the opening of "Uniforms" at the gallery at The Center for Visual and Performing Arts in Munster at 1 p.m. Feb.12, DeGrand received a bachelor's degree in art from Indiana University of Pennsylvania and a master's degree from the University of Oregon.
An adjunct art professor at Chicago's Columbia College for more than two decades, DeGrand has exhibited at museums and galleries throughout the country over the course of the last 35–plus years and has works included in permanent collections at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Carnegie Institute and Blue Cross Blue Shield, to name just a few.
DeGrand's interest in uniforms was piqued in 2008 during a trip he took to Renmin University in Beijing. There, he was impressed by the manner in which workers dressed themselves for their jobs and took the first batch of "Uniform" photographs.
"Everybody over there works, and they all have their outfits," he said. "And when I came back here I started to notice all the outfits and things that people wear a little bit more. In a more global sense, I started to realize it's all about culture and identity."
Since then, DeGrand has made his way around the globe, shooting photos of workers in a myriad of professions. He also looked around his home front shooting a worker at an area steel mill and a hunter in Portage.
For uniforms, DeGrand selected 20 life–size portraits — from firemen to roller derby girls to coal miners to crossing guards, to name just a few.
"My hope is to open people up to other places, other styles, and other cultures, and to look at this particular juncture in time," DeGrand said. "Maybe they'll think about the past and the future and where all this is going to go, but I also want to show people what's happening now."
Mary McClelland, South Shore Arts gallery manager, served as a curator of the exhibit.
"(DeGrand) created portraits of everyday people, but because of his choice to print them in a large–format, the subjects become even larger than life," she said. "I feel it makes them more special, interesting and intriguing. I look at the portraits and I can hear the stories behind these people. Their lives unfold before my eyes."