DDN: Wright State grad pushes boundaries during fellowship at Dayton Art Institute

When she received a prestigious fellowship at the Dayton Art Institute earlier this year, 2022 Wright State University graduate Ashley Cheak wanted to push herself as an artist.

As a Yeck College Artist Fellow, Cheak was able to experiment with several alternative photographic processes and explore different techniques in the darkroom to elevate her understanding of photography.

She approached the fellowship by asking herself: “How can I challenge what I know about photography?”

As she experimented with techniques like layering, solarization, double exposure and infrared photography, her work evolved.

Cheak — who received a bachelor’s degree in liberal studies and minors in French and creative writing from Wright State and now works as a staff member in the School of Fine and Performing Arts — prefers to shoot with film and develop her photos in the darkroom.

Working in the darkroom, she said, forces her to slow down and be present with her art.

“You’re in a dark space, there’s nothing to do but focus on what you’re working on,” she said. “I can get so distracted by overthinking my process. But in the darkroom, it’s great to experiment and slow down.”

Cheak was among five students selected for the Yeck College Artist Fellowship at the Dayton Art Institute in early 2023. The fellowship provides young artists with opportunities to develop their art, learn about working as a professional artist and create a lesson for high school students.

The program culminated in a public art exhibition at the Dayton Art Institute.

Cheak displayed six pieces featuring photographs she shot at Eastwood MetroPark in Dayton. For each piece, she used a complex technique in which she flipped or reversed an image several times as she developed it in the darkroom, creating unique reflections of natural elements.

Her goal was to explore how she could change the space in the image. As she manipulated each print, she started to see patterns in the images that had structures or resembled parts of the body.

“I kept coming back to some form of structure and weird circular web-like shapes,” she said. “I had no idea it was going to turn out like that. It was really a great experience.”

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