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11/09/2023 08:58 AM

Making Connections: Laurenson Sees Our Common Bonds

Branford photographer Alice Laurenson offers a stunning display of the universal bonds which connect people throughout the world with “Connections and Reflections.” The photo exhibit is currently in the Keyes Gallery of the Willoughby Wallace Memorial Library in Stony Creek. Pam Johnson/The Sound

By capturing images of children and adults in daily life in Asia, Africa, and South America, Branford photographer Alice Laurenson offers a stunning display of the universal bonds that connect us all.

“I’ve always loved photography and believed in its power to influence, inspire, and motivate, as well as delight and entertain. Now, I’m using my own images to focus attention on our common humanity,” says Alice.

Now through Monday, Nov. 27, her beautiful collection of images is on display as part of a photography exhibit, “Connections and Reflections,” at the Keyes Gallery of the Willoughby Wallace Memorial Library in Stony Creek.

Alice’s recently curated photo collection is done in film. The exhibit’s 20 large images in black and white and color represent people she’s encountered during the last 20 years of her career as a tour manager with an educational tours travel organization focused on archaeology, history, and culture.

A lifelong photo hobbyist who began with nature photography, Alice soon turned her lens toward the people she met during her extraordinary years of travel to unique locations.

“I’ve always been interested in people’s faces—I look for interesting faces—and I’ve been lucky that these people allowed me to put them in focus,” says Alice.

Even if she didn’t know their language, a bit of pantomime to request their permission would usually be enough to allow Alice to capture the shot.

“Early on, I learned that we don’t need to speak the same language to communicate and connect,” she says.

Now, Alice is sharing her work with her shoreline community neighbors at a time when she feels we need to remind ourselves of our common bonds.

“That’s what I came away with very early on, that we are all one. It’s so very important for us to always remember that, especially now,” says Alice.

Through her lens, Alice shares her view of the beauty found in people while working, playing, and otherwise living their lives. She freezes in time extraordinary moments in the ordinary: a woman in Kashgar in Xinjiang, China tending to buckets of sudsy laundry on the sidewalk; a woman cooking with calabash bowls in her earthen-walled kitchen in Mali, West Africa; a man in the same village painstakingly deconstructing a woven plastic feedbag and braiding the strands into strong, heavy rope.

“Mali, West Africa is one of my favorite places in the world,” says Alice. “It’s one of the places I felt most at home.”

Alice also feels privileged to have traveled to Syria in the years prior to the armed conflict uprising against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, which began in 2011. In one photo on display, a young Syrian girl peers back at Alice.

“I just loved her face. She’s a schoolgirl in a very, very small village in Syria. We were there to see the ruins, and I just saw her,” says Alice.

Pointing to the girl’s rumpled beige coat with a distinct silhouette of a man as its chest emblem, Alice notes, “I had this photo for years before I realized what I was looking at. That’s the former President Assad on her uniform. It gave me chills because he was so evil.”

Alice has dedicated one wall of her exhibit to the children she’s encountered in her world travels. As with all of the photos in the exhibit, each picture has a title. “Cuzco Kid” is an extraordinary little man centered in the frame. He’s wearing the native, cowboy-style garb of Peru and a matching attitude. “Boy with Pink Sandals” features a Cambodian youngster as the star of the photo.

“I usually had lots of kids around me in whatever country I was in,” says Alice. “They didn’t see a lot of American tourists where we went.”

One photo, “Masons in Training,” was shot in Mali, West Africa. It features three young boys, probably between the ages of 8 and 12, stopped in the midst of their work among mud and scaffolding. They regard Alice in a beautifully composed shot.

From a visit to a compound in remote Kashgar in Xinjiang, China, Alice brought back an extraordinary image of three Uyghurs boys fooling around, “Kashgar Trio.” The photo is from a time prior to China’s repression and human rights violations of Uyghurs, Alice notes, as she wonders aloud about the fate of the three.

“I loved those three guys,” says Alice. “It was a rainy, muddy day, and they were really mugging for the camera. I have many photos of children doing that, and eventually, I would like to put those photos together for a display, as well.”

Alice has a vast collection of extraordinary photos gathered from her travels, which concluded in 2013. That was just a few years before she and her husband, Thomas Laurenson, moved to their Branford home in 2016.

Prior to moving back to Branford with Tom, Alice first resided in town in the 1990s. She also resided in New York, where she created the Hudson River Photography Competition and Exhibition. Alice says she put the program together as a way to “...focus positive attention on the Hudson, not only on its beauty but as a resource.”

She also created another exhibit while living in New York, “Celebrate Ossining: People, Places & Things.” Alice also became involved in her communities by helping to found The Little Falls Microfund, one of the first volunteer, non-profit organizations in the nation to offer interest-free microloans to assist individuals and families faced with unexpected financial obstacles.

Additionally, as a lover of history, when Alice learned her town of Little Falls, New York was once the largest cheese market in the U.S., she spearheaded the founding of the Little Falls Cheese Festival. Today, the annual fall festival is New York state’s premiere event for gathering cheese makers and cheese lovers from across the country.

Tom is also a civic-minded member of the family. Among several contributions to the Branford community, he helped to found the non-profit Branford Microfund, for which Alice serves as a board member.

On Nov. 5, the Laurensons were joined by many well-wishers, friends, and community members during the opening reception for “Connections and Reflections.”

The exhibit combines two walls of Alice’s work with two walls of work done in black and white by her friend in photography, Azar Behjati. Behjati, an Easton resident, describes herself as primarily a street photographer who likes to capture “...specific moments when shapes, movements, and light interact with each other in unsuspecting and somewhat surreal ways.”

The free exhibit is sponsored by the Friends of Willoughby Wallace Memorial Library. The public is welcome to enjoy the exhibit in the library gallery, 146 Thimble Island Road in Stony Creek, now through Nov. 27. All of the framed, matted photos on display in the exhibit are available for purchase. For inquiries, please contact Alice Laurenson at