Words: Melissa Schill ’22
Photos: Ciara Stuhler ’22
Ciara's self portrait
Watching two strangers hug is an unusual experience. There’s always a little hesitation, then the dance of the arms. There is obvious stiffness, an unsureness and unfamiliarity. Sometimes there’s a little laughter, the kind that reveals an underlying current of nervousness.
For all of the listed reasons, witnessing two strangers hug is a rare occurrence. And it is why senior Ciara Stuhler’s photography collection, Embrace, is especially striking.
After spending the past two years in a global pandemic, loneliness has become a pandemic of its own. Ciara explained, “This project is a commentary on how connection is an everlasting human condition and isn’t lost. We can still love each other, still meet people in a meaningful way.” To illustrate the point, she brought pairs of strangers into the studio and captured the moments of simultaneous awkwardness and joy as they embraced each other.
Embrace began as a final project for a film photography class. In the process of putting together the collection, it took another meaningful turn that Ciara wasn’t expecting. It became a commentary on not just the importance of connection in general, but the importance of highlighting supportive, platonic connection.
“Something like human connection has a lot of space to be perverted in the world. There’s no space for affection: beautiful, platonic, familial touch,” Ciara explained. “You never see this kind of soft, beautiful, supportive affection especially between men.”
Photography has always been a means of human connection and expression for Ciara. She purchased her first camera during her freshman year and began developing what proved to be an innate talent. On a trip to Boston during her sophomore year, Ciara picked up a love for street photography and spent the entire week photographing strangers in their city. A year later, while studying abroad in South Korea, she filled up her memory card with photos of both strangers and friends.
With graduation around the corner, Ciara is faced with the decision of whether her love for photography will blossom into a career or remain a personal passion. As a psychology major, Ciara knows that wherever she ends up, she can put her classroom skills into action, even as a photographer. “Interpersonal storytelling drives a lot of my creativity in photography,” she explained. “Having the knowledge I learned from my psychology classes can better help me connect with people around me whose stories I want to honor.”
This project is a commentary on how connection is an everlasting human condition and isn’t lost. We can still love each other, still meet people in a meaningful way.
"Embrace" collection piece
Ciara sought to include a diverse range of students in the project.
"Embrace" collection piece
All of her subjects were volunteers that responded to Ciara's call for models via Instagram.