EJ Barthelemy '23

Year of Graduation: 
EJ Barthelemy poses for a photo

"I feel very supported here and it’s given me a chance to really hone my craft and share my work with others."

In the rounded corner connecting the atriums of the Frederick R. Mayer Art Center hangs a collection of photographs captivating enough to stop passersby in their tracks.

The first exhibit in the newly branded Hallspace Student Gallery, “Proximity” showcases photographs by EJ Barthelemy ’23. Shot in and around Manhattan’s Washington Square Park in the summer of 2022, the pieces alternate between the photojournalistic — frames captured at a protest following the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Dobbs v. Jackson case — and portrait work documenting people in everyday scenes. The result is simultaneously hyper-current and timeless.

“EJ explores the duality between observation and engagement within community,” Director and Curator of the Lamont Gallery Pam Meadows says. “He has a really infectious, positive energy about him that immediately fosters a sense of connection which he brings wholeheartedly into his documentary photographs.”

Fulfilling one of her objectives after taking on the role last year, Meadows works with student artists to identify pieces that are a fit for the Hallspace. “EJ’s work has a sincere focus on community and learning from one another and we felt it would be an impactful first show in the space,” she says. “It’s been a real joy to watch students in transit, look up, pause, then stop and spend time with his work.”

We caught up with the Harvard-bound Barthelemy to learn more about his approach to art and the support he’s received from the Academy to pursue his passion.

When did your interest in photography start?

I first started taking pictures in seventh grade. I would just use the camera on my phone. There was something about how everything fit into a one frame that made sense to me.

How has that interest grown at Exeter?

When I got to Exeter as a prep, I remember seeing an older student with a serious camera, so I walked over to him and we started talking. His name is Thomas Wang ’20 and he got me involved in taking photos for The Exonian and The PEAN. The next year I took ART405: Adv Photography: Beyond the Camera with Ms. St. Onge who instilled in me the simple joy of taking an image; it was life-changing. From there, I worked with the Athletics Department, taking sports photos and shooting events for the Communications Department. There are so many avenues on campus where I could pursue photography and cultivate it into a genuine passion.

Tell us about the pieces that makeup “Proximity.” Some feel chaotic and others feel serene. How do they all fit together?

Whether I’m shooting an event or an individual, I like to really capture someone’s essence, their humanity. In order to get these images, it wasn’t about me sitting back and taking a picture from afar. It was about me really engaging with them. It wouldn’t be a photo and then walk away. It would be a photo and a meaningful conversation. I chose the title “Proximity” because in order to get these images, I had to be in the action, present in the moment.

Is there a piece you’re most proud of?

The photo I’m most proud of from this exhibition is called “Untitled” for a reason: I wanted to let it speak for itself. It’s from a protest in Washington Square Park and there were thousands of people getting elbowed around, tossed around, shoved. Somehow I made it to the front, where people were speaking and there was this one guy with a bullhorn and he was chanting to the crowd. I stood up on a bench and shouted, “Yo!” He looked up at me and looked right into the camera and I snapped the shot. I love how striking his passion is in the image and also the background, too. The frame really shows the full essence of the scene of where I was, what was taking place. I felt that this was a pretty historic moment and I wanted to be there to capture it.

How does it feel to have your work featured in the Mayer Art Center?

This building features professional artists, and to have my work up there alongside those works is honestly incredible. That is a testament to just how invested Exeter is in its students and providing students a platform to really pursue the things that they want to pursue. I feel very supported here and it’s given me a chance to really hone my craft and share my work with others.

Editor's note: This article first appeared in the spring 2023 issue of The Exeter Bulletin.