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Photographer Aaron Cameron Muntz (center) listens to Terry Eiler at Muntz's gallery opening for his Diminished Views exhibit held at the Dairy Barn Arts Center in Athens, Ohio, on Thursday, Oct. 31, 2019.

Photo exhibition has original, hopeful take on The Ridges

A new exhibition at The Dairy Barn Arts Center, 8000 Dairy Lane, shows The Ridges like never seen before. 

Diminished Views, an exhibition by Aaron Cameron Muntz, a New York-based, Ohio University alumnus, opened at the Dairy Barn on Thursday, Oct. 31. The exhibition features 14 photographs of rooms in abandoned buildings at The Ridges.

“I’ve seen a lot of photos of The Ridges, but none quite like his,” Holly Ittel, exhibitionist director at the Dairy Barn, said.

Ittel sees a beauty and quietness to Muntz’s images. The photographs contrast with what The Ridges is historically known for: ghost stories. 

“These photos show color, sadness there in daily life — what happens when it’s a space that was once filled is now empty,” Ittel said. “This is a new perspective. You don’t necessarily picture mental health facilities filled with light and colorful walls and drapes.“

Ittel has a personal connection to The Ridges. She worked at the Kennedy Museum of Art for a period of time. She knows Muntz’s subject matter personally. She thinks Diminished Views showcases the nature of conversations surrounding mental health and misconceptions. 

The exhibition pairs great with a walking tour of The Ridges, Ittel said. Diminished Views is a great endcap.

“It’s very unique,” Kyle Duermit, a senior studying commercial photography, said. “(One photograph) kinda looks like a painting, like a fairy tale. It’s surreal, like a weird dream.” 

Muntz believes his work is a very personal way of telling a story about The Ridges. Only he could capture these images with his point of view. 

“I do believe there is something about this work that is different than any other work that can be made about the place,” Muntz, who works as a professional photographer, said.

Muntz is a 1998 graduate of the School of Visual Communication. His experiences as a student shaped him more than he ever imagined. He learned a lot at OU, he said. 

Unlike rumors or common lore surrounding The Ridges, the photographs aren’t intended to be creepy or unnerving. They are full of color and light. 

Muntz described the process of photographing these rooms at The Ridges as “serendipitous.” It was by chance that he was able to capture the first set of images in summer 2000. 

“After visiting the museum, I was just wandering around and had my camera on me and a construction worker saw me,” Muntz said. “He told me that it was way more interesting inside.”

The experience was one-of-a-kind. For him, no other individual will capture images like he did. 

“It was at a time where I was unchaperoned,” Muntz said. “I had free range to do whatever I wanted in there. Based off what I understand, that's just not possible anymore.”

The construction worker gave Muntz access to a building by ladder. The construction worker warned Muntz to leave by 5 p.m., though, before the ladder was taken away.  

Muntz returned to New York and realized he had captured something special after developing his photos. He requested university permission to enter another building of The Ridges and photograph again in spring 2001.

The images were in and out of Muntz’s portfolio over time. It wasn’t until recently he thought about displaying them in an exhibition, specifically at the Dairy Barn. 

To Muntz, the photographs aren’t just taken in Athens — they are Athens. The exhibition is a part of local culture. 

The way the photographs are taken perhaps represents the point of view for former patients, Muntz said. 

“There's this feeling of — especially because those images were shot from the floor — being on the floor, being at the lowest point that you can be,” he said.

The title of the exhibition is inspired by this, Muntz said. The title explores how people with mental illnesses have been treated by society in a historical context. 

“The point of view, being on the floor, and also what we've done (is) how we've treated mental health over the years — the idea that we take a person who sees the world in a different way, and we diminish their view,” Muntz said. 

But the exhibition has a larger message than just Muntz’s point of view as the image-capturer. It’s about the larger conversation surrounding mental health.

“Having my own experiences with mental health issues over the years, either through my own issues or the issues of people close to me and friends, I want it to be out in the open,” Muntz said. “I want people to be talking about it.”

Muntz hopes his photographs combat the stigma surrounding mental health.

“I want people to know that that's OK,” Muntz added. “We all need to support each other, our friends, family members and strangers.” 

Diminished Views is on display in the Chaddock-Morrow Gallery until Nov. 30. Gallery-goers can stop by Tuesday through Saturday, noon to 5 p.m.


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