A community self-portrait

May 6, 2014

Interview with Christelle Perrin on her photography exhibition on the international spouses and partners of MIT faculty and students.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

I am from France and I arrived in Boston ten months ago. In Paris, I was working as a marketing manager in the perfume industry. When I arrived in Boston I wanted to focus on creative pursuits. I started taking photography classes right away at New England School of Photography. I also volunteered at museums and I am now a tour guide at the Institute of Contemporary Art and a gallery and visitor service facilitator at the LVAC and the MIT Museum. 

Can you introduce the project, and what is it about?

When I arrived in Boston everything was new for me. I had to adapt to a new environment, improve my English and find my way here. I even had a new status: I had suddenly become a spouse. It was really hard to present myself or explain what I was doing here. When anyone asked me what I was doing here, I started talking about my husband, but I realized then that the conversation never came back to me!

I began taking photographs and portraits of people in general, and then I realized that I was taking a lot of portraits of people in the MIT spouses&partners community, simply because they are my friends. Each time we talked while we were taking the photos, and I realized that we were all facing the same kinds of difficulties, but also good things. Everyone had had to adapt, but what really caught my attention was that people were also mostly very happy and enjoying their experience here. They had all found ways to transform their experience; to try something new and to benefit from it. I wanted to capture that; I wanted to show this community because it is full of great people from so many different countries and backgrounds. 

As I got more involved with MIT spouses&partners, I realized that there are approximately 800 spouses or partners at MIT. It is a huge community but no one really knows about them. So I decided to look and show who they are and what they are experiencing. 

What motivated you to take on this project?

This project is like a laboratory for me; it helped me to realize that I am not the only one having these kinds of experiences. Now whenever I am anxious or doubting myself, I tell myself that we are probably 800 people at times doubting ourselves. It then becomes much less dramatic!  I also really love this community. I went to my first MIT s&p meeting as soon as I stepped off the plane upon arriving (I even had my suitcases with me!) as they were holding a career orientation workshop, and I was really obsessed with that. But also at that time, a “spouses&partners” group sounded really old fashioned to me. I didn’t know what I would find there. I attended the meeting because of the career workshop. And then I really changed my mind because I met a lot of people like myself, in the same situation, and who became great friends. That’s why I wanted to show this community. It is full of great people. Maybe they are not the people you might think they are. 

What is the future of the project?

The project evolved each time I met a new person, and also as I improved my knowledge of photography. The first part of this project was to show who the spouses and partners at MIT are and what they are experiencing. Now the challenge as a photographer is to be able to tell their story in photographs! It is hard as nobody fits into a box, but especially not the spouses! These people have already had several different lives, different roles. But that’s alright; I like challenges. 

Thanks to MIT spouses&partners, the exhibit is on display at the MIT Wiesner Student Art Gallery, Stratton Student Center, 2nd floor, from May 7th to June 30th, 2014. 

More of Christelle’s work can be seen on her photography blog UneNoteDeBlue.