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Chris Otten captures isolation, emptiness and identity in photos

This past Friday, a new exhibit opened at Collaboration Coffee titled “Wounded Deer.” The photographic images on display were created by Chris Otten, instructor in digital photography at Yakima Valley College.

What struck me first was this feeling of isolation and emptiness in many of the photos. Otten says his work “deals with issues of identity and place, the relationship between the two and how memory plays an important role in how we remember home and who we were while we were there.”

In his work “Blue Indian,” he has isolated a small blue plastic Indian figure, bringing back memories of plastic cowboys and Indians I played with as a child.

Listening to Otten speak at the opening, he discussed how his work is influenced by Native American identity, especially Apache.

Growing up in Oklahoma, he talked about how his work expresses the absence of color in Oklahoma, and this is reflected in his work, which demonstrates the hardships of American culture and how the focus of our society is making ends meet.

His concern as a photographer “centers on the relationship between the rural lands of the American West, and its loss within an ever-expanding society. Society has sacrificed memory and its artifacts to the concrete giants of civilized growth. There are many overlooked histories that are embedded within this frontier,” he states.

It is his hope that audiences “not only appreciate the meaningful documentation of these arid lands, but will also consider how the original inhabitants were affected by Manifest Destiny. By documenting sites, in conjunction with constructing fictional tableaus, I invite viewers to reimagine the American West.”

Otten holds a bachelor of fine arts from the University of Central Oklahoma and a master of fine arts from the University of South Florida. He has exhibited nationally, including galleries in Annapolis, Md., Long Beach, Calif., Minneapolis, Tampa, Fla., and Wichita, Kan.

You can view the exhibition “Wounded Deer” through the end of September at Collaboration Coffee, 18 S. First St. in Yakima.

• David Lynx is executive director of the Larson Galley at Yakima Valley College. Learn more at

Reach Tammy Ayer at or on Facebook.

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