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Student Spotlight
Student-Faculty Collaborative Grant - Kevin Thrasher

Kevin Thrasher – an ETSU photography student – received funding for a 2006 Student-Faculty Collaborative Research Grant to work on a project photographing Gap Creek Road. Thrasher’s project chronicles Gap Creek Road and the people who populate it in medium-format photography. He and his faculty adviser, Michael Smith, professor in the East Tennessee State University Department of Art and Design are currently working on an exhibition of the work.

            Gap Creek Road is approximately 8.1 miles from start to finish. Thrasher says, “I discovered Gap Creek Road as a shortcut on my way to get Thai food in Hampton and there was something interesting in the landscape.” However, what began as a project to capture the landscape quickly became about the people as well. “These people and their lives are so different from me. They’re a lot like me in some ways, but their lives have been lived so differently from mine.”

Kevin Thrasher with Michael Smith

            Michael Smith says that he has been pleased to help Thrasher with such a promising project. “I’m always looking to steal ideas from my students,” says Smith, laughing. “I’m enthused by the work and by watching Kevin’s maturing as an artist. The project isn’t over yet – it’s still very much a work in progress. We meet regularly and review the work. We make editorial decisions and talk about the purpose of the project, as well as the outcome. Right now we’re discussing the end project – the exhibition.”

            “We eat lunch a lot,” says Thrasher.

            “Yes,” says Smith. “We have working lunches. We have a great working relationship and casual friendship.”

            As the exhibition approaches, both Thrasher and Smith are quick to point out that the end of the grant-related work is by no means the end of the project itself. Thrasher wants to continue the work and revisit the people he has met during the time he has been involved on the project. He  also wants to capture each season of Gap Creek in a calendar year to see “how the landscape changes, yet stays the same.”

(Click on the images for a larger view.)

Cemetery Statue

Creeping Death


Couple in car


Creek View

            Thrasher traces his interest in photography back to high school, where he saved up the money to purchase his first camera. From photographing his friends, Thrasher moved on to ETSU where he connected with Smith.

            “I’ve known Mike now for probably five or six years,” says Thrasher. “We’re able to go get lunch together and talk about the project easily. Mike is one of the best critics – he’s very open about his opinion and honest about the work.”

            Smith says, “I feel that it’s a very privileged part of the process to get to watch an artist mature and grow into their voice. It’s great to watch somebody go from not being able to load the camera to planning their first exhibition, and Kevin is particularly satisfying that way.”

            For students interested in following a path similar to Thrasher’s, Smith advises, “It’s best to go in with a well conceived idea on the front end. Kevin had a goal to achieve and a beginning idea about how to get there. It also helps to have experience with the tools and the medium so that you’re ready to execute the project. This is not the time to learn how to use the camera. This is the time to use those basic skills to produce a meaningful body of work.”

Thrasher advises that regardless of their field of study, those interested in applying for grants pursue it. “I like to think that my project was interesting enough on its own to get funding,” says Thrasher, “But I’ve also had enough feedback from Dr. Levy and from Linda Wyatt to know that the university likes to see diversity in the program. There’s work to be done in philosophy, literature, and any of the other arts.  I can’t wait until the next symposium to see what else is being done.”

            Thrasher also points out that the funding is a great help. Says Thrasher, “Having access to other resources and to what you need is a great feeling. Being able to reach into the cooler for more film is a great feeling for a photographer, and it doesn’t hurt on a transcript,” he adds, laughing.


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