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Thursday, June 20, 2024
The Observer

Student captures 'united faces of Emily'

emily graphic
Photos courtesy of Kay Xu
Photos courtesy of Kay Xu

Junior Kay Xu is on a mission to track down each of the 98 Emilys on Notre Dame’s campus and take a photograph of each woman.

Shooting her subjects smiling, talking, scowling and laughing, Xu said she is trying to capture what makes the Emilys of Notre Dame similar and what makes them unique.

“I think it’s really interesting; it’s really kind of weird,” she said. “Many times, in photography, people want to see weird things.”

Xu said her project — which she calls the “United Faces of Emily” — began as an assignment for a photography class.

The original directive, she said, was to photograph three people who were related in some way.

After discovering two other people on campus had the same full name as her former roommate, junior Emily Morgan, Xu said she decided their shared name would be the focus of her project.  She said the motivation behind this decision was her belief that when two people have the same name, there exists a special connection between them.

“Sometimes you hear someone has the same name as yours, and you feel like she’s your sister or she’s your family, though you don’t know her,” Xu said.

When she was unable to contact one of the three Emily Morgans, she expanded her attention to include all of the Emilys on campus.

Xu said through meeting and taking pictures of Notre Dame’s Emilys, she hopes to explore the impact of a person’s name on her identity.

“What does a name mean?” she asked. “If your name is Emily, what does it mean to you? What does it make different? When you are meeting other Emilys, what kind of feelings do you have?”

Practically speaking, Xu said she hopes to photograph at least half of the almost 100 Emilys on campus during Wednesday afternoon photo sessions in Riley Hall of Art and Design.

“It’s kind of awkward,” she said. “I really haven’t done something like staying in a room with strangers for two hours, one hour, even 20 minutes. That’s hard for me. But I just get more and more comfortable with the talking and shooting process.”

Morgan said Xu infuses the project with energy and creativity.

“She gets really excited when shooting, and talks and talks and talks with the Emilys. I've gone to multiple shoots to just sit and talk too,” Morgan said. “There's a lot of laughter.

“It's a bold step for someone in her position to take. She isn't even a design major but still took this photography class solely based on interest," she said.

Xu hopes to display the portraits she has captured of the individual Emilys for the campus community along with a final composite photograph fused together from the individual shots in an exhibit at the end of the semester, she said.

“Photography — there’s something technical about it, how you make photos really pretty,” Xu said. “But the other side is the humanities, philosophy — the social side. Through these, I don’t want to just take photos of people. I want to make those photos mean something to them and to me and probably to the rest of the world.”