The ‘incredible spirit’ of Penn State football fandom comes alive at Bellefonte exhibit

A collection of photographer Gerald Lang’s images of Penn State football fans is on display in a new exhibit at the Bellefonte Art Museum.
A collection of photographer Gerald Lang’s images of Penn State football fans is on display in a new exhibit at the Bellefonte Art Museum. Photo provided

Gerald Lang began teaching photography classes at Penn State in 1969, before retiring in 2005, having helped revolutionize the field of digital photography.

And now, visitors to the Bellefonte Art Museum can view the snapshots that helped Lang usher in the digitalized era. The exhibit, titled “We Are: a View from the Field,” is a collection of Lang photos from 1997 to 2004, depicting Nittany Lion enthusiasts in various states of fandom.

To capture such images, Lang set up shop on the field of Beaver Stadium and simply “turned (his) camera to the crowd.” Despite the age of the photos, Lang said he hopes the exhibit still captures the “incredible spirit during football season” that’s been present since his arrival in the ‘60s.

“It gives a good taste of what I was looking for, and what I found,” he said.

The collection is also meant to serve as an unofficial celebration of Lang’s founding of the Digital Photography Studio at Penn State, which was one of the first studios of its kind on any college campus. The history of Lang’s imagery is intertwined with his quest to fund and expand the premier workshop.

Established in 1996, the studio met skepticism from both staff members and university officials, with such resistance manifesting in the form of a minuscule budget. This dearth of support continued, at least until Sue Paterno, wife of Joe Paterno, attended one of Lang’s classes.

Privy to helping the studio secure funding, Paterno suggested that Lang show off the technology at Beaver Stadium, so as to both increase visibility and attract outside financial support. The images that Lang captured now hang inside the walls of the Bellefonte Art Museum.

While Lang couldn’t choose his favorite photo in the collection, he pointed out that most audience members were drawn to the more tribalistic images, where the human figure is doused in blue and white.

One of those phoots depicts a young man covered in body paint, with blue splotches dotting his otherwise titanium white upper body, and the phrase “I Live For This” sprawled across his chest. Other exhibitions of Lang’s work have been hosted by the museum, including collections of flowers and butterflies.

Lang is proud to continue the partnership, praising the museum for its support of local artists and avoiding any “reserved, big city” pretenses. He’s also happy with the favorable reaction that the collection has received so far, especially considering what he called the “unusual nature of the exhibition.”

“I barely walked into the museum before people came up to me and complimented the pictures,” he said.

“We Are: a View from the Field” is on display at the Bellefonte Art Museum through Oct. 28.