Kurt Gohde saw something on Loudon Avenue, and then he saw something else, but he wasn't sure what it was.
"I saw a couch, kind of a plaid couch, teetering on top of an old television set — you know, from back when televisions were bigger than couches?" says Gohde, an associate professor of art at Transylvania University. "They were both discarded, and I just really liked that image, and I liked the idea of this stack of stuff, and I liked the idea of photographing someone on it, but I couldn't figure out why to do it or who to photograph."
He talked to his recent partner in art, Transy assistant English professor Kremena Todorova, about what he had seen and what he was thinking. At the time, they were preparing their big multifaceted show at the Lexington Art League, Passing: Fashioning Drag.
But they also began trolling for couches that eventually would make up the 277 images in Discarded, which opens Friday night at Land of Tomorrow Gallery on Third Street.
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Gohde and Todorova liked the idea of documenting something that had been recently inside but was now outside, and re-creating the life of the object in the home out on the curb.
First, though, they had to get people to sit on their couches.
"We were really shy about asking people," Todorova says, shortly after shooting one of the last pictures of the series: of Transy President R. Owen Williams. "I went to neighbors of mine three times, and each time they would put me off, saying, 'Oh, my roommate is not here and it's his couch' or 'It's too cold to come outside.'"
They took their first picture on Jan. 10, 2010. It was a rare sunny Sunday in the midst of a deep cold snap. Billy, their first subject, was standing outside in shorts, smoking a cigarette. "It was a balmy 22 degrees," Gohde says.
"We asked him, and it was so easy," Gohde continues. "There was snow on the couch and he said, 'That's OK,' and he sat on the snow.
"Like anything else, getting the first person to say yes just made everything else so much easier. Then, we were much more comfortable knocking on people's doors and asking them to come out."
Ideally, they wanted to get a couch's former owners to sit. If not, the photographers would ask whether the owners knew someone who'd be willing to sit, or they would find people walking along the sidewalk.
Along the way, they came up with some local notables, including Mayor Jim Gray, who was their subject when he was vice mayor, and artist and radio personality Mick Jeffries, who stood in when one of his neighbors didn't want to be photographed.
But some of the most memorable subjects were ordinary people with stories poignant and extraordinary.
"One of the obvious, interesting parts is just stories that you hear," Gohde says. "In a very short period of time, you find out so much about people's lives. Sometimes they're just ready to tell you something, and sometimes they're always that open."
The exhibit will include video projections of the images; some of the stories that the photographers collected; poetry in response to the images; and an original song by Vandaveer, a Washington-based musician with local roots. Each image is accompanied by the first names of the people in the image, the time, date, location and temperature, and the reason the piece was discarded.
Todorova says, "The project started as a fun idea, and it has been fun. But along the way, we have talked to people and gone into neighborhoods where we wouldn't normally go. ... It's really been tremendous, and it's made me like Lexington even more."