Monday, February 23, 2015

Clare Benson

Clare Benson is a photographer and interdisciplinary artist from the United States. Her work has been exhibited and screened throughout the US and internationally. Benson earned her MFA in Photography at the University of Arizona in Tucson, and her BFA in Photography at Central Michigan University. She is currently living in northern Sweden on a Fulbright Fellowship.

Artist Statement: The Shepherd's Daughter

My work is deeply rooted in my family history. After the death of my mother when I was eleven years old, I became increasingly curious about notions of family, memory, and mortality.

I grew up with my father: an avid hunter, archery champion, and former hunting guide in the Alaskan wilderness. Before my father, my grandmother was a hunter and before that my great-grandmother, and long before that the stars made up constellations that told stories of the greatest hunts. In my work, the nuances of hunting and the rugged northern Michigan landscape of my childhood are woven with narratives of genealogy and identity, memory and mythology, time and space.

Interview conducted by Allison Jarek, Exhibition Coordinator for the Joyce Elaine Grant Exhibition 

Allison Jarek: How did your series The Shepherd’s Daughter begin and evolve?

Clare Benson:
The Shepherd's Daughter began unofficially in 2011 when I was in graduate school. Before this I had been making work that explored my relationship with my mother and my memories of her illness and death when I was a child. One day someone asked me what I would make work about if I wasn't making work about my mother. Without hesitation I answered, “My father.” For as long as I can remember, I've been fascinated by family history, memory, mortality, and how these aspects are (or are not) reconciled as we go through life; how they become part of our identity and the way that we interpret the world.

When I started creating these images, I wanted to connect with my father and get to know who he was beneath all of the differences and the fifty-two years that separate us. I came across a collection of old slides from the 1970s, when he was a hunting guide in Alaska, and I began using these as inspiration. Some of my photographs were staged to mimic specific images from this old collection; an attempt to insert myself into moments that had died long ago, moments I could never know.

As I continued this work, I dug deeper into my family history, learning about the stories of my ancestors and their relationship to the same place where I grew up. At a certain point I realized that in all of this digging I was ultimately seeking some understanding of my own place in the world; my connection to family tradition, to time, and to the silent memories of the landscape.

AJ: Describe your working process. Is your methodology more intuitive or constructed?

My working process involves a combination of intuition and some planning, but mostly intuition. I find inspiration in dreams, things I see in films, read in books, or experience in life. I try to write notes and sketch things out as much as possible. Sometimes I have a really clear idea of an image before I go to shoot and other times I just play and explore. Once in a while, an idea comes to life years later and I remember only afterward that the idea existed long before.

I've had a lot of “coming full circle” moments in my work, which is something that helps me feel more free, and allows me to trust the process.

AJ: How do you think about your use of props/familial objects in your work and what part do they play in your investigation of memory?

For a number of the images in this series, I have worked with animals: some living, some recently hunted, and some that have been taxidermied (though I assume it is fairly obvious, it should be noted that the animals in my images have not been, and will never be, killed for the purpose of this project).

It's hard for me to speak of them as props or objects, but rather as characters. They still have a certain life to them, and for me they represent memory. Like photographs, they are frozen in time, capturing, preserving, and memorializing some essence of a moment. By taking them off the wall and back into nature, it is like turning back time, moving through memory in reverse.

AJ: What have you learned about yourself and your family through the creation of this series?

I've grown closer to myself and my family through this process, and in ways that I couldn't have imagined when I started this series. The work has opened up great conversations and interactions with family members; many of them have become more trusting and vulnerable in this time, sharing stories and experiences from the past. I've developed a profound respect for each of them and the bond that we share. Perhaps some of this is simply a result of growing older and realizing the importance of family; either way, it is a feeling I am grateful to know.

AJ: You are currently a Fulbright Fellow. For artists interested in pursuing a Fulbright, can you speak about the process?

I am currently in the middle of my Fulbright project here in Sweden and will be finishing up at the end of June. The application process involves a lot of work and research. It helps to have some previous experience working or studying abroad, and to be very specific with where you want to go and why; it should be a place that is crucial to the development of the project. Community involvement is also important with the Fulbright program; one of the biggest hats that one is expected to wear as a Fulbright scholar is that of an ambassador. And of course persistence is key, as is the case with all applications and the inevitable rejections that come with the process. I applied two years in a row and was accepted the second time around. It is an incredibly rewarding experience and worth all of the hard work, even if it is just for the practice of gathering information and putting together the application.

AJ: Your traveling exhibition The Shepherd’s Daughter is currently at Texas Woman's University in conjunction with the Joyce Elaine Grant Exhibition. What were your experiences putting together a solo exhibition? Do you have any advice for emerging photographers in the beginning stages of their careers?

Last year I received the Joyce Elaine Grant Solo Show Award. That was something that pushed me to expand this series, which in turn has opened up many more opportunities to exhibit and share the work. Group exhibitions can be fantastic, but a solo exhibition allows the work to be seen in an isolated and immersive environment; it allows the different works to speak to each other from across the room. This is something I think about a lot, especially since I work across multiple disciplines.

My advice for emerging/early career photographers would be to keep shooting and to keep putting your work out there. Apply to shows and competitions and reviews (yes, it will be exhausting), and somewhere among the sea of people who see your work, there will be those who really see it, and who want to exhibit it and award it and offer valuable feedback to make it even stronger.

Installation shots by Rachael Banks 

Monday, February 16, 2015

Curator: April Watson

Priya Kambli

April Watson is Curator of Photography at The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Missouri, where she has worked for seven years. She holds a BFA in graphic design from Alfred University, an MA in art history from The University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, and a PhD in art history from The University of Kansas, where she completed dissertation on post-WWII photographers of the American social landscape. At the Nelson-Atkins, she has curated and co-curated numerous exhibitions, including Impressionist France: Visions of Nation from Le Gray to Monet, which was co-organized with Simon Kelly at the Saint Louis Art Museum; Heartland: The Photographs of Terry Evans, a career retrospective of the artist; American Soldier; About Face: Contemporary Portraiture; Thinking Photography: Five Decades at the Kansas City Art Institute; Time in the West: Photographs by Mark Klett & Byron Wolfe and Mark Ruwedel; Human/Nature: Recent European Landscape Photography; and Hide & Seek: Picturing Childhood. She is currently at work on an exhibition of photographs featuring American soldiers and military personnel, from the Civil War to the present day. She lives in Kansas City with her husband, photographer Elijah Gowin, and their two daughters.

Watson juried the 14th Annual Joyce Elaine Grant Photography Exhibition at Texas Woman's University, which opened February 11, 2015, and will be on view until March 13, 2015.

Juror Statement

In selecting works for this exhibition, I felt it was important to reflect the immense variety of creative approaches that currently define contemporary photographic practice. By orienting submissions towards a theme, I hoped to encounter works that, no matter how they were made or conceived, challenged everyday perception in unique and surprising ways. To my delight, that is precisely what occurred.

It was impossible to include as many objects as I would have liked. I feel, however, that the final selection reflects an accomplished body of works that enlarges our understanding of what is possible with respect to photographic image-making today. Included in this exhibition are a range of technical processes and conceptual approaches, granting no singular style or methodology precedence over another. Ultimately, and through many painful edits, I determined to bring works together to create a visual dialogue that (it is hoped) resonates throughout the exhibition.

New technologies and rhetorical trends have always shaped the way pictures get made, seen, shown, and discussed. What persists is an abiding curiosity for photography’s capacity to picture and present things differently than one might ordinarily see them. This exhibition celebrates that simple, yet enduring, fascination. These works took me momentarily “Out of this World,” and it is hoped that they will inspire a similar experience for others as well.

Interview conducted by Deedra Baker, Exhibition Co-Coordinator for the Joyce Elaine Grant Exhibition 

Deedra Baker: How did your graphic design and art history educational backgrounds lead you to curatorial interests in photography?

April Watson:
I loved art school: it opened my eyes to new ways of thinking about creative expression, intellectual discourse, and in the most practical of terms, how to actually make things. As a graphic design major, I learned how to organize and prioritize information visually and spatially. I also took several photography classes and learned the technical and conceptual rudiments of the medium, as well as how to best present work. I always loved art history classes-even the ones that met at 8 am on cold, snowy mornings in upstate New York. I spent a semester abroad in my junior year and backpacked around Europe, visiting many of the places and masterpieces that one studies in Art History 101. That determined for me that I wanted to learn more about the history of art.

Additionally, I confirmed as an undergraduate that I was far better at writing about art than actually making it. I recall during one of my end-of-semester critique in Freshman Foundation, a very kind, very honest professor said to me after viewing my less-than-scintillating work (things into which I’d poured my heart and soul): “You know, I can see you as a gallery director or some kind of arts professional.” I think he was graciously hinting that I should think about diversifying my experience!

In hindsight, I realize this foundational experience as an undergraduate was vital as I began to think about photography in more abstract, theoretical terms in graduate school. In many ways, it keeps my curating grounded in a fundamental love of photographs as objects. Not that art school is a necessary precedent for that way of thinking and working as a curator. But for me, it planted a seed.

Linda Alterwitz

DB: Through your diverse curatorial accomplishments, which photographic genres interest you the most? What would be your dream curatorial assignment?

As I often say, the history of photography, relative to other areas of curatorial expertise, is a relatively short history, so it’s good to have a strong fondness for many time periods and genres. Some scholars have devoted years of their academic and museum careers to one general subject or time period. Though I admire that level of expertise, it’s not the way I work. I can’t work that way, really: museums do not attract visitors the way they did 20-30 years ago. We need to offer a broad menu of options and approaches to subject matter: both long-term, scholarly projects and smaller shows whose themes might appeal to visitors who have no knowledge of photography’s history, but who love looking at great photographs.

On a personal level, I’ve always loved French 19th century material-my graduate advisor at the University of New Mexico was Eugenia ‘Nia’ Parry (then Eugenia Parry Janis). She and Andre Jammes produced the first major study of the key practitioners of this time period. She inspired me through her passionate lectures and brilliant insights to think deeply about what photographs meant, bringing literature, philosophy, and art history to bear on interpretation.

I also like post-WWII American “documentary-style” work, particularly photographers working during the 1960s and 1970s. The American social landscape has always fascinated me as a subject.

Honestly, I’m not sure what my dream curatorial assignment would be: I do think that an exhibition focusing on photographic practice in the 1970s in general warrants in-depth scholarly treatment, since this is the period that has shaped the current academic and curatorial landscape. It all exploded in the early seventies: the gallery scene, the market, the proliferation of graduate programs in photography in art schools, the expansion of curatorial departments in museums dedicated strictly to photography, an increase in conceptual artists who regularly used photography in their creative practices. It is an important history to document.

I also believe there is great potential in creating thoughtful exhibitions and installations that mix photography with painting, sculpture, video and installation. The exhibitions that have done this-- either projects that I have worked on or have seen elsewhere—bring a fresh appreciation of the medium by letting photography out of its medium-specific cage, so to speak. Mixing media in exhibitions can enrich our collective understanding of the artistic cross-pollination that took place during particular historical moments.

I also believe that there are certain photographers whose work certainly warrants monographic treatment. As a curator, I serve as a conduit for artists. I see my job, at least in part, is to create exhibition opportunities so that their work may be seen by as wide an audience as possible.

Garrett Hansen

DB: For the 14th Annual Joyce Elaine Grant Photography Exhibition, you set the theme: Out of this World. What influenced you to create this specific theme? How did you consider selecting work to fit within the theme?

Basically, I was interested in finding work that made me want to look at it for more than five seconds, and that took me outside ordinary modes of perception. I wanted to bring together a group of photographs that were visually engaging, and that prompted me to ask the simple question: What exactly am I looking at in this picture? By selecting the theme, “Out of This World,” I thought I might encourage submissions by artists working in a variety of photographic practices: those who use alternative processes, who work with appropriation, or who make so-called straight, documentary-style photographs. Luckily, that strategy was successful. In the end, I included a bit of everything.

As I focused in on the final selection, I also thought about how pictures might relate to one another in the gallery, with the hope that a visual dialogue might evolve.

DB: What do you feel are the technological and rhetorical trends in contemporary photography? How are these trends shaping the way photographs are made, seen, shown, or discussed?

We’re at another one of those exciting moments of paroxysm in the field, when academics, artists and museum curators (those terms are not mutually exclusive by any means) scramble to define the parameters of contemporary practice. They never fully agree, but in general I enjoy the ongoing debates, as I think it’s healthy for the field to keep from becoming too static.

In terms of trends, there are a few I would identify. I see many artists who are fascinated by the materiality of analog and chemical photographic processes, and explore that as a conceptual practice. People like Marco Breuer, who has been working in this manner for some time, but is just now getting widespread recognition, or Allison Rossiter, Chris McCaw, Mathew Brandt and Liz Deschenes. I also see several artists exploring the threshold between still photography and video: Bill Viola, of course has been doing this for some time, but also younger artists like Owen Kydd and Adam Magyar. And there are many artists that explore the way photographic imagery circulates on the internet and through social media.

I’d add, however, that the kind of work I tend to see in galleries, at art fairs, and in major museum exhibitions differs from the wide variety I see submitted to exhibitions such as this, or at portfolio reviews like Fotofest or Photolucida. Sometimes these worlds intersect, but not as often as one might think, given the numbers of photographers emerging from graduate programs. The market for contemporary art, particularly in places like New York City, drives certain trends in an unhealthy manner, in my opinion. There are also gallerists and dealers who genuinely care and are deeply passionate about contemporary photography, and who play an important role in bringing an artist’s work to wider attention. It can be tough to navigate the market, as both an artist and a curator. I always have to ask myself: will we look back at this work 10-20 years from now and wonder what on earth were we thinking when we acquired it for our collection? Sometimes you just can’t easily answer that question.

I believe it is important to support exhibitions like this one, which create a vital opportunity for artists to show their work. I am very grateful to have been given the opportunity to curate this year’s show, which brought to my attention works I might never have seen otherwise.

Installation shots by Rachael Banks 

Monday, February 9, 2015

Laura Beth Reese

Laura Beth Reese is a Boston-based artist and curator. She was born in Iowa and raised in the Northeastern United States – sometimes in New Jersey and sometimes in Massachusetts. She completed her Bachelor of Arts in 2009 at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, PA and went on to earn her Master of Fine Arts in 2014 from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Reese’s work has been exhibited around the United States, most recently at the Griffin Museum of Photograph and the New Art Center, where she co-curated the recent exhibition I Want To Smell Your Hair. Laura Beth Reese uses photography as a catalyst for intimacy – taking pictures of others as a way of reaching out and connecting. Her projects are often autobiographical: she photographs people that occupy her life in one way or another. Reese photographs with a large format camera and color film.

Artist Statement: Home Study 

Home Study
is one component that addresses my status as an adopted child, focusing on my identity and the ways in which it has been shaped by my adopted family and the spaces in which I spent my childhood. The photographs were made in New Jersey, where I grew up and where my parents currently reside, and Utah, where my formally estranged sister lives. With many of the photographs, I worked in collaboration with both my mother and my sister, so that we could each have a hand in the process of representing the impact of adoption on our family. Our conversations about our family and the problems inherent in adoption strongly affected what I chose to photograph. This collaboration furthered the exploration of my relationships with my mother and my sister, so that the process of taking the photographs became as important as the photographs themselves. The images speak to the ways in which adoption has simultaneously aided in forming my strong relationships with certain family members and created conflict and unease in my relationships with others. Ultimately, the photographs speak to identity, family, and womanhood through the representation of my own personal narrative. They are the result of my constant search for my origins as well as an investigation into the ways that specific people and spaces have or have not shaped my identity.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Christine Rogers

Christine Rogers is an artist from Nashville, Tennessee. She received her BA in Anthropology from Oberlin College in 2004 and her MFA in Studio Art from Tufts University in 2008. She has exhibited widely across the United States and was in a two-person show at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Santiago, Chile in the fall of 2012. She was a Visiting Lecturer of Photography at Wellesley College outside of Boston, Massachusetts from 2008-2011 and has lectured on her work across at various institutions such as Vanderbilt University, Watkins College and Cooper Union in New York. From 2012-2103 Christine was a Fulbright-Nehru Senior Research Scholar completing research for her project, "Photographing Imagined Landscapes: The Switzerland of India" and her first solo show in India was in the spring of 2013 at 1 Shanthi Road Gallery in Bangalore, Karnataka. She has since shown again in 2014 in Mumbai in group shows at Clark House Initiative and Project 88. Her work has been written about in Time Out Bengaluru, The Bangalore Mirror, The Hindu, New Landscape Photography, Hyperallergic, Dazed Digital, The Tennessean and the Nashville Scene. She is an Assistant Professor of Photography at Watkins College in Nashville, TN.

Artist Statement: The Switzerland of India

I went to India in October of 2012 as a Fulbright scholar to photograph the northern hill stations of India, from Darjeeling to Dalhousie all of which lay claim to the landscape of The Switzerland of India.

As a photographer and video artist, I am interested in the cultural and pictorial significance of a tourist visiting one place for the vista while imagining another far away landscape. What has happened in many of the northern hill stations of India is fascinating. Because of the rise of the Indian middle class, explosion of the domestic tourist industry, and the lore and lure of Bollywood filmmaking’s connection to the Swiss landscape, this region has been re-imagined as a surrogate landscape first for contested regions of Northern India and now for Switzerland. These multiple Switzerlands, along with the cultural confluence of India and Switzerland, is creating a fascinating pictorial and conceptual space, where an imitation of an imitation has been constructed.

This notion of constructing a photograph to reinforce desires is still present in the conceptual vocabulary of contemporary photographers, but, in practice, this construction exists not simply to reinforce desires but also to highlight the nature of desire itself. As cultural desires and physical landscapes begin to overlap, a unique cultural and pictorial problem arises. More and more, tourists might engage the landscape by witnessing a physical place (the hill stations of Northern India) but viewing a conceptual space (Switzerland).

After my solo six-month long honeymoon chasing every place that uses the sobriquet, The Switzerland of India, my work evolved into being about the spaces between reality and fantasy and the idea of a landscape; what draws you to a place initially and what happens when you reach that place. I became more interested in how the idea of a landscape is constructed and then how the mountains themselves were constructed through tunnels, roadwork and bridge building. The mountains became a backdrop to all of these other stories: stories of honeymooners, weddings, vernacular photography, hotel owners, taxi drivers, landslides, Bollywood cinema, travel, magic, snow and fires at the daybreak of the Indian middle class tourist industry.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Leslie Hall Brown

Leslie Hall Brown is a photographer and storyteller whose work focuses on her personal experience of the world, including her actual dreams. She draws on the enchantment of her childhood, having grown up in the Capital of Five Civilized Tribes surrounded by a rich American Indian culture and on her adult life as a psychotherapist and art therapist. Her close relationship with nature and animals is a constant underlying theme in her work.

Hall Brown holds a B.F.A in Photography and graduate degrees in Counseling and Social Work. She was a recipient of the Julia Margaret Cameron Award, a finalist in The Clarence John Laughlin Award and received 1st, 2nd, 3rd places in Prix de La Photographie Paris. Portfolios of her photographs have been published in magazines including Shots, Photo Review, PhotoNews, New Letters, PH and PhotoWorld. Her work has been exhibited in the US, Germany, Mexico and Spain and received numerous national and international awards.

Born in Oklahoma, Hall Brown currently resides on a small farm in the Missouri Ozarks. She taught photography in the Art and Design Department at Southwest Missouri State University for many years along side her husband and fellow photographer Alan Brown before returning to graduate school in the mental health field and entering private practice.

Artist Statment: Cirque du Psyche

As a psychotherapist, I deal frequently with clients’ dreams and thus I wanted to create a series having to do with the psyche, in hope of plumbing inner demons and presenting them as do our dreams, in palatable, albeit confusing imagery. Cirque du Psyche combines matters of the psyche with that of the circus of days past. It is a dark place in which dreams reveal the inner workings of one’s demons and hold up a mirror reflecting back the unresolved issues as scenes from a circus peopled by anthropomorphized performers. 

Thomas Moore said in his book Care of the Soul, "Carnivals and circuses attract that element in the psyche that craves symbolic and dreamlike experiences". Before television and Hollywood the circus was a place to be entertained and shocked. Our greatest fears were played upon in tantalizing ways and we gladly submitted to being tricked. Like our dreams and nightmares, reality was twisted in strange and seemingly unbelievable ways. Yet there was enough grounding in reality to hook us and pull us in. The stuff of our waking life takes on many forms in our dreams, in our subconscious’ effort to show us what we are avoiding and ignoring. Each ‘circus act’ was constructed and then photographed. The images are marred as are our psyches, showing the signs of our history and aging. When one visualizes images from their dreams, they are often dark and confused, sometimes color, often black and white. They appear as vignettes, things fading in and out of focus and presenting layers of symbolism and metaphor. Each act in Cirque du Psyche is a visual metaphor for a psychic struggle.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Jennifer B Thoreson

Jennifer B Thoreson is a young visual artist creating staged imagery that is both artistically stylized and meticulously crafted. Drawing inspirations from themes of faith and the intricacy of personal relationships, Jennifer is a dynamic and emotional illustrator of the human heart. With an innate ability to plumb the antique, the work is soulful; seeking the use of the forgotten or discarded, heavily symbolic, eerie and quiet.

Raised in a spiritual and conservative home in rural Texas, Jennifer grew up imaginative, curious, and experimental, and has used her upbringing in her intensely personal artwork to bring insight and awareness using heartfelt, acutely mapped personal experiences.

Jennifer is currently working in Albuquerque, New Mexico. She holds an MFA from the University of New Mexico. Alongside varied private portrait commissions, she is an international speaker and lecturer whose programs are sought after year after year by many professional public and private photographic organizations. Jennifer published her first monograph, Medic, in 2012. She has just completed her latest major body of work entitled Testament, a series of twelve images exploring love relationships and heavy burdens they sustain. Jennifer’s work has been a part of many group and solo exhibitions, and is represented by several major galleries across the country.

Artist Statement: Testament 

In my work, I revisit themes of human fragility, pain, and eventually, recovery. I am attracted to vulnerability, to peeling back a skin that reveals something precious, dark, and insistently tender. I am compelled by the moments where people are on an edge, barely laced together, befriending disaster, remembering something, or exposing something.

I am curious about how relationships survive, why they dissolve, how people love one another, and how such love is expressed. In this work, I am investigating heavy burdens and how we carry them. I am interested in the spiritual labor of bearing weight, submission, futileness, and persistence.

To create the work, I rented an empty house for a year, and transformed it into a makeshift sanctuary, a freighted space for constructing the photographs. I fabricated sculptural objects for each image, using materials such as wool, linen, clay, human hair, and beeswax. The materials borrow symbolic language from the Bible, and create alter-like, fleshy masses. The house reminds me very much of my childhood home, and provides a weighted, sentimental foundation for the images. Every object used in the meticulous staging of each scene references my childhood, and a time of spiritual emergence in my life. I imagine the house as a gateway, the space just before crossing over. The people in the photographs are in the final phase of bearing weight, moments away from finally laying it down. I am seeking the moment of relief, and relishing in the moments just before it occurs.

I like to know and feel the moment where people fall apart, and saturate my work in it. I want to push at a breaking point, and hold out hope for restoration. These photographs are representations of quiet, ultra-still, delicate moments of raw humanness; the phase just after a laboring, aching fall and at the point when renewal inevitably begins.