Thursday, October 6, 2011

Artist talk at the University of Missouri

I have just returned from Columbia, Missouri, where I was invited to give an artist talk.  My friend and fellow photographer Joe Johnson teaches at the University of Missouri, and he invited me to present my work to two of his photography classes, one intermediate and one advanced.  I took a bus from Chicago to Columbia on Monday morning, and the seven-hour ride was actually quite lovely.  I’m pretty sure I saw nothing but open fields for the first five hours, followed by a slightly urban respite as we paused at the bus stop in St. Louis.  Between St. Louis and Columbia, the landscape changed from flat and dry to hilly and full of beautiful trees.  If I used my imagination, it almost felt a little bit like driving through New Hampshire or upstate NY.  I have been in Chicago for about six weeks now, but this was my first trip outside of the city and it was great to see some of the landscape. 

I spoke to Joe’s classes on Tuesday, each one involving a one hour lecture followed by another hour of looking at prints and answering questions.  His students were fantastic, and after each class was dismissed, a small group of 6 to 8 students huddled around and we continued our discussions about portraiture, making work, gender identity, how to approach people, etc. 

It was a great experience for me in many ways, as it gave me an opportunity to refine my thoughts about my work even further and is the first time I’ve given a lecture since starting grad school.  In a relatively short period of time, grad school has already sent the wheels in my brain spinning and I’ve taken a huge leap into making new and exciting work.  Towards the end of my lecture, I explained my thoughts about where I’m headed with my work and also shared some things I’m currently struggling with.  The students seemed to enjoy hearing about the issues I am currently struggling with in my work, and it was nice to share that side of the art-making process.  It would be boring if I knew the solutions before I started wrestling with the problems. 

Aiden, 2011

I also spoke a bit about the image Aiden, which for me feels like a turning point in my work.  It is my most recent image and also the photo with which I ended my lecture.  Looking at it after I printed it, it suddenly became very clear to me that Aiden’s identity as a trans person was not at all what the photo was about. Rather, it was about his subtle sensitivity, his open gesture and the way I was looking at him, the ambiguity of his identity and my relationship to him, and very simply, the beauty of the portrait and the way it came together in terms of color and shape to create an image open to multiple readings and interpretations.  I spoke about how this is leading me in a new direction of photographing the sensitive side of masculinity and making portraits that explore both the desire to be masculine and the desire of the masculine. 

I was inspired that many of the men in the class responded eagerly to this idea of inquiry, and they told me it was something they would love to see, as the emotional and sensitive side of masculinity is not often explored or represented.  And, as a bonus to me, one of the guys in the class responded intensely to this idea and fit my new project perfectly, and he agreed to pose for a photo next time he’s in Chicago.  He was really excited about it and so am I.

Here are a few photos of the students looking at prints after the lecture:

Joe Johnson and me

Lastly, it was fantastic to spend three days with Joe, who I originally met at MassArt when he was a grad student and I was working on my BFA.  Though we have kept in touch for the past 8 years, this visit gave us a wonderful opportunity to spend time together, catch up about our lives, and stay up way too late into the wee hours of the morning talking about photography in the warm Midwestern night air. 

I am energized and excited by this trip and this experience, and am grateful to Joe for inviting me down to share my work with his students.  Now, back to life in Chicago!

1 comment:

  1. Love the revelation and awakening that leads to another road on the path. Good luck on the new project.