Saturday, April 24, 2010


The FotoFest 2010 Biennial closes this weekend in Houston and what remains is a catalogue including five curatorial essays on the work in the exhibitions with an introduction by Charlotte Cotton.

The catalogue is available for purchase thru the FOTOFEST STORE and PHOTO-EYE BOOKSTORE.

Thank you to curator Aaron Schuman for his beautiful essay about the work in Whatever Was Splendid: New American Photographs. Four of my images (Bedroom, Teenage Boy, Couple Embraces, Winter Gas Station) were reproduced in the catalogue, and Aaron's insight into my own work was moving to say the very least.

Excerpt from Whatever Was Splendid: New American Photographs, page 38:

Finally, Tema Stauffer, who focused American masculinity and male adolescence in her portraiture series The Ballad Of Sad Young Men (2008), includes several such portraits within her broader and more extensive body of work: American Stills (1997-2009). Returning to the eclecticism of the first chapter of American Photographs, and under a similarly sweeping heading, Stauffer presents an assortment of sharply poetic observations of a country that at times can be angry, melancholy, brutal, and cold, but can also be enchantingly majestic and profoundly moving. Throughout the series there is a critical yet immensely forgiving sense of real compassion at work - a profound love for the subject, with all of its flaws - which strikes straight at the soul of the matter, in the most ordinary places and everyday moments. Rather than simply testifying to waste, selfishness, imminent collapse, and so on, Stauffer's Stills represent a truly committed and heartfelt attempt at unearthing the "splendid" from the "whatever" of contemporary America.

- Aaron Schuman

Monday, April 19, 2010

inMotion's 2010 Photography Auction and Benefit

I donated a large print of my White Horse photograph to inMotion's 2010 Photography Auction and Benefit taking place tonight at the Sheraton New York Hotel & Towers.

InMotion's annual Benefit raises vital, life-changing resources for thousands of New York City's most needy women and their families - a majority of whom are abused and many are immigrants. InMotion provides free legal services to women, primarily in the areas of matrimonial, family and immigration law.

Please see inMotion's website for more information about the organization: inMotion Justice for All Women

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Douglas Britt reviews WHATEVER WAS SPLENDID for Houston Chronicle

Fotofest exhibit traces Walker Evans' legacy

One of the FotoFest 2010 Biennial's official exhibitions, Whatever Was Splendid: New American Photographs, explores parallels between Walker Evans' Depression-era photos and current lens-based U.S. work.

The unavoidable conclusion is that Evans casts a long, wide shadow over much of today's photography, luckily for us. It's not just that the nation has endured the worst recession since the period depicted in Evans' seminal 1938 book, American Photographs. It's that many of today's photographers — whose styles and subjects differ wildly from one another — are up to the same things Evans was, which isn't to say there's anything nostalgic about their work.

Aaron Schuman, founder of the online SeeSaw Magazine and the exhibition's curator, sets up the show by citing Lincoln Kirstein's introductory essay to Evans' monograph.

“(Evans) can be considered a kind of disembodied burrowing eye, a conspirator against time and its hammers,” Kirstein wrote. “Here are the records of the age before imminent collapse. His pictures exist to testify to the symptoms of waste and selfishness that caused the ruin and to salvage whatever was splendid for the future reference of the survivors.”

Photographers' eyes burrow through plenty of ruin today. For his Down These Mean Streets series, Will Steacy walks with a large-format-view camera from various cities' airports to their central business districts — always at night, with an emphasis on “neighborhoods you wouldn't want to be in at night; the parts of town you drive through — not to,” he says.

Steacy captures the signs of blight and neglect — a Philadelphia power plant looming over a crumbling neighborhood, a desolate Detroit housing project, the charred remains of a burned-out car in Los Angeles — with unwavering candor and, often, eerie beauty.
We see more thoroughly burned-out — and bombed and bullet-riddled — remains of cars in Richard Mosse's photographs following American soldiers in Iraq. And his photos and video of American soldiers lounging in the ruins of one of Saddam Hussein's former palaces — “whatever was splendid,” indeed — brilliantly straddle the line between wry humor and tragic grandeur.

Closer to home, Todd Hido burrows through ruin in the interiors of foreclosed suburban homes and, more dreamily, along rural roads, and Tema Stauffer's American Stills echo Evans' poetic portraits of everyday people and places.

More counterintuitive at first glance is Schuman's inclusion of work by Hank Willis Thomas and Jason Lazarus, both of whom work with other people's photographs to explore aspects of popular culture. But Schuman notes that American Photographs is “as much an interrogation of photography as it is of America, if not more so,” and Thomas and Lazarus update that exploration in fascinating ways.

For his Unbranded series, Thomas takes images from magazine advertisements featuring black Americans, often targeting them as consumers, and strips them of their copy and logos. His tactic highlights the stereotypes and assumptions behind the imagery. Because the same image can be disturbing, cheesy, poignant and hilarious all at once, the results are riveting.

Lazarus reversed Thomas' process, adding text instead of removing it while using amateur photos, not commercial ones. He asked various people, “Do you remember who introduced you to the band Nirvana?” and got them to write the answer with an anecdote on the back of a snapshot of that person. He then scanned, enlarged and framed the images and handwrote their responses on the prints' margins.

You might not think such a simple technique would pack much of a punch, but Lazarus' selection is unbelievably sweet — and often devastating. It shows how ordinary people, recording their memories, transform Nirvana's “well, whatever, never mind” mantra into something heartfelt, even splendid.

-Douglass Britt

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

culturehall as resource in arts education

Besides culturehall providing artists with a online space to display and promote their work, and the arts community a place to discover this work, David Andrew Frey and I envision the site increasingly utilized as a resource in arts education. We hope it will make a useful tool for educators to present contemporary artwork to students and to inspire written or visual assignments.

I experimented with the Digital Photo I class that I am currently teaching at William Paterson University by demonstrating how the site functions, as well as giving students a writing assignment based on work on the site. Since the class is examining portraiture and shooting portraits in a series of assignments this month, I asked them to write a paper based on a culturehall portfolio that contains photographic images of human subjects.

The photographers whose portfolios my students wrote about include: Dina Kantor, Mara Bodis-Wollner, Paolo Morales, Millee Tibbs, Heather Musto, Tiana Markova-Gold and Ayala Gazit.

Culturehall Assignment: Photographing the Human Subject

Please visit culturehall, an online resource for contemporary art. Use the browse link at the top of the homepage to locate the browse page. You can browse all works or be more specific in your search by browsing by genre or medium.

Locate a portfolio of photographic work including images of human subjects that are of interest to you. You might choose any of these genres of work: street photography, documentary photography of a single subject or a group of subjects, studio portraits, staged portraits, etc.

Please write a one-page paper addressing these questions:

Who is the subject, or who are the subjects, of the photograph or series of photographs?
What is the photographer’s relationship to the subject(s) as you perceive it?
How is the photographer using light? (Natural? Available? Flash? Studio?)
How is the photographer framing the subject(s)?
What mood does the photographer capture?
Does the work have any political content such as issues of race, class or gender?

Prepare to present your paper to the class along with a link to the selected portfolio that we will view as a group.