Wednesday, February 24, 2010

culturehall feature 38: INSIDE OUT

Some of the most compelling bodies of work in the history of documentary photography reveal characters so vivid that they live in our imaginations almost as though we know them: Diane Arbus’ giant towering over his parents, Robert Frank’s lonesome American strangers, Larry Clark’s heroin-addicted teens in Tulsa, Nan Goldin’s vast circle of bohemian friends and lovers, Richard Billingham’s inebriate father and brawny mother. In this highly personal and subjective tradition, culturehall presents four contemporary photographers with a similar sensitivity to the struggles, fantasies and realities of diverse groups of people whose lives have resonated with the photographers’ psychologies, personal histories, cultural backgrounds or social concerns.

Like many of the portraits of mentally ill and/or alcoholic subjects in her project, Last Stop: Rockaway Park, Juliana Beasley’s recent photographs of people in Sete, a town on the southern coast of France, are intimate and searing. Shot during a residency organized by CeTaVoir and published in a monograph scheduled for release this spring, Beasley’s images portray the cast of characters who populate this Mediterranean fishing port at the summer’s end. Searching the beaches and making her way into homes and social centers, the photographer gets close to her subjects to reveal their flesh, their wounds and their gazes in the stark light of her flash. Her teenagers are awkward or defiant, sunburnt and self-destructive. Beasley’s photographs remind us that, wherever we retreat or congregate, we are vulnerable and mortal.

Born in Taiwan, Wayne Liu divided his early years between his native country and the United States. He moved to New York City after his first year of college and shot his first photographs in the streets of Chinatown. Liu cites films at the Film Forum and Anthology Film Archives, street photography of American and European photographers, and books he discovered as an employee of the Strand Bookstore as influences on his artistic practice. In 2008, Liu travelled on buses through big cities and the countryside of China, parts of which were ravished by an earthquake. His series of black and white photographs, OK China, resemble stills from a grainy film noir. The drama of these dreamlike and melancholic images of anonymous strangers in motion or repose is further enhanced in the darkroom through a painterly process in which Liu burns in deep blacks and highlights specific areas of his prints.

Heather Musto began photographing Anna as a one-year-old in the year 2000. As her babysitter, Musto developed an intimate bond with the child and her extended family living in a blue-collar town in northern New Jersey. Over the course of seven years, she documented the domestic life and emotional bonds of her subject as her family members struggled with addiction and financial instability. While Anna’s parents and relatives appeared and disappeared in her life, her grandmother, a caretaker and licensed nurse, provided a home for the young girl. The photographer conveys an unsettling reality of a childhood through her honest and unflinching snapshots, but not without attention to Anna’s essential spiritedness and the efforts of adults to love and care for her. Musto’s own empathy underlies her commitment to connect with Anna both as a photographer and as a friend.

In his series, Prairieland, Chicago-based photographer Dave Jordano has explored the relationship between the land and the people of rural Illinois. His portraits describe people who exist on the fringes of mainstream culture as a result of their choices, isolation or economic hardship. Some of his inhabitants are dreamers, drifters or eccentrics, like Doris with her white dog and white fur coat. Some long to escape, to be picked up on the road and taken to a better place; others seem resigned, content or proud to be who and where they are. The accomplishment of Jordano’s best portraits lies in his gift for capturing subjects who are simultaneously individualistic and iconic of characters throughout Middle America.

Junkie Camper, by Juliana Beasely

from OK China/the Past is a Foreign Country, by Wayne Liu

Doc holding Anna with orange popsicle, by Heather Musto

Doris and White Cloud, Wateska, Illinois, by Dave Jordano

Monday, February 15, 2010

culturehall at the School of Visual Arts

I joined David Andrew Frey for a presentation this afternoon about culturehall to students in Michelle Leftheris' graduate class, Colloquia of Moving Images, at SVA. David described how he arrived at the idea of creating the site, and we both discussed how the site operates, how it is evolving, how we curate work and the role of the Web in promoting artists - topics we will also address in some upcoming interviews.

We are excited to have two new interns working for culturehall, Nikolai Shveitser and Rhiannon Platt, and more on board soon. Students are welcome to contact us for additional internship opportunities.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Interview on Two Way Lens

Paterson, NJ
December 2009

I was recently interviewed by German photographer Michael Werner for a project on his blog, Two Way Lens. Two Way Lens features an interview series with contemporary photographers in an effort to inform and inspire emerging photographers who are interested in developing careers in photography. It includes interviews with artists Alec Soth, Amy Stein, Zoe Strauss, and Richard Renaldi, among others.

Michael asks each photographer the same three questions. Despite whatever neurosis and insecurities these kinds of questions drag up for me, I tried my best to come up with some simplified answers and to sound a little saner than I feel most of the time.

You can find the interview below or an illustrated version on Two Way Lens: Interview with Tema Stauffer on Two Way Lens

Also see more of my images on Michael's personal blog: The Truth of Beauty

MW: What inspired you to start taking photographs, and what is the primary inspiration for you to keep working in this field?

TS: I spent much of my childhood with my head buried in books or roaming my neighborhood for adventures and places to daydream. I collected baseball cards and wore cowboy shirts and pitched tents in my backyard.

Most of my friends were boys or tomboys. I was a thief for a while and stole coins from my mom’s purse and candy from the corner store. I took naps on the branch of a lilac tree and cried when I read That Was Then, This is Now by S.E. Hinton.

I was fascinated with stories and was determined to invent my own path. Among some of my early fantasies of what I might be when I grew up were a writer, an artist and the leader of a motorcycle gang.

My mother enrolled me in my first photography class at an art center while I was in high school. I took pictures of my friends in fields and cemeteries and jumped out of the car with my camera for the right stranger on the street - someone who looked as restless as I felt.

Photography was license for adventure and storytelling. I liked it even more than drawing, painting and practicing my violin. Taking pictures gave me an adrenaline rush. Photography was sexy and subversive.

If you merge a writer, an artist and the leader of a motorcycle gang, you might come up with someone who explores people and places in America and returns to a Brooklyn railroad apartment to share photographs and thoughts about those experiences. I love driving and searching. I also love nesting with a keyboard and a computer screen.

Photography transforms how I look at the world. Things that are sad, mundane, ugly or beautiful become more interesting and poignant. Both taking pictures and writing stimulate and deepen my perception of reality. I become more engaged in my experiences and capable of reflecting on the most difficult ones. If I stopped taking pictures and writing, I am sure my world would fall flat.

MW: In your opinion and experience, how can emerging photographers evaluate themselves as ready to start promoting their works and seek a broader exposure for their photographs? What is one vital action you would recommend photographers undertake to find their audience, be included in exhibitions, and gain professional representation?

TS: During my twenties, I was involved in a number of shows organized by peers in alternative art spaces. We were eager to show work and commercial galleries seemed out of our reach. Shortly after I finished graduate school, I curated an exhibition of work by twelve photographers at a warehouse space known as The Butcher Shop in Chicago. This kind of show was good practice for resolving work, getting feedback and building relationships with other artists. My first exhibition in New York was organized by a collective of women photographers called NYMPHOTO in a loft in Manhattan, which led to a series of exhibitions at Jen Bekman Gallery.

Artists develop their careers in part through their involvement in a community. Going to openings, supporting other artists, recognizing where one’s work fits in, looking for mentor figures and reaching out for advice are all important steps in this process. I wrote to a number of artists and writers whose work I admire, often with the result of forming lasting relationships.

The Internet has expanded the notion of an arts community, and it is critical for young artists to make their work visible in this environment. One of the most important steps I took was starting a blog, PalmAire, which gave me a place to share work-in-progress and develop my thoughts about photography and the photo community. Many of my opportunities have arisen organically through personal contacts and exposure on the Internet. My relationship with Daniel Cooney, who is currently representing my work, resulted from a friend mentioning my name to him and Daniel discovering portraits on my blog.

The efforts I made to write about photography on my blog furthermore led to a position for an arts website called culturehall, whose mission is to support the careers of a community of artists. culturehall is an online resource where selected artists can share their work with curators, gallerists, collectors and other artists. My role as a curator gives me the opportunity to help artists create online portfolios of work and promote their exhibitions and events. culturehall’s director, David Andrew Frey, and I also invite guest curators to bring artists to the site and write about their work.

MW: How did it come about that you achieved the status of successful, professional photographer? What steps were involved in reaching your level of success?

TS: When I first read this question, I laughed out loud and squirmed a little. The notion of a “successful, professional photographer” conjures a mythic figure with a studio, fancy cameras, interns, magazine assignments, and a substantially greater income. Of course there are many versions of a successful, professional photographer, but still, it isn’t the most appropriate definition for me.

It is more accurate to describe me as an artist and teacher whose life is deeply invested in the arts community. What constitutes “success” is subjective. I am driven and passionate about the arts, and my efforts and involvement have lead to some significant exhibitions, recognition from my peers, and a relationship with a great gallery, which are some of the most satisfying forms of success.

On a day-to-day basis, I feel acutely more aware of my “struggle” than my “success.” Feelings of accomplishment are rewarding but also fleeting. When the high of one accomplishment fades, it creates an opportunity to work through a set of more challenging feelings towards the next one. For most artists, developing a career in the arts is a series of small steps over a long period of time. It demands the ability to experience rejections, creative blocks, financial constraints, self-doubt and anxiety. And then to brush off the dust, strategize, produce work and move forward.

Family, close friends, therapy, swimming, biographies of artists and writers, steady correspondence and supportive relationships with other artists are crucial to my own survival. I think there is good karma in helping others and I try to keep that principle at the forefront of my relationship to the art world.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Tim and Amy

copyright Tim Briner

Tim Briner and Amy Stein will giving a discussion this Saturday at Daniel Cooney Fine Art about Tim's current exhibition, Boonville, exploring small town America through nineteen beautifully rendered black-and-white photographs.

Tim Briner in Conversation with Amy Stein
Saturday, February 6 at 4pm

Daniel Cooney Fine Art
511 West 25th Street, #506
New York, NY