Tag Archives: Macarthur Foundation

Review Santa Fe: Andrew Beckham

Over the next months, I will be sharing some of the photographers who attended Review Santa Fe in June.  Review Santa Fe is the only juried review in the United States and invites 100 photographers to Santa Fe for a long weekend of reviews, insights, and connections.
Andrew Beckham is a lot of things, but I would consider him a visual poet, using language both written and visual to construct nuanced work that is compelling, fragile, and poignant.  He is the Joseph Cornell of the photo world, combining photographic memory with objects imbued with ideas and meaning.  I am featuring work from his project, As in a Mirror Dimly.

Andrew received an MA in Aesthetic Theory from Prescott College and a BFA from the Pacific Northwest College of Art. A Fulbright Fellow in Jerusalem over the turn of the millennium, Andrew traveled extensively, making photographs exploring the spiritual and cultural landscapes of the Middle East. Andrew’s work is represented in collections around the country, including the MacArthur Foundation, the Museum of Contemporary Religious Art at St. Louis University, and the Portland Art Museum. His handmade artist’s books have been acquired for the Special Collections Departments at both the Penrose Library at the University of Denver and the Norlin Library at the University of Colorado, Boulder.  Mr. Beckham has served as artist-in-residence at the Anderson Ranch Art Center, Rocky Mountain National Park, and most recently at the Center for the Study of Place.  Andrew is the Visual Art Department Chair at St. Mary’s Academy in Englewood, Colorado, where he teaches photography, printmaking and aesthetics. His first book, The Lost Christmas Gift, will be out in October 2012 from Princeton Architectural Press.

And first he will see the shadows best, next the reflections of men and other objects in the water, and then the objects themselves; then he will gaze upon the light of the moon and the stars and the spangled heaven; and he will see the sky and the stars by night better than the sun or the light of the sun…
Plato, Book VII, The Republic

Photographs are reflections, refracted and refocused light that mimic what the camera’s lens is directed toward.  I wonder how Plato would have received a photograph, with the negative once removed from the subject, the printed photograph twice removed, and in both instances accomplished by focusing light and shadow onto the wall of a very dark room.  My guess is that he would have been skeptical of such contrivances, preferring instead the wind with the light, the rain with the shadows.  As do I.  But images, however removed from a priori experience, provide another kind of knowing, and not so limited as the philosopher might have thought.

 Looking back through the years that have made up my life, and on to the centuries that my ancestors inhabited, and further still to the increasingly distant past that describes the life of a river rock or the arc of a planetary movement, time becomes both elastic and unknowable.  Attempting to look forward is every more absurd, with the future firmly beyond tangible experience.  It is through wrestling with the vagaries of this inescapable transience that I hope to find some grounding in the present.  My work as an artist is an act of faith that attempts to span such daunting temporal limits in an effort to connect with a universe that is infinitely larger than I am, even I find myself inexplicably connected to it: my family as near and as mysterious as the stardust that formed our galaxy billions of years ago.

 Whether attempting the move out of Plato’s cave, or approaching the ineffable reflection of ourselves in the presence of the diving, the glimpses are fleeting at best.  One way those glimpses are gained is through paying attention, whether you stand behind a camera or no.  In my case, the camera stands before me as a mysterious agent, the dark little room inviting a certain kind of possibility: that we and the image reflect something that we do not fully understand, though with patience, reverence, and imagination, the fringes of a Whole might be mirrored, however dimly.

 For now we see as in a mirror dimly, but then face to face.  Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully….
Paul, Corinthaians, 13:12
ns, 12:12

The Walls That Divide Us at apexart

Le Vide, le plein (Void, Fullness), 2008. © Kader Attia

The Walls That Divide Us

Exhibition on view:
November 9–December 22, 2011

291 Church Street
New York, NY
(212) 431-5270

Closing soon is The Walls That Divide Us, the current exhibition at apexart which focuses on physical and invisible global barriers. This multi-media, multi-artist exhibit addresses the sociopolitical divide created by city and nation building. The Walls That Divide Us features the work of Gisele Amantea, Kader Attia, Carolina Caycedo, Chen Chieh-jen, Sam Durant, Leor Grady, Ivan Grubanov, Shilpa Gupta, Emily Jacir, Runo Lagomarsino, Teresa Margolles, Locky Morris, Carlos Motta, Ahmet Öğüt, Anna Ostoya, Amalia Pica, Rigo 23, and the Aperture-published artist Alfredo Jaar.

Alfredo Jaar was a recipient of the MacArthur Foundation Award and a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. His work has been exhibited at many museums and galleries including the MIT List Visual Arts Center and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago. Jaar’s work has appeared in Aperture issues 181 and 204.


Alfredo Jaar at SCAD Museum of Art

© Alfredo Jaar

Alfredo Jaar, May 1, 2011

Exhibition on view:
Oct. 29, 2011–Feb. 12, 2012

SCAD Museum of Art:
601 Turner Blvd
Savannah, Georgia 31401
(912) 525-7191 

To celebrate the reopening of the SCAD Museum of Art, the Savannah College of Art and Design is presenting a series of several contemporary art exhibitions featuring the work of Bill Viola, Liza Lou, Stephen Antanakos, Kendall Buster, Kehinde Wiley, Nick Cave, and Aperture-published artist Alfredo Jaar. Debuting for the first time in the U.S., the museum will exhibit Jaar’s installation May 1, 2011. His piece juxtaposes an image of a white screen with that of the now infamous photo of U.S. leaders watching what is believed to be live footage of the killing of Osama bin Laden. May 1, 2011 comments on both the socio-political power of images and the equally affecting power of the lack of an image.

Born in Chile, Jaar’s photography, films, and installations regularly offer commentary on the possibilities and limitations of art to represent global political issues. He has received many awards, including a MacArthur Foundation Award and a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. He has exhibited at many museums including the MIT List Visual Arts Center and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago. Jaar’s work has appeared in Aperture issues 181 and 204.

– What is the World? Participatory Photography in the Documentary Tradition

Imbued with a sense of authenticity that pleases old-fashioned tendencies and the post-modern discomfort with anything that claims more than an outsider’s political correctness, participatory photography teases the edges of documentary practice and poses some unique challenges and opportunities to photographers in the tradition.

In 1992, the John D. and Katherine T. MacArthur Foundation awarded one of its "genius grants" to a photographer who pioneered this practice of putting the camera in the hands of people previously deemed subjects. The photographer, Wendy Ewald , used this method in disparate locations around the world, allowing each collection of images to construct a local, organic narrative. And in a further compelling move, she elected to put the cameras into the hands of marginalized classes, often women and children.

In her 2002 book "I Wanna Take Me A Picture ," Ewald explains the basics of teaching photography and writing to children through a collection of anecdotes from her experiences around the world. While much of the text is devoted to pedagogical instructions and examples of success, the undergirding philosophy of her audacious technique pivots on a central tenet of documentary practice: everything is presented for a reason.

She argues that, even in images made by non-professional photographers, "we are forced to notice the edges of the pictures. … it’s fair to assume that if something is off to one side, the photographer must have a reason for including it."

Thus emerge the broad strokes of this technique. As the age of digital photography and flashy Web design encroach on the principles serious photographers hold sacred, the product and experience of participatory photography grounds the debate: images, no matter who takes them, tell stories.

Participatory photography – letting people make images that tell their own life stories – pushes our understanding of the human condition beyond what communications scholars have called "textocentrism ." The visual method admits us into a world of people for whom literacy may not be possible. And stories, the integral element of documentary practice and tradition, are necessarily inflected with the immediate voice and politics of the tellers.

Throughout history, narratives of human experience have catalyzed broad social change. In an oft-cited passage , social anthropologist Lakshmi Krishnamurty suggests that empowerment comes from making public something that used to be kept private and transforming what was a private indignity into a public social problem.

The subsequent prolific developments in participatory photography projects have reflected the immense array of human potential – the stories and their formatting are as broad as the subjects themselves. The method, often dubbed "photovoice," has been used around the world, mapping the power of collective narrative and expression onto marginalized or misunderstood communities. From public health initiatives in rural China to an effort to erase the stigma against mental illness in Connecticut, participatory photography – its subjects, objects, and methods – has come to reflect the breadth of human creativity as well as an alternative angle on the widespread triumphs and suffering of the human condition.

So while controversy over photographic quality, cultural sensitivity, and the potential erosion of a professional photographic ethos swirls around those who hand over cameras, it is important to remember what tenets of the documentary tradition fuel the desire to establish the subject-participant. If documentary photo essays are an attempt to freeze moments, to create cultural artifacts, or to tell stories through a series of images, it is immensely powerful to engage the very characters of these stories, the people who are living the moments. Much as any journalist or anthropologist will pepper his or her written work with quotations, handing over the camera reflects the humility of the observer, the acknowledgement by a photographer that documentary is a practice of asking questions and furthermore, giving an opportunity for firsthand perspectives.

Perhaps all Ewald did was challenge us to remember what to craft a documentary project really is: to listen, to observe, to collect, and to freeze in image and text the reality we experience. And so why not expand the number of lenses? Why not invite the mosaic of perspectives that this wildly diverse world affords us?

To hand a camera to someone you once saw as the subject of your photograph is not only an invitation for that individual to capture his or her reality. It is increasing the ways in which those in power receive and respect human stories. "Photovoice" may never replace statistics on rural health disparities or well-written legal development beliefs. Nor will it strive to. Its grounding is in the immediate experience of people otherwise silenced, in their agency, and in their desire to tell the world their stories.

As the Internet rapidly reforms the way information is shared around the world, visual media will undoubtedly play an important role in communicating to a wide audience the subtle realities of a variety of cultures and lives. Visual narratives born from participatory photography differ from all other forms of story telling in that they show not only the lived experience of the photographer but the scope of the craft of photography itself. Speaking volumes to the power of the image, participatory photography may be transformative not only for the participants, but for the entire trade.