Friday, February 10, 2017

Contemporary Photographer Series - Jill Frank

© Jill Frank

Jill Frank is a visual artist who works primarily in photography. She holds a BA in photography from Bard College and an MFA in Studio Art from The School of Art Institute of Chicago. Her works have been shown nationally and internationally including a recent solo exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Georgia. She currently resides in Atlanta, Georgia where she teaches photography at Georgia State University. She was recently interviewed by Hannah Taylor for our Contemporary Photographer Series (CPS).

In your current work, the population you are photographing is exclusively college-aged, whereas your previous work featured a much broader age range. What drew you to begin focusing on young adults and what challenges have you experienced photographing them? 

At the time I started this body of work, I was interested in subject matter that was widely considered unimportant, trivial, or "in bad taste" because of the way that it is typically represented in photographs. After some consideration, I settled on youth party culture. I was, of course, influenced by Instagram, and thinking about what types of subjects were photographed constantly but by proportion, were rarely taken seriously: pictures of drinking and partying stood out as a solid example of this. Most people look at photographs all day long, and take for granted their power of persuasion and their important role in shaping ideology. I wanted to make photographs that demanded a certain quality of attention, for a subject matter that is often dismissed. 

I certainly experienced some challenges while working with this demographic. I mean, I am about 15 years old than most of the people I photographed and I am trespassing in their social environment. I had a complex role; I was an observer in some ways and a facilitator in other ways. These things are obviously happening regardless of my desire to depict them, but by photographing them I am, of course, in some way encouraging the behavior. 

We always have these ideas about what we might capture or what our work might be about but until we make the pictures we have no idea. My interest at the beginning was centered around a question - is it possible to represent the experiences of American youth, the rites of passage and rituals that are overly familiar, generic and cliché, in a way that complicates our perception of them and gives them a serious audience? While this idea remained constant throughout the project, I also felt that the resulting pictures were more nebulously about vulnerability and identity than they were representations of activities. I also felt that in order to properly address my question, I would need to do this for many more years, because these social performances require a lot of acute observation - I barely broke the surface.

© Jill Frank

You've been photographing in fast-paced environments like Spring Break and parties using large format film, which can be a very slow process. How does that play a factor in how you choose to make your photographs?

Yes the large format camera shapes the way things look and the interactions I have. I enjoy the slow pace of the camera - I am not a very fast-moving photographer. I sense that the size of the camera and the tripod put people at ease, they know I won't be sneaking up on them, it's all very transparent. We all love photography for different reasons - one thing I love is the extreme accuracy and control of the large format camera. I am bringing a lot of rigid, formal consideration to a subject that doesn't often elicit that type of attention. I am also drawn to the space between staged and candid moments, and the amount of accidental information that makes its way into a photograph. View cameras are often very still and the subject has to be quite attentive to the photographer's instructions so a lot of the image is planned out; yet, there are always surprises and unplanned details. In portraits, there are tiny moments where a person breaks from their performance for the camera and reveals a genuine expression. As Lee Friedlander said, "it's a generous medium, photography."

© Jill Frank

Your project Plates is formally different from your color portraiture, but seems to be conceptually related to some of your other projects. What motivated you to make work this way?

I made this work when I first became interested in these sorts of unsanctioned, recreational activities. I went to a blunt-rolling contest hosted by a very successful artist/skater guy in Atlanta. The contest stipulates that the winner is the person with the least amount of wasted supply, each person receives the same quantity and materials, all of which are provided on a paper plate where the contestant writes their name. After the contest, I carefully collected the plates and the remaining materials, turned them into paper negatives and contact printed them. In this case, the contest is won or lost based on the status of the plate, so it felt appropriate that they be the primary material used to make the work. I didn't feel the need to make conventional pictures, this technique just felt right.

© Jill Frank

In a press release from your recent MOCA GA exhibition you talk about this ritualistic culture often being dismissed because of its familiarity. What did you learn about the interactions in these settings that you may not have known otherwise? 

I was surprised that certain elements of social activity remained the same as they were in the late 90's, while other elements were quite different. The standout difference is the presence of social media, all of these activities and events are heavily documented and shared in real time. If you shotgun a beer, you are likely being videotaped and timed. Many people I encountered were in the midst of taking selfies and performing specifically for social media documentation, with awareness of both irony and humor. I think this raises some of the stakes involved in the performances, due to the wide-reaching audience and last documentation. In the past, a perfectly executed extreme party performance could result in a heroic sage, embellished and revered for generations - it would never be fact checked or re-watched and challenged. 

© Jill Frank

After several years of photographing youth culture, do you know where you want to go from here?

I have been dabbling with new ideas, but I feel my intentions shifting after this recent election. The world is always changing, but the next four years will be intense!

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Current Exhibitions

© Tammy Mercure

Representing Place: Photographs of Appalachia

Megan King | William Christenberry | Tammy Mercure | Mike Smith | Rob Amberg

Pamela Pecchio | Ken Abbott | Susan Lipper | William Gedney

Tracey Morgan Gallery, Asheville, NC

January 19 - March 5, 2017

© Mike Smith

Parting Shots | Mike Smith

Somewhere Along the Line | Joshua Dudley Greer

Under the Influence | ETSU Photo Alumni

Reece Museum, Johnson City, TN

January 9 - March 3, 2017

Opening Reception: Thursday, January 26, 5-7pm

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Contemporary Photographer Series - Birthe Piontek

from the series Mimesis © Birthe Piontek

Birthe Piontek is a visual artist originally from Germany currently living in Vancouver, BC, Canada. Her works have been exhibited internationally and are held in the collections of the Museum of Contemporary Photography in Chicago and the Museum of Applied Arts in Gera, Germany. Her photographs have been published in The New York Times Magazine, Le Monde, The New Yorker, and WIRED. In 2009 she was the recipient of the Critical Mass Book Award for her project The Idea of North. She was recently interviewed by Melissa Courtney for our Contemporary Photographer Series (CPS).

You have stated that your work is "an exploration of the individual and is interested in the concept of Self." I see that reflected in the work both literally and metaphorically; however, I have noticed that your subject is usually female. Is there a particular reasoning behind your choice of female subjects? Do you have any plans to study the male concept of self as well?

Mimesis was not meant to be specifically about the female self. When I started the project, I actually didn't think too much about the specific images in regards to male/female. I followed my gut when searching for photographs on eBay or at flea markets and was rather drawn to certain facial expressions, compositions, etc. So, I'd say that Mimesis is about both - the female and the male self and the selection of the vintage photographs was not based on the sex of the subject. At least not consciously.

However, I have to acknowledge that there are more women than men featured in the series. I think the reason for that is that Mimesis was shot while I was working on Lying Still, a project that revolves around female representation and female identity. I guess in hindsight - now that both projects have come to an end - I can see that there is quite a bit of overlap and some of my thoughts from Lying Still might have spilled over into the Mimesis project. For the current and future projects, my interest and focus definitely lies on the female and I don't have any plans to study the male concept of self but, who knows, that might change in the future.

from the series Lying Still © Birthe Piontek

In your self portraits you often utilize materials that aid in your efforts to produce "iconic and symbolic" imagery. What the process of making a portrait of yourself entail, and how do you decide what materials to use when constructing the images?

95% of the portraits were shot in my home. The domestic space is quite important as it's the space where usually are the most "ourselves", where we feel protected, and can let go of masks. But it can also be the space where we are not distracted or entertained by an outside world, where we can feel lonely and detached. All these thoughts played into the portrait making. All images are planned, staged, shot and then sometimes reshot as I'm usually by myself and don't have any help when taking them. But it's important to me that they look like spontaneous expressions and, although staged, feel immediate and raw. In many ways they are spontaneous expressions of an emotion or a thought - just the execution is a bit more elaborate. There are certain materials I seem to be drawn to: ink, all kinds of foils, mirrors. I spend a lot of time in thrift and craft stores, just looking at materials and getting inspired, which usually leads to a pretty strong idea or vision of what I want to do with a certain materials. But of course, there is always a bit of trial and error and some items or fabrics have lingered in my studio for a long time and I haven't been able to utilize them. 

from the series Sub Rosa © Birthe Piontek

In your Sub Rosa series, you work with teenagers, which can prove to be a difficult age group for communication. You state that there is no period in life more "comprehensively enriched with emotions, frustration and high expectations as the stage between our youth and adulthood." How did you engage this age group to be able to get the responses you wanted for your portraits? Were there any major obstacles you faced when trying to create this body of work?

I think the most difficult thing was approaching the individual subjects. It's something I'm always a bit nervous of and never seem to get used to. It's difficult to walk up to a stranger... and I got turned down by a lot of people. Once people agreed it wasn't too difficult.

I never took the pictures on the spot. I always met up at least once sometimes twice before we took the picture. Of course I also had to talk to the parents and get their permission, so by the time I actually shot the picture, we had spent quite a bit of time together and everybody seemed quite comfortable.

from the series Mimesis © Birthe Piontek

In your series Mimesis, you are using found photographs that you appropriate, chance and reinterpret. How did you choose these specific images? Are the photographs of any personal significance to you?

The images are all found on eBay or in thrift stores and I am not related to any of the people in the photographs. I looked for images that were quite straightforward and formal, i.e. studio portraits, high school portraits, etc. Candid shots or family shots didn't work for me as I wanted to have images where the person photographed had to engage with the camera and there were no other distractions - the moment where it is all about the person and not so much about capturing a situation or event, so that the image becomes a representation of that person.

Finding the right images was a bit like a casting process, something that I often did for my portrait projects. Casting is a pretty intuitive process, somebody walks by and you see something intriguing, something that could work - something inspiring. For Mimesis, it was the facial expression, the smile, the symmetry of the face. I think I looked for a certain innocence and openness in the face. And then there were formal aspects: I noticed that older images worked better for me than newer, some colors/palettes were more intriguing, etc. But like the casting process, you never know until you actually work with the person.

© Birthe Piontek

I have noticed that you are an active artist on Instagram. What role does social media play in your current practice both in terms of production and promotion of your work? Do you have any advice for young artists trying to enhance their social media presence?

I feel like Instagram is a bit of a blessing and a curse at the same time. For me, it's a platform to try things out, experiment, a form of visual diary, a daily exercise, a collection of images that don't have to fit in anywhere else. IG brought back the initial excitement of when I first got into photography 25 years ago... when you wander and take pictures just for the sheer pleasure of seeing and picture taking. I had lost that a bit as I got very purposeful about how I approached photography, meaning, for a while I would only take pictures if they were related to my projects/work.

I also use it to promote my work, announce shows or new projects and to get inspired by seeing what other people are working on. For all these reasons I really like IG but I don't like the space and time it sometimes takes up in my life. It kind of sucks you in and it tends to produce a lot of white noise, a visual overload which I'm, of course, feeding into as well. I'm actually not sure if it really helps to make an impression - that can only be done by good work.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Jeffery Becton Exhibition at UT - Knoxville

© Jeffery Becton

The Ewing Gallery of Art and Architecture at UT - Knoxville is currently hosting an exhibition of recent work by Jeffery Becton. The View Out His Window features digital montages that combine painting, drawing and photography related to the artist's home and surroundings in Deer Isle, Maine. The show will be on view until December 12, 2016. For more information, please click here.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Matthew Jessie Exhibition at Walters State Community College

© Matthew Jessie

ETSU Alumnus Matthew Jessie (BFA 2015) is currently exhibiting photographs from his project Its Hills and Valleys at Walters State Community College. He will be giving a public lecture about his work on November 9 at 12:30pm in the Humanities Theatre. The show at Catron Gallery will be on view until December 2, 2016.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

ETSU Visiting Artist Lecture - Jo Ann Walters

© Jo Ann Walters

Photographer Jo Ann Walters will be coming to ETSU as a visiting artist on October 17th and 18th, 2016 as part of the programming around the exhibition, Face It: Reimagining Contemporary Portraits, which is currently on view at the Slocumb Galleries and the Reece Museum. Her visit will include a public lecture on Tuesday, October 18th at 6:00pm in Ball Hall Auditorium following a reception at 4:30pm. Jo Ann will also be giving photography student critiques earlier that day. If you wish to have a critique please see Mike Smith for the signup sheet or contact Joshua Dudley Greer at All events are free and open to the public, so we hope to see you next week.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

ETSU Photo Alumni Series: Emily Denton

Emily Denton

Emily Denton was born in Knoxville, Tenn. and currently lives and works in Lafayette, Indiana. Denton graduated with her B.F.A. from East Tennessee State University in 2013. Denton has exhibited locally and is currently enrolled in the graduate program at Purdue University.

Emily Denton

Emily, describe what you were looking for in a graduate program.

In a graduate program, I looked for a small and tight-knit program where I can easily become involved in the arts community. I looked for professors whom I can learn from so I can develop in new ways. I'll be studying with Korean artist Min Kim Park whose work is visually very different from mine, but her subject matter focuses around gender roles and feminism, which I'm very interested in. Lee Lynn, another professor I'll be working with, works in a darkroom and practices alternative processes, so I will be exposed to her more traditional methods while also learning from Min's modern techniques. I am required to take electronic and video arts classes too. This will challenge me but give me the opportunity to explore a new art medium. Lastly, I looked for a program that wants me. I was offered full tuition waive and a teaching assistantship, so I know that I'm desired. I wouldn't have accepted a program that didn't offer me benefits.

Emily Denton

What was your process like when applying for graduate schools? 

Before even considering applying, I knew I needed more than one solid body of work. It was very important for me to take time off after finishing undergrad. I took 3 years to myself, to center myself and to realize that art is a means for my survival. You learn how important it is to continue making pictures when you're choosing to do it on your own, without professors giving assignments. My process for applying to grad school consisted mostly of knowing when I was ready to start learning again. I wouldn't be satisfied with only a BFA. I needed to challenge myself to feel fulfilled.

Emily Denton

Did you apply to any other graduate programs?

I moved to Lafayette to be closer to my twin sister, Megan, who is getting her MFA at Purdue in Poetry. I was alone in Johnson City for 6 years, and it really took a toll on my mental health. I am so happy to be close to her again, and at this point, I'm not willing to relocate for school. I accidentally met a Purdue photography professor, Min Kim Park, who looked at my work and encouraged me to apply. Surprisingly, the program fit all of my needs, so I went with it. I applied to one school and got in. My story is unique and non-coincidental. My path was laid out in the stars.

For more on Emily's work, please visit her website.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Atlanta Celebrates Photography and EYE SOUTH Symposium

© Alec Soth

Every October, the city of Atlanta hosts a number of photography exhibitions, lectures, auctions, and other events in what it calls Atlanta Celebrates Photography (ACP). This year, ACP will host lectures and exhibitions that include artists Duane Michals, Stephen Shore, Vivian Maier and many others. Baldwin Lee, retired UT Knoxville professor, will be presenting a lecture on October 13 at MOCA GA to coincide with the exhibition Land Inhabited and Works of Baldwin Lee, which also features photographs by ETSU professors Mike Smith and Joshua Dudley Greer. To check out more information on this year's ACP, click here

As part of the programming and in conjunction with the SPE Southeast Regional Conference, Columbus State University will be hosting a photography symposium called EYE SOUTH on October 14-15. The keynote speaker will be Alec Soth and there are other events scheduled including panel discussions, portfolio review and exhibitions, including a small group show about gun violence called Every Five Minutes, which was co-curated by ETSU professor Joshua Dudley Greer. The events are free, but students need to register here to be included.

It's going to be a great month for photography and a great excuse to spend Fall Break in Georgia.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

ETSU Photo Alumni Series: Megan G. King

Megan G. King

Megan G. King is a photographer and editor from Bristol, Tennessee. King graduated with both a bachelor's degree in Spanish and a Bachelor of Fine Arts in 2013 from East Tennessee State University. King's work has been featured in Oxford American's Eyes on the South, NPR's CodeSwitch, Politico Magazine and The Bitter Southerner, among others. King is also on the editorial board for Looking at Appalachia. She has exhibited regionally and her work is in the permanent collection at Duke University. King has recently begun her graduate studies at Syracuse University.

Megan G. King

What is the process like when applying for graduate schools?

I'm not entirely sure how to answer this yet. It was great and terrible. I put a lot of pressure on myself. To begin with I briefly looked into all the schools I thought might be worth checking out. That was maybe 20+ schools. Then I factored in program length, professors at each school, students that graduated from these schools, tuition, location etc. Primarily, faculty played the biggest role. I asked a lot of questions before applying. I asked people at some of the schools I was considering questions about the program and the other students. I asked people I admire, who know me pretty well, and have a better sense of the reputations programs carry their thoughts on the schools I was thinking about. Other people offered their own opinions and I took anything and everything into consideration, even if just for a second. The hardest part was writing about myself for each school. Maybe that is easier for others. Choosing my images one of the easiest tasks.

Megan G. King

How many schools did you decide to apply to after considering all of those factors?

I applied to 5.

Megan G. King

Was it important for you to choose a school with faculty members whose personal work was related to yours?

No. Not really. It was more about if they were making work I was interested in. That might mean that there are parallels between our work, but it was not a requirement.

Megan G. King

What factors led to you choosing Syracuse?

Syracuse, for obvious reasons, was at the top of my list throughout the entire process, but I was doubtful that it would be feasible to attend, if accepted. So, once I applied and interviewed with some schools, I made campus visits and started to get a feel for the kind of atmosphere I wanted to work in. I received a generous offer from another school and was strongly considering them. After interviewing with Syracuse I tried my best to decide which program would be the best fit for me. I talked to a former ETSU and Syracuse graduate which was incredibly helpful.

Syracuse was able to secure me some pretty good funding for my first year, but I didn't feel like I could make a secure decision without visiting the campus, so, two days before I had to make a decision that's what I did. I liked that Syracuse has 4 great photo professors. I was able to talk with each one of them individually when I visited. I spent a good amount of time with students, talked with students about their work, sat in on a graduate seminar. I found that I preferred a program with more students. Lightwork is obviously an incredible resource. Syracuse was just a great fit for me. Visiting programs easily played the largest role in my decision making.

To see more work from Megan, visit the artist's website at