Monday, April 17, 2017

ETSU Photo Alumni Series: Amanda Musick

© Amanda Musick

Amanda Musick lives and works in Clemson, South Carolina. Musick graduated with a B.F.A. from East Tennessee State University in 2015. In addition to many regional exhibitions, Musick has most notably exhibited in Fauna, a group show juried by artist William Wegman, in San Anselmo, CA at the Smith Andersen North Gallery. Musick is attending the graduate program at Clemson University.

© Amanda Musick

What was the most difficult part of selecting a graduate program?

I wouldn't say there has been one part of the selection process more difficult than the other. There are so many questions I had to answer such as; Which professors do I most want to work with? What type of opportunities would an MFA from this program/institution provide me? Does the program encourage you to take other courses outside your medium? What are their MFA alumni doing now? Is their photography department active with other networks such as SPE? How good is the program's financial offer? Will the facilities and off-campus environment supplement my work? Will living in that city be fitting for me? The challenge has been figuring out which of these factors hold more weight towards my decision. It's been a perfect opportunity to make a pros and cons list.

© Amanda Musick

When did you know that you wanted to continue your education? 

Once I really began studying the work and careers of artists that I admired. Reading their CVs and resumes showed that many of the artists I was looking at had gotten their MFA. These artists have connections to the academic community that interest me and they have reached a level in their work that I want to achieve. I think there are many avenues I could take in order to continue my education. I knew I wanted to do so after taking just a couple photography courses. However, I did not always know that continuing my education would include an MFA. After finishing undergrad I thought about my artistic network of people so far, and the conversations I had with peers and professors. I decided that getting my MFA was one of the paths I wanted to take to continue my education.

After considering all those factors how many schools did you apply to? 

I applied to Clemson, Duke, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Virginia Commonwealth University, University of Georgia, Yale, and Lesley University. In choosing which schools to apply to all I had to work with was information found online, a few webinars, and conversations with former professors. I had not visited all of the schools and cities at that point. My initial impression of each program really changed as I started the interview part of the selection process. It was a big help in making a decision to talk with that programs faculty and current graduate students.

© Amanda Musick

How did the program at Clemson differentiate itself from the others?

From the time I applied, the faculty I communicated with at Clemson were very engaged in my work and reached out to assist me in any way they could. During my first visit, they immediately were giving me feedback and artists to research. The program showed to be a close knit group of faculty and graduate students. The lay out of the graduate studios was also impressive. It allows for strong community among us, and there is almost always someone around you can grab for some quick feedback on your work. 

And how would you describe your graduate school experience so far?

At first I felt as if I was sky diving, and wasn't sure if my parachute was going to work. Now I don't feel like that, I figured out how to open my parachute. It's an exciting, overwhelming time, and I'm trying to learn everything new that I can. It is constant work, or at least continuous thought about work or writing. My only complaint is that there are not enough hours in the day to read all the books and articles, watch all the films, and make all the work I want to. I've been given a countless number of films, writings, artists, etc. and enjoy sorting through these new ideas and figuring out how to apply them to my work.

I've found that as long as you make a decision to work and give a program all you've got – to truly dedicate yourself to it then you'll make it. I feel that you get out of a program what you put into it. I am very pleased with my decision to study at Clemson. It’s been a privilege working with Anderson Wrangle, along with the other faculty and graduate students. I look forward to the rest of my time here, time that is going by too quickly.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Contemporary Photographer Series - Eliot Dudik

from the series Road Ends in Water © Eliot Dudik

Eliot Dudik is a photographic artist exploring history, landscapes and politics. He holds a B.S. in Anthropology and a B.A. in Art History from the College of Charleston as well as an MFA in Photography from Savannah College of Art and Design. He was named one of PDN's 30 in 2012 and one of Oxford American's New Superstars of Southern Art. Eliot's work has been displayed across the United States and Canada. Originally from Maryland, he currently resides in Williamsburg, Virginia where he teaches photography at the College of William & Mary. He was recently interviewed by Jessica Blindt for our Contemporary Photographer Series (CPS)

It appears as though your camera of choice is most always a large format camera. With this continual use, are there ever times when you feel encumbered by the process?

For the work I have completed thus far, I have not felt encumbered by the large format camera. I've actually felt the opposite: that I've had everything in front of me that I need to make the image I'm looking for, it's been a matter of recognizing the puzzle to be solved and figure out how to solve it. That being said, prior to moving to Virginia, I found myself surrounded by an onslaught of things I wanted to photograph on a daily basis and became tired of photographing them with my cell phone when I wasn't out specifically shooting with my view cameras. So I purchased a smaller Plaubel Makina 6x7 medium format camera to carry around with me everywhere and make random, everday photographs. This was pretty new for me, and I really enjoy it. I've been accumulating a lot of these images that don't specifically have a home yet, but excited to someday start sifting through them and pulling together narratives. I have some projects planned for the near future that will utilize differing types of cameras. Although I use mostly view cameras in my work, I am a firm believer that a photographer uses the equipment that makes sense for their work. For me, a view camera gives me everything I want nearly 100% of the time. For others, this won't be the case.

from the series Road Ends in Water © Eliot Dudik

In previous interviews, you have mentioned that you think of yourself as a collector. Do you feel that this need to collect and inventory comes into play within your photographic projects?

Undoubtedly. I believe it's the reason I became a photographer, to begin collecting moments and memories. I grew up on a farm with a family who didn't throw anything out because it might be useful in the future. For better or worse, I'm still this way. Now, I'm not only collecting moments and memories, but also ideas. Ideas that are important for me to investigate and try to learn from and that I may eventually share. In that way, the sort of become public journals. 

In Still Lives, you made portraits of Civil War reenactors, while with Road Ends in Water, the focus seems to be on the contemporary topography of the South Carolina lowcountry. Do you feel your work is driven more by historical context or by current events?

I find this question interesting because I actually see my work as equal parts of both. Especially more recently, my work has been based in historic events in order to discuss and understand contemporary circumstances. I find the most direct way of understanding our current cultural or political climate is to look to the past. So I find myself bringing it into my work mostly out of self-investigation and personal explorations, and sometimes it becomes relevant to others as well.

from the series Still Lives © Eliot Dudik

The title of your most recent project, Paradise Road, suggests a location where many of us long to be. Only knowing the name of the road you were to photograph, what were your expectations of what you would find compared to what you discovered? It also seems to call to mind a literary connotations, is there a specific reference for you?

I started the project by mapping out all the Paradise Roads across the country that I could find. As I looked at that map and the vast number of these roads, I expected there to be a wide variety of American culture and landscape to be found throughout all the regions. I've come to realize that there really isn't a lot of diversity from one to the next. I think part of this has to do with the fact that they're all "roads" and not avenues, streets or boulevards, etc. "Roads" often fall in particular parts of American cultural constructions. Furthermore, Americans seem to name roads "Paradise" for similar reasons. For example, I've visited quite a few that were within pretty banal lake communities, and the vast majority of them are far out in the country away from nearly any civilization. Often it is very difficult to find any evidence of culture to photograph on these roads besides the road itself lined with pine trees on either side. I have found a diversity in the length of road and how much ground I have to explore before I can make a decision on what a particular photograph will be. Some Paradise Roads are 5 miles or more long, others are barely 20 yards. 

As for a reference, this project came to me as I was visiting my father in central Pennsylvania, where I grew up, over Christmas in 2013. I was lying in bed one night with a multitude of things running through my head and there was a flash of a street sign that said Paradise Road. This is actually how many of my projects come to me, late at night, lying in bed. It's often either that or while I'm driving long distances. I believe it has something to do with the brain shutting down from many of the functions it is required to do during normal waking hours, and providing space to a particular kind of consciousness that allows us to think about things that were only in the periphery during the day. When Paradise Road came to me, I had been a little stressed about the direction of my career and my personal growth as I entered into my 30's. I think this is why I was thinking about Paradise - trying to understand what that means, what my life was going to look like, and how I was going to manage to direct it, or would I? The next morning I got up and mapped out all the Paradise Roads in the country. I think I had passed a road nearby my father's house called Paradise Road the day before and that was why it was in my subconscious. I went out the next day with my brother and photographed that Paradise Road in Spring Mills, Pennsylvania as the first image for the new project. Early on in this investigation as I was starting to photograph these roads, I realized we all asking these same questions I was asking myself and found this series to speak to our collective desire for the American Dream. So the project has become an attempt to understand what the American Dream is and whether or not it is attainable or something we should even be striving for. 

from the series Paradise Road © Eliot Dudik

Your project Road Ends in Water was photographed in South Carolina, Broken Land was photographed across Civil War battles sites, while Paradise Road was made throughout the entire country. Do you find yourself purposefully expanding your reach outside the American South or was this just happenstance?

It is somewhat purposeful, but not forced. It feels quite natural and exhilarating to me. I've been in the American South since I could truly call myself a photographer. In many ways, I've learned what I know in and from the South. But I've also felt that I need to understand the United States as a whole to truly understand what the South is. So I've begun to not shy away from finding interest elsewhere. The Broken Land series, although understandably often read as being about the Civil War, is about our current political and cultural climate. I felt the divisions have led us to where we are today, more divided than we have been since the Civil War. But my wish was to show these issues that plague our country as not southern issues, but national problems. This is the reason I made a point to photograph little known battlefields that look like they could be Americans' backyards as opposed to well manicured parks, and to photograph battlefields that extend across the country - well out of the South. Paradise Road certainly takes me out of the South and looks at human nature and American culture more broadly. I'm also now working on some photographs along the coast of Maine in the winter that I'm really excited about. Of course, Maine would seem very far from my roots in the South, but I don't really see it that way. In many ways, I see Maine as a kind of South of the Northeast. Of course there are many differences, but there are also many similarities. I am interested in understanding those similarities and differences. Exploring other regions helps me understand exactly what the South is, and maybe it will help all of us. After all, we are one country, although it's becoming harder to grasp that every day.

from the series Broken Land © Eliot Dudik

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.