Monthly Archives: May 2009

Photography@DIA – Future Programs & Exhibitions in 2009

Many thanks to Michelle Stamler for posting recently on her involvement with Roeper High School photo students and the DIA. I am looking forward to their visit later this month at the DIA to view Of Life and Loss and talk about their work inspired by this exhibition. I did not expect such an overwhelming response to this exhibition. There is a constant stream of visitors in our galleries everyday.  And it seems that this very powerful group of photographs speak to a very diverse group of visitors on so many different levels with great emotional impact and resonance. I was fortunate to have exhibition curator Karen Sinsheimer deliver the most-illuminating lecture on Of Life and Loss this past Sunday to over 100 people in the DIA’s lecture hall.

Penny Picture Display, Savannah, 1936, by Walker Evans

Penny Picture Display, Savannah, 1936, by Walker Evans

The DIA is moving forward with our other photo exhibitions and programs for the year. This past week I have been busy working with interpretive educator Madeleine Winslow on an upcoming exhibition Photography-The First 100 Years. Although the exhibition does not open until September 2, 2009, plans for installation and development of interpretative materials for the gallery take place months and sometimes years in advance. Madeleine and I hope to get some feedback from our visitors in the gallery with a reader response table focused on the work of Walker Evans one of the featured artists in the exhibition. We plan to set up some online opportunities to hear your thoughts as well.

Avedon Fashion preThe exhibition Avedon Fashion Photographs 1944-2000 will also open at the DIA on October 18. 2009. I was fortunate to get an advance copy on the catalogue with essays by exhibition curators Carol Squiers and Vince Aletti. The authors have given their undivided and thorough attention to this very productive and influential period of the photographer’s career in fashion editorial work that appeared in Harper’s Bazaar, Vogue  and in later years for the Versace campaign beginning in 1980 and eventually as staff photographer for The New Yorker. The exhibition opened last week at the International Center for Photography, New York, and a sneak peak of some of Avedon’s fashion work can be found at the New Yorker Online – Here at the DIA, the exhibition will get four-star treatment in our special exhibition space with an elegant installation and some exciting programs and events to soon be announced.

Student Work Reflecting Memory and Loss

Early in September, I was contacted by Jennifer Williams from the DIA asking me if I was interested in participating in an exhibition that would include the work of my students. They would shot and print work that would explore the complicated ideas of memory and loss; a daunting prospect to students ranging in age from 14 to 18. If taken on, this project would be aligned to the exhibition called Of Life and Loss: The Polish Photographs of Roman Vishniac and Jeffrey Gusky that would open April 15, 2009. The guidelines set out at that time by Jennifer stated that “The project would use the photos in the exhibition as a catalyst to inspire students to explore themes of memory and place in their own work”. And while student work would not be inside the gallery with the work of Gusky and Vishniac, it would be given enormus respect when it was shown on a screen outside the exhibition.

The students were thrilled about the project from the onset long before they knew that inclusion in this show came in conjunction with a trip to the DIA to view the exhibition, discussion of images, general tour of the museum, and copies of the video and booklet of their work.

I can say without reservation that this project garnered more discussion of images, before and after they were shot and printed than any other assignment that I can remember. The students were engaged from the beginning but something palpable changed after we were visited by Linda Margolin and Jennifer Williams who showed the students the PowerPoint that I had seen in September. The intensity and power of the images and the discussion that followed took some of the students in a different direction; some asking if they could shoot again as they knew that only one image each would be submitted.

The students were humbled by the work they saw that day and felt honored to have their work juxtaposed to the images of Gusky and Vishniac. The fact that Jeffrey Gusky was an “amateur” photographer did little to mitigate their concerns that their work would be worthy of inclusion.

Over the next few months the issue that the students grappled with the most was how to tie their own “short” history, to the monumental history of war torn Poland and other ravaged Eastern European countries. I watched each student deconstruct this concept and reassemble it in their own visual vernacular. All the student interruptions were different and they all made the assignment their own.

Interrupting one’s own identity through the lens of a personal history is a powerful mandate and when explored fully can be a teaching tool that extends far beyond photography and the final image.

The students felt an additional connection to the exhibiting photographers as they all worked in the same medium — black and white film and darkroom printing.
We are now getting ready for our visit later this month. I feel that I can speak for all of us when I say that this will be a powerful and inspiring day.

Michelle Stamler

May 17th DIA Lecture – The Polish Photographs of Roman Vishniac and Jeffrey Gusky


Karen Sinsheimer, curator of photographs, Santa Barbara Museum of Art

Next Sunday, May 17, 2009@2PM, Karen Sinsheimer will be discussing work in the exhibition Of Life and Loss: The Polish Photographs of Roman Vishniac and Jeffrey Gusky. It will be Karen’s first visit to the Detroit area from California where she works as curator of photographs at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art. Karen spent two years developing the exhibition, working directly with Jeffrey Gusky, Mara Vishniac Kohn (Roman Vishniac’s daughter), and Maya Benton, director of the Vishniac archive at the International Center for Photography, New York. The lecture is open to the public and free with museum admission.

Detroit Area Education Focuses on Traditional and not-so-Traditional Photographic Media in 2009

The DIA has always been a haven for young artists, going back decades in its support their work with outreach projects, exhibitions and behind-the-scenes tours. Many thanks to my colleague Madeleine Winslow for blogging recently on the successful photo project she and her department managed in conjunction with the exhibition Of Life and Loss.alabel

In the past week, the DIA also opened the annual Detroit Public Schools exhibition in its 72nd year! The exhibition was exiled to the main branch of the Detroit Public Library during our renovation over the past few years, but has returned to the DIA and can be found in our new Gibbs Learning Center gallery where small exhibitions will be featured in addition to our regular drop-in workshops and other hands-on programs for young and old. We hope to add a cyanotype class and other photography inspired offerings in the studio this fall.

loose_canonAlthough I never tire of the great collections and exhibitions here at the DIA – and I am totally unbiased in saying so 🙂 – I got a chance to see art outside of the DIA this week. Lens-based media (photography, film and video) along with mixed media installation work are currently on view in the 2009 MFA graduate student exhibition Loose Canon at the Cranbrook Museum of Art. Earlier this week, Liz Cohen – artist in residence at the Cranbrook Academy of Art – invited me to speak with some of her second year MFA photography students about their work in this year’s show. Liz is new to Cranbrook having recently moved to the Detroit area from Arizona. Her class has visited the DIA several times this year looking at special areas of the collection and talking to the DIA’s curatorial staff about art and museum practice. Speaking with artists is my all time favorite pastime, so I was happy to entertain a little diversion and take some time away from the DIA to travel to Cranbrook this past Wednesday .


Ritual for Money, detail, 2009, by Kelly Frank

Particularly memorable was the conversation I had with Kelly Frank, who was my former photo student at College for Creative Studies in 2004. Interdisciplinary practice (cross media work) has become a hallmark of the Cranbrook program in recent years, and Kelly has taken on performance and installation developing a thoughtful piece entitled “Ritual for Money” inspired in concept by Native American ritual and the esoteric knowledge of wealth and success written about in Rhonda Byrne’s best-seller The Secret.

I have written before that Detroit, particularly the art scene here, seems to persevere in tough times. It was no more evident this past week as the creative spirit seems to be upon us with great energy and geniune passion. Young artists who share their creativity probably have no idea of how uplifting it can be for the obscure individual to come into contact with their work through a visit to a museum. I hope some of them may read this, because I have to thank you along with our Detroit-based art educators who would never think of giving up on culture in this city.