Thursday, August 18, 2011

Instructor Interview: David Weldzius

We're excited to be offering Fine Art Photography this fall with new instructor David Weldzius. Let's get to know him (and see what's in store for class...)

Can you talk a bit about your background in photography?

I didn’t learn how to make photographs until college. I was about twenty one and, previous to that, I had only used a camera when I needed to document my own paintings and sculpture works. The teachers that I learned photography from seemed to have a different set of concerns than my studio arts teachers. Identity politics were still in the air—which is to say that the photo program was concerned with power and privilege, while the studio program, in many ways, was still talking about process and form.

It is very easy to take pictures. Anyone, arguably, can take a “good” picture. In the first and second world, we produce and consume thousands of pictures daily. It is because of this relative ease in the production and consumption of images that an artist using photography can concentrate on the concept, context, selection, and sequencing of photographic works—rather than shooting and printing, for instance.

How would you describe your current practice, and what inspires the style and substance of your recent work?

My recent photographs draw attention to events and processes that are specific to my immediate surroundings—from Robert Kennedy’s assassination at the Ambassador Hotel to the Norton Simon Museum’s dioramic copy of Monet’s garden. With a camera, I can frame a historical process in the present tense, and, in this manner, activate a deliberate series of inquiries. In Los Angeles, where localized histories frequently slip through the cracks of social consciousness, I excavate a surface that is inscribed with historical process in order to highlight its contemporaneous social bearing.

Which fine artists are you most looking forward to exploring in class, and why?

Recently, I’ve been looking closely at photographic works by Zoe Strauss and Ai Weiwei. Over the past year, Strauss has been documenting the effects of the “Deep Water Horizon” oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. I am interested in the project because it does the work of conventional photojournalism, but under a different guise. Strauss is a reporter, a muckraker, and an artist all wrapped into one. Similarly, in 2008 Weiwei photographed the effects of the Sichuan earthquakes weeks before the Beijing Olympics. Where the Chinese government released only a limited selection of images from the disaster, Weiwei answered with a vast photographic archive, organized and disseminated from his own website.

In recent years, much attention has been given the “Pictures” generation of American artists—both in the museum and in art writing. I am, ultimately, suspicious of the way this work has been received by important art institutions and neatly historicized. Nonetheless, I look forward to looking at some of their most canonical works, and discussing its impact on subsequent developments in contemporary art and photography.

What do you find rewarding or interesting about fine art photography (that maybe you don’t experience as much doing commercial work)?

Photography has been in existent for less than two hundred years, and has enjoyed its status as “fine art” for far less time than that. However, in its short history, photography has undeniably seen radical shifts in technology and form, as well as its perception within art history, and in contemporary art.

Currently, there are many artists that use photography, but do not call themselves “photographers.” These artists, in many instances, are making more compelling, dynamic works than the ones that do call themselves “photographers.” This brings to light the fact that many contemporary artists work through traditional media loosely and fluidly in a way that emphasizes the idea rather than the form, and it reiterates the notion that anyone, including artists, can take a picture and use it toward a specific, meaningful end.

In my own lifetime, Cindy Sherman photographs have sold for a few dollars, while Andreas Gursky photographs have sold for millions. Since at least the late 1980s, however, photographs have maintained their status as rarified art objects in a, largely speculative, global art-market. As with bank notes, consumers of art photography willingly suspend their disbelief when they acquire and de-access photographs—any of which, presumably, can be reprinted ad infinitum.

What do you hope students leave the class having learned or experienced?

I want students to use my class to develop their portfolios, or specific bodies of photographic work. Additionally, I want to encourage students to develop a way of talking and writing about their photographs. I am positive that in class critique will afford the opportunity for students to discuss their thoughts and receive critical feedback. In two lab sessions, I will emphasize shooting, editing, in addition to workflow management. Students should leave my class with an active awareness of art, theory, and history. Most importantly, however, under my mentorship they will foster skills and habits that will allow them to be more apt in constructing strong, nuanced bodies of work.

Images by David Weldzius. From top, Untitled (from series “Giverny: Pasadena”), 2007 48” x 60” c type print, Untitled (from series “ASA”), 2009 4” x 6” silver gelatin print postcards, Untitled (Nazi Era Photograph I), 2011 40” x 50” c type print, Untitled (Cold War Era Photograph II), 2011 30” x 40” c type print, Untitled (A Progressive Era Photograph for Arne Duncan), 2011 11” x 14” silver gelatin print.

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