Neal Rantoul on artists-in-residencies.

What is that? A “residency” as an artist? Where are they, how do you find out about them and how do you apply for one?

Artists-in-residencies are all over the world and come in numerous flavors, from out right grants where all expenses are paid and living conditions are first class to much more modest situations that involve teaching or that don’t provide any reimburse-ment for expenses.  But one thing that all have in common is that they are set up to be places where you can make your work in relative peace.

The best place to find out about residencies is currently at Artist Res (http://www.resartis.org), which provides a list of over 400 residencies worldwide.

The site can also be helpful in getting to the application, knowing its deadline and so on.

My personal experience with residencies goes back now over thirty years. They have been invaluable in my career in helping fund projects, giving me a place to live while photographing somewhere, and supporting my efforts as an artist.  Let me list a few examples. My first was in Highlands, North Carolina in the 80’s over an extended spring break in March from where I taught in Boston. It was at the Appalachian Environmental Art Center. The residency was for photographers only. I was its only resident, the place was closed and no one was there the whole time.  Its director was away but had left me a note and the keys to get in. I had a whole house to myself, cooked my own meals, used the extensive darkrooms to develop my film and print my work. I photographed daily, sometimes driving some distance to explore and make pictures. It was a lonely time but very productive.

I have been three times to the Hambidge Art Center in Rabun Gap, Georgia to be a resident. If a residency is awarded, you are given your own studio building for the duration of your stay, are fed several dinners a week prepared by a chef and are left alone to work. There are seven residencies in each group and Hambidge accepts authors, sculptors, painters, filmmakers, composers, potters, as well as photographers in its make up. For the Hambidge residence you pay a modest amount each week to off set the costs somewhat. By the way, once you have been someplace, many residencies regard you as “alumni” and returning is easy and encouraged.

In 2001 on a fall semester sabbatical from teaching I had a one-month residence at Lightwork in Syracuse, NY right after 9/11. Lightwork is all about photography and most residencies there are one or two people working at a time. You are given a fully equipped apartment, a stipend, and have full access to all of Lightwork’s extensive darkroom and digital facilities, including the highly qualified staff, to help you make your work. Lightwork requests a print or two as a donation to their permanent collection at the end of your stay. They also publish your work in their publication “Contact Sheet”. This is clearly one of the premier residencies.

My most recent residency extends my experiences internationally to Iceland. This past July I was awarded a one-month stay at the Baer Art Center in Hofsos, Iceland.

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This one provides all expenses and all meals except your transportation to get there and home again. Beautiful studios, wonderful food and the most amazing location in which to make art I have ever seen. This one is truly wonderful.

Lest you think I write an application and assume to be granted, there are several I have applied to numerous times where I have not been successful. I don’t have a clue why not. Except that artists need to come to terms with rejection, as do all of us. Ever talk to really successful people about this topic? Bet you they will all cite far more failure in life than success. It is how we deal with failure that counts.

What does it take to be awarded a residency? All the ones I have experience with want a CV, some samples of your work and usually three people to recommend you.

While it helps to have a strong track record of previous shows and accomplish-ments, some residencies will make an effort to award younger lesser known artists as a way to bring new ideas and new approaches to the mix of artists accepted.  Very often the residence wants to bring a group of artists together that when interacting, form a dynamic or at least is sympathetic. If this works, sometimes people will collaborate on projects, or, for example, a composer might write something to go along with a visual artist’s piece and so on.

What does the residence want in return for giving you their time and space? Most often, nothing. This is difficult for most outside this system to understand. Some will have an “Open House” at the end of the residency, where the local community is invited in to see what the residents have done. Often the artists will decide among themselves to have “studio viewings”, usually after dinner each evening where residents will meet at a studio to see work in progress or perhaps a slide show of an artist’s work. Some residencies will state that they want a piece made while there for their permanent collection, although this is in no way universal. But this is a system put in place primarily by individual non-profits as a way to support artists and the arts in general. Practically, this how much art and creative output is made.

Before I finish, there are a few more points that need be made. One is that the interaction between residents is often as important as the work made while there.

This can be tremendously rewarding, to be looking at work while it’s being made, discussing theory or influences over a meal or a glass of wine, citing examples or showing others’ work and so on. Another is that this is an affirming process, to be awarded a residence means that someone or some group deemed your work worthy and awarded your past accomplishments with the time and space to make new work. This raises the bar on you and the other residents to be active, to make work, to produce new work from new ideas while in residence. People don’t screw off much while on one of these. The time away from the day-to-day pressures and deadlines of family and friends, day jobs and commitments is too precious to squander. A residence is time away from this and therefore it is cherished and valued. So many of us squeeze art into our lives, make it when there is time, or can’t fully commit due to the need to work. But a residency is the affirmation that you are an artist and have been awarded the time, place and freedom to make your work. This can throw people at first, long days and nights with no pressure, no requirement to do anything, no one making you feel guilty for being in your studio or work place. Imagine this dream coming true for a month or so. What would you do?

I encourage you to apply to a residency. But be careful, there is no general rule that these are all going to be good experiences. Try to get to speak to or email someone who’s already been where you are applying. Look carefully at where it is. As photographers this becomes even more important for us as we are often reliant upon our location to make our work.

Note: The Baer Art Center in Iceland is not having residencies in 2014 but will start up again in 2015.

The facts:
Neal Rantoul is a career artist/photographer/teacher with over forty years of experience of teaching photography and exhibiting his work. He is a professor emeritus fromNortheastern University, where he retired in 2012. He now devotes his full time to making pictures and working to increase awareness of his work to a national and international audience. He lives in Cambridge, MA and his site is: www.nealrantoul.com

Photo: © Neal Rantoul. All rights reserved. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

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Bryan Schutmaat

I am very impressed with the color work of Bryan Schutmaat, particularly the series titled “Grays the Mountain Sends”.

From Bryan’s website:

“Grays the Mountain Sends
”

This project combines portraits, landscapes, and still lifes in a series of photos that explores the lives of working people
residing in small mountain towns and mining communities in the American West. Equipped with a large format view
camera, and inspired by the poetry of Richard Hugo, I’ve aimed to hint at narratives and relay the experiences of strangers
met in settings that spur my own emotions. Ultimately, this body of work is a meditation on small town life, the landscape,
and more importantly, the inner landscapes of common men.

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You can see more of Bryan’s work here.
Photo: © Bryan Schutmaat. All rights reserved. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

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Rahi Rezvani

I found these hauntingly beautiful photographs by Rahi Rezvani on the web. I’m impressed by Ravi’s strong, simple compositions and his haunting use of color.

I’m not sure I understand all of it, but here is a little background on Rahi from his website:

The fantasy work ‘Rahi Rezvani’ is willful, but not stubborn and self-assumed. Without being based on the theories of the twentieth century and the various accompanying ideas, it corresponds harmoniously with a similar path in another way. It is based on the principals and systems of visual art.

It appears as if he is taking a ‘detour’, and not along the historical process of predecessors in the Art, but his creations belong to an exception, even along an extraordinary and unusual way. The result remains an exception, uniform and in harmony with the rules.

The expertise of Rahi Rezvani in the other genres of the Art is another motive for his visual strength: portraits, fashion, still lives, realistic scenes: Wonderful to interpret. He speaks the language of comparison and allegory. The scene is fantasy. Space is fantasy. Colour is fantasy. The composition is fantasy. Everything is fantasy. But there is no place for lies and forgeries. It is false, but not a lie. He has nothing to do with ‘reproduction’ based on the ideas of Aristotle on the imitation of nature, or with ‘speculation’. He has his own interpretation of portraying his fantasy. A picture which is not present in time – as in a story -, but in space.

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You can see more of Rahi’s work here.
Photo: © Rahi Rezvani. All rights reserved. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

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Photographer Eirik Johnson didn’t travel far to find the subject of this terrific series.

From Eirik’s website:
For two years I spent my early mornings walking the streets of my neighborhood of West Oakland. It is a place steeped in history and diversity, from ship workers to blues musicians, Portuguese fishmongers to Black Panthers. Yet, as freeways were built and factories moved in, the neighborhood was bisected from the rest of the city, left isolated and marginalized by many. Over my many walks through West Oakland, I began to find intimate moments of strange beauty and ritual born out of the neighborhood’s very isolation.

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From Eirik’s bio:
Seattle-based photographer and mixed-media artist Eirik Johnson has exhibited his work at spaces including the Museum of Contemporary Photography in Chicago, the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston, and the Aperture Foundation in New York.  He has received numerous awards including the 2012 Neddy at Cornish Award in Open Medium, a Massachusetts Cultural Council Grant in 2009, the Santa Fe Prize in 2005, and a William J. Fulbright Grant to Peru in 2000.  His work is in the permanent collections of institutions including the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Seattle Art Museum, and the George Eastman House, Rochester, NY.  His second monograph Sawdust Mountain was published by Aperture in 2009. His first bookBorderlands was published by Twin Palms Press in 2005.

Johnson’s editorial work has appeared in publications including the New York Times Magazine, Metropolis, Dwell, Audubon, GQ, and the Wall Street Journal.
Johnson is currently a visiting faculty at the University of Washington, Cornish College of the Arts, and the Photography Center Northwest.

Photo: © Eirik Johnson. All rights reserved. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.
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Martin Usborne’s color portraits

From Martin’s website:

Martin’s key interest is man’s relationship to (other) animals. Although his imagery is sometimes dark – capturing the way in which we silence, control or distance ourselves from other animals – his pictures strive for a subtle humour.

Martin often undertakes editorial or commercial commissions and his work is regularly featured in international magazines and has been seen in group and solo shows around the world as well as in the National Portrait Gallery London. He has had four books published.

Martin lives and works in London. He studied philosophy and psychology and then 3D animation before finally settling on photography.

He is currently spending a year to see how many animals he can save in 365 days. Read the ongoing blog here. He hopes for this to become his next book.

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Photo: © Martin Usborne. All rights reserved. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.
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Laura Pannack’s “Young British Naturalists”

I strongly suggest you visit Laura’s website to see additional images from the series.

From Laura’ website:
Nakedness is usually reserved for the private realm. We make sure the curtain is pulled before we undress. On the beach, we wiggle awkwardly behind towels to preserve our modesty a dropped corner is cause for deep blushes. We keep our private parts hidden from view, known only to ourselves or given as a gift to a lover. It is about more than just skin. Nakedness is a concept as much as it is a state of being, and one wreathed in paradox. With it are bound notions of privacy, self possession, jurisdiction. It can connote innocence or sexuality, purity or depravity. It can signify both power and vulnerability, used to liberate or humiliate.

We arrive in this world without a stitch on our backs, raw-skinned and unadorned. In infancy and childhood, nudity is still considered natural, a sign of prelapsarian purity, untainted by the unseemly connotations that begin to attach themselves as we draw nearer to adolescence. As newborns we are free, unencumbered with the societal expectations of clothing, the delineations of style, the consumerist pressures of fashion. All these are yet to come.

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About “Young British Naturalists” from Laura’s website:
In order to full understand my subject and gain the trust and respect of the people I wished to photograph I felt it was essential for me to cross over to their side and be naked. By placing myself in a vulnerable situation, the connection with my subjects was one of mutual understanding and equality.

Photo: © Laura Pannack. All rights reserved. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

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David Moore – 28 Days in Paddington Green High Security Police Station

I came across David Moore’s color photographs of Paddington Green High Security Police Station recently.

From David’s website:
This series extends my ongoing investigations into apparatus of the state. The high security areas of Paddington Green had never been photographed before.

“In 2007, a joint parliamentary human rights committee stated that the old and decrepit mid-1960s police station was “plainly inadequate” to hold high risk prisoners. Lord Carlile, the official reviewer of the government’s terrorism laws, said the Metropolitan Police needed a new custody suite suitable for up to 30 terrorism suspects. The old cells were 11 foot square and contained no windows and were reportedly too hot in the summer and too cold in winter. Refurbishments were made in 2009 at a cost of £490,000, suspects now have access to an audio-visual system on which they can watch films and listen to music whilst incarcerated. This system was added because it was felt inhumane to keep people locked up for to 28 days without any stimulation. One anti-terrorist officer was reported to be angry with these improvements saying, “If you beat up your wife or have a fight down the pub you will be slung in a cramped cell with nothing more than a toilet and a mattress. But if you are a terrorist intent on blowing things up then you get a luxurious cell with a telly and a CD player.” [Wikipedia]

I was able to gain access to Paddington Green High Security Prison in London for two long days in July 2009. It took me six months of meetings. Having The Last Thingspublished was a great help because as was noted by a superintendent, ‘ a relationship already existed’.

The complex, used originally to hold arrested members of the IRA in the early 70’s were in the middle of refurbishment. The Carlile report of 2007 made recommendations to the Metropolitan Police Authority to upgrade the complex in response to the extended powers of detention without trial, currently 28 days. People arrested under the Counter Terrorism act were being held in cells only designed to for 2/3 days detention at most.

I was offered a two-day window, at the end of the re-construction and before it became operational again; after that it was out of bounds. The work I have made attempts to record, interpret and negotiate the anomalies of a refurbished complex, which in response to Lord Carlyle’s recommendations rubs up against the fabric of older police cultures.

Paddington Green police station will hold individuals who have been arrested under the pre text of killing, maiming, inciting, using propaganda, etc. In the period 2007/8 the police made 231 arrests, 39 charges and 22 convictions under the Counterterrorism act.

It is believed that a new high security jail designed to hold up to 30 suspects is being planned for central London in the near future.

You can see more of David’s work here.

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Tim Richmond takes a bite of “English-ness”.

Love Bites is a terrific name for a series of photographs. Tim Richmond’s photographs are just as terrific. After seeing the series on Tim’s website, I had a few questions. My questions and Tim’s answers are below.

From Tim’s website:
“… Love Bites series (2010-onwards) continues to document a fading strand of ‘English-ness”…

Tim Richmond

PW: What was the genesis of the series?
TR: I started the series Love Bites in 2010 and decided to concentrate on a geographical proximity to my country house in the West of England. The area is a part of the Bristol Channel. I shall shoot for another year or so.
PW: In your write-up about the series you mention ”English-ness”. Could you please expand on the term for our American audience?
TR: The “English-ness” that I am documenting is my “filter” on the region that encompasses landscapes, interiors, portraits from pole dancers to boxers to cross dressers, and shop fronts…in fact anything that goes across my radar with the idea that these images combine to create a version of the truth about a part of England today.
Love Bites is the English word for “hickey” that I imagined when I started the project that two teenagers would be wearing proudly at a bus stop sheltering from the rain whilst sharing a bottle of cider. As I said photographs for me are an extension of cinema and the ability to trigger ideas of a narrative possibility.

You can see more of Love Bites and other great work by Tim here.

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A Couple of Comments About Portfolio Review Events

I recently spent a weekend in Boston at the New England Portfolio Reviews. My good friend Paula Tognarelli of the Griffin Museum and I ran the reviews years ago when I served as Executive Director of the PRC. So, whenever Paula asks me to serve as a reviewer, I am more than happy to oblige.

A photographer I have known for many years drove up from New York City to attend the event. It was the first time he had his work reviewed at a portfolio review event. Over lunch, I asked him for his impressions. He said, “It reminds me of kindergarten, everyone is running around like their hair is on fire.” It’s true; there is generally a great deal of hyper activity during the event.

As usual, I saw a wide variety of work on many different levels of sophistication. Many of the people I reviewed (like my friend from New York City) were attending for the first time.

Since the weekend, I’ve been thinking about what kind of advice I could give to photographers that may be planning to attend their first review event. Here are a couple of thoughts. It’s a short list and it’s in no particular order. I’m sure if you asked the other reviewers, they would have more than a few of their own.

Finish all of your homework
Do a little research on your reviewers. It makes for a better review if you know something about the reviewer’s background. I’m sure you will better understand my comments about your work when you know a little bit about my history. I learned this incredibly valuable lesson during my 30+ years presenting advertising concepts to potential clients. You can never know too much about your audience.

Don’t follow me into the men’s room
Don’t laugh, it has happened. I appreciate that you want to maximize your investment, but approaching reviewers during breaks will not win you any extra points. Most review events book reviewers with a very, very full schedule. We need a bit of breathing room after each review to reset our brains.

You shouldn’t argue with me – I’m always right
You paid a fee to hear the reviewer’s perspective on your work, and the review time goes by very fast. I may not be right, but at least have an open mind. And, oh yes, take notes.

Please, please work hard on your craft
Only about 20% of the prints I reviewed were exhibition quality prints. If I recommended that you take a printing workshop, do it. It means that even if I were knocked out by your work, I would not be able to include it in an exhibition. The prints just didn’t come up to exhibition quality.

I consult with photographers on a regular basis about portfolio development and there are a large number of additional points I could include. These four were taken from the notes I made during the review event.

In the photo below, Jo Sandman is having her recent work reviewed by Dalia H. Linssen PhD. I’ve been a huge fan of Jo’s work for many years. Her work is totally unique. You can see more Jo’s incredible work here.

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