Let’s Build Some Visual Literacy: Conversation with Coriana Close

In a conversation with blogger Erin Williams, the 29 year-old Ohio native let us in on her influences, thoughts on if film photography will forever be a thing of the past, and why it takes more than a cell phone camera to call yourself a true photographer.

shared vision tour.Coriana Close

Coriana Close

When it comes to explaining why artists do what they do, sometimes the best points of view can only be understood by a fellow artist. Coriana Close, photographer and assistant professor at University of Memphis will attempt just that on Thursday, when she leads a guided tour of Shared Vision that explores the changes of the history of photography as seen in photos from the exhibit. An Oberlin College and University of Arizona Alum, she most recently showcased a collection of her photo and video work at Wrong Again Gallery, in an exhibition titled Solar that focused on time spent in Vieques and Puerto Rico.

Who are some of your favorite photographers, and whose work was the biggest influence in your wanting to study photography?

- Ooh that is such a hard question! Sebastian Delgado – that was the first fine art photographer I ever saw, when I was in seventh grade. I saw his work on gold miners in South America and that really inspired me to want to work in photography. Currently, Hank Willis Thomas. [He’s a] young photographer – I respect his work a lot. I’ve met him, he’s very nice.

I’m kind of excited about the intersection between photography and art. One artist whose work I think is real inspiring to me is Robert Heinecken. He was a professor at UCLA, so he influenced a generation of great artists, and he was really experimental. He often didn’t even use a camera for most of his pictures, and he was working with pop culture images [such as in] advertising. And then there’s Fred Wilson – he’s not really a photographer although some of his work is photographic. He probably inspires my thought processes and my art-making strategies most.

There used to be a time when photography was an expensive and precious resource for documentation, and art wasn’t even a thought. Now anyone can buy a camera and access their images in a matter of seconds. What are your thoughts on the journey of photography from being a coveted commodity to a ubiquitous outlet?

- 100 years ago people were having that exact same debate. That’s the argument that came out with the development of film that’s on celluloid because it made photography accessible to everyone, like with the Brownie camera. I think that it’s a perpetual argument. I have two bodies of work that I work on at all times, and one of them is more of a traditional photographic practice – and then another one is inspired by appropriation art that Robert Heinecken pioneered along with Sherrie Levine,Richard Prince and all that. I think that [amateur videography] is kind of a constructive narrative. Back in the 1950’s there wasn’t really a market for photography. Photographs weren’t even considered precious objects.

And it wasn’t until…probably the 70’s when there started being photo-specific galleries in New York and things became this forced value on the image by “editioning” and other marketing practices to create scarcity. I’m not really concerned with the fact that everybody can do pictures – I think it’s actually great that everyone can do that. If they’re selling a product and the consumers can’t tell the difference then who am I to judge?

It seems like photos nowadays exist only on the internet and in computers. No one holds an image anymore! Is film photography dead?

- Well, we still teach it. We have three darkrooms and I just restructured the curriculum, and we’re keeping “Elements In Film Photography.” So, no I don’t think so. If you can take images on large format film, scan it, and then print it digitally, that’s about as high quality [an] image as you can possibly get. But do I think that most people that study photography are going to go out and build darkrooms? No, probably 1%. In the photo community there’s [been] a huge resurgence of alternative processes…like daguerreotype and albumen printing. In the photo education world, there is actually more of an interest in those processes, because everybody can use Instagram. I think [film] is like a specialized process that will continue to be used by professionals and people that are trying to use photography as fine art.

If someone wanted to take the plunge and develop skill in photography, how should they start?

- I think it’s important to gain a critical eye. I force my students to use manual [cameras], because if you’re not using manual then you’re not a photographer. If you can’t manually control the settings of the camera, then you’re not in control. If you’re not interested in going to school for it there’s just so much information available on the internet. What’s important is that people actually go to reputable sources. Going to the Museum of Contemporary Photography’s website -you can see the entire collection on the internet. So just building a critical eye and looking at as much fine art photography as possible. And then going out and practicing it and getting people that know about images to give you critique. What I focus on a lot with my students is just building visual literacy. Just learning to critique to deconstruct images…that’s probably step one.

The Shared Vision tour with Coriana Close is Thursday, October 24, 2013 at 6:30 pm. The tour is included with Museum admission; free for Brooks members. No reservations; tour will fill on a first come, first serve basis. Visit brooksmuseum.org/events for more information.

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