Turning the Lens on Us

In Austin, the Society for Photographic Education focuses on 'American Vision'

Kelly Wamhoff from Exposure
Kelly Wamhoff from "Exposure"
Nine Francois from Exposure
Nine Francois from "Exposure"

As you may be noticing, there are a few more people than usual milling around Austin this weekend. They aren't leftovers from SXSW, and they aren't here for music or films. It's photography they want, and lots of it.

René Peña from Digging Alone
René Peña from "Digging Alone"

This Thursday through Sunday, Austin is hosting the national conference of the Society for Photographic Education. For many in the photographic world, this four-day gathering is the premier event of the year, featuring lectures, panel discussions, and artists' presentations by some of the most important figures in the field, as well as one-on-one portfolio reviews and an exhibits fair. This weekend's get-together, the society's 40th national conference, is titled American Vision and aims to consider how the United States has been represented by photographers in the past and where photographers need to focus their attention in the future. Among the highlights are expected to be Thursday's keynote address by noted photographer Joel Meyerowitz and Saturday's featured speaker lecture by Anne Wilkes Tucker, photography curator for the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. Meyerowitz, who began his career in the 1960s as a New York City street photographer, will speak about his recent photographic project documenting the recovery at Ground Zero. Tucker will address the topic "American Visions: Robert Frank and Other Artists." Both promise to be invigorating presentations by two exceedingly important voices in photography.

Manuel Piña from Digging Alone
Manuel Piña from "Digging Alone"

However, thought-provoking lectures and the heated discussions that may ensue are not all that the weekend has to offer Austinites, photography-wise. A slew of top-notch photography exhibitions are currently on view throughout the city. This is not a coincidence. Knowing that SPE was coming to town this month, local galleries and museums all over Austin made a special effort to put the focus on photography in March.

Of particular note is Gallery 106's "Digging Alone: Five Cuban Photographers." Organized by Eduardo Muñoz Ordoqui, Austin Critics' Table 2002 awardee for best male artist, the exhibition features approximately 50 photographic works by Cuban artists Juan Carlos Alom, Kattia García, Marta María Pérez, René Peña, and Manuel Piña, who will also participate in an SPE Conference panel discussion on Cuban art this weekend. "Digging Alone" reveals the increased individualism currently taking root in contemporary Cuban art. Muñoz explains, "Where before, artists were more incorporated in the larger social project, little by little, art-making is being converted into an isolated experience." The wide spectrum of approaches shown here reflects this development. Besides examples of Cuba's strong documentary tradition as found in the photographs of García, the exhibition includes more experimental works ranging from video installations by Piña to conceptual based images by Alom and Pérez. Yet despite the differences between their works, these photographers share a mutual interest in exploring themes of personal and universal importance and more particularly the relationship of the individual to society.

Another exhibition of interest is "Exposure: Photographs From Central Texas and Southern France" at F8 Fine Art Gallery. The show, which features more than 100 black-and-white and color photographs by seven Texas and 11 French photographers, is the result of a two-year effort by Austin photographer and teacher Nine François and Marc Célérier, president of La Fontaine Obscure, a long-standing association of professional and fine-art photographers seated in Aix-en-Provence, France. "Exposure," which has already toured France, not only attests to the creative energies at work here and abroad, it also fosters an atmosphere of cultural curiosity and discovery. More importantly, it offers to the public of both communities the opportunity to meet each other, build friendships, and initiate dialogues for future exchanges. A reception will be held Saturday, March 22, 6-9pm, at F8.

In addition to F8 and Gallery 106, Arthouse, the Austin Museum of Art, studio2gallery, Oswald Gallery, Creative Research Lab, Stephen L. Clark Gallery, Pro-Jex Gallery, Women & Their Work, Flatbed Press, Austin Spirit Gallery, and IDEA are all hosting compelling exhibitions related to photography. For more details, see this week's Calendar section. Finally, don't forget that the public is invited to attend all SPE conference events at the Hyatt Regency, 208 Barton Springs Rd. Full conference packages, day and session passes are still available. For more information, visit www.spenational.org.


"Digging Alone: Five Cuban Photographers" is on view through May 15 at Gallery 106, 2832 E. MLK. For more information, call 472-1219 or visit www.medaid.org/art.

"Exposure: Photographs From Central Texas and France" is on view through May 1 at F8 Fine Art Gallery, 1137 W. Sixth. For more information, call 480-0242 or visit www.f8fineart.com.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Society for Photographic Education, SPE, American Vision, Joel Meyerowitz, Anne Wilkes Tucker, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, American Visions: Robert Frank and Other Artists, Gallery 106, Digging Alone: Five Cuban Photographers, Eduardo Muñoz Ordoqui, Austin Critics Table, Juan Carlos Alom, Kattia García, Marta María Pérez, René Peña, Manuel Piña, Cuban art, Exposure: Photographs from Central Texas and Southern France, F8 Fine Art Gallery, Nine François

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