My research and creative work proceed from the foundation laid in my dissertation, an ethnographic study of the boundaries defining two distinct worlds of image-making: amateur and fine art photography. Subsequent research traces the relationship between social context and photographic meaning, particularly within the arenas of photojournalism and documentary photography. My research about photography is enhanced and informed by my research with photography, ethnographic fieldwork utilizing visual research methods. My research and photographic work suggest that changes in the production, distribution, exhibition and reception of photographic images are rendering traditional boundaries between arenas of photographic activity obsolete. I have exploited the shifting terrain within the field, seizing the opportunity to move my own work across boundaries. I am now exploring the creation of photographic meaning by producing, exhibiting and publishing under the broad rubric of contemporary art photography.
Waucoma Twilight: Generations of the Farm marked the beginning of my work as a visual ethnographer and generated several publications on visual research methods. This work raised questions about the truth-value ascribed to photographic images, questions I began applying to photojournalism. The emergence of digital imaging in the 1990s prompted photojournalists to grapple with photographic truth and objectivity. I became fascinated by the nature of the discussion that emerged. Proceeding from the view that photography interprets reality and inherently encodes a point of view, I began examining the historical emergence of the idea of photographic objectivity, visual codes of photojournalistic objectivity, and institutional practices designed to protect photojournalism’s perceived integrity. This line of investigation yielded a series of publications examining contemporary photojournalism’s ideological underpinnings.
While researching photojournalistic practices, I launched a photographic project that also addressed questions about visual constructions of reality. The 1992 Super Bowl, hosted by the Twin Cities, provided the opportunity. My goal was to create an alternative view, different from the mainstream media’s representation. Contesting the Super Bowl examines the construction of photographic meaning, the interests in play, and the processes involved. “Pictures at a Demonstration“ continues this thrust, examining media practices and narrative frameworks that shape photojournalists’ representations.
The practice of photography continues changing dramatically. In addition to technological change, markets for photographic work are also shifting. The emergence of the Internet as a distribution mechanism has propelled changes first signaled by the demise of picture magazines. Institutional structures and reward systems are in play and aesthetic codes are in flux. Contemporary photojournalists exhibit (and sell) their work as art and shoot advertisements; art photographers shoot fashion and do editorial work; commercial photographers’ work appears in museums and galleries. Where an image appears, as much as its form or content, triggers viewer response. I have tracked the interpenetration of photographic arenas with keen interest.
My current creative activity exploits this movement between arenas of discourse. I decided to explore the possibility of addressing my photographic work to an audience that extends beyond the boundaries of the academic/scholarly community. Since 2002 I have been working primarily within the arena of fine art photography. I have completed several new photographic portfolios since launching this new direction in my work: Sanctioned Sex, In the Kitchen, and Soccer Mom. My photographs have been exhibited in the US, Europe, and China, and published in art photography journals. In late 2009 In the Kitchen was published as a fine art monograph by Kehrer Verlag, Heidelberg. I am currently producing a new photographic portrait series, On the Nest, which continues this recent trajectory.
I continue to encode ethnographic inferences about social life within the photographs I make, but by changing how and where my images are encountered I can activate a different set of responses from viewers. By exhibiting in museum and gallery settings, and publishing in photographic books and art journals I exhort viewers to examine the aesthetic dimensions of the image itself and mine it for the messages it contains. My explorations of the medium of photography, its aesthetic and its communicative properties continue in this new arena, as does my analysis of the interaction between social context and photographic meaning. My creative work with photography continues to provide me with a unique vantage point from which to contribute to knowledge about the medium“”and vice versa.