Friday, August 31, 2012


I am very pleased to be included in this international photography festival, Noorderlicht, which takes place annually in the Netherlands. 115 photographers from 36 countries will be shown at "Terra Cognita, an exhibition about the relation between man and nature. How do we experience nature, and what is its value for us? Our romantic longing for pure nature is diametrically opposed to the practical desire to control the world and cultivate it. "

This is a mock up design display for the work which will be presented outdoors. 
My Burn pieces will be blown up to 30" x 30" and printed for outdoors. 
I am leaving shortly for the Netherlands to attend the opening festivities.
So fun!
© Toni Hafkenscheid
Father and Son at Grand Canyon 2007

Nature, Toni Hafkenscheid tells us, almost always comes across as artificial. It is as if it has been transplanted directly from the model railway he has as a child. Hafkenscheid associates the North American landscape with the trees of cotton wool and cardboard mountains through which his trains used to run. In CONFABULATION he tries to give the real the appearance of artificiality. For that he uses  tilt-shift lenses, which, because he uses them the ‘wrong way around’, offer him the possibility of having only a small slice of the landscape in sharp focus, leaving the rest of the image fuzzy.

More information on the festival can be found HERE.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Art of Human Rights and Healing ~ Survivor Quilts

Some amazing work had transpired in Chicago under the creative brainpower of Greg Halvorsen Schreck, a photography professor at Wheaton College
Greg collaborated with Chicago’s Heartland Alliance Marjorie Kovler Center in creating a photographic/quilt project with survivors of politically sponsored torture. The Kovler Center transforms the lives of individuals recovering from the complex consequences of torture,  providing medical, mental health, and social services.

Constructing the quilt 

"We had discussed possible photography projects for years. However, the need for survivor confidentiality made conventional documentary approaches impossible. Instead of a traditional documentary project, too often cementing images of individual victims, we decided to use an approach that visualized a community of survivors. Through a collaborative group project, we were able to create a process that promoted dialogue and understanding between survivors, students, and staff members. We all wanted to create an image of a supportive community that would present survivors with dignity and beauty. Posing torture survivors for photographs might reiterate the problem of someone exerting control over them, so we allowed each person to depict themselves in ways that offered self-expression, autonomy, and anonymity. The basic set consisted of a computer monitor next to a camera, allowing the subject to see each image on the screen as it was made. Most importantly, we gave them a remote control to make their own self-portraits. We wanted the survivors to see themselves in community—in solidarity with case workers and other service providers—so the Kovler Center staff participated as well." 
"After making photographs to their satisfaction, the survivors were invited to choose two photographs that they liked the best. The images were cropped into squares and printed on-site. The photographs were then cut into strips and woven back together. The editing and weaving process allowed the participants another way to alter their identity, as needed. They could control exactly how they would appear. Finally, the completed squares were sewn together to create a quilt. Students were responsible for various parts of the collaborative process: helping with the camera; editing, cropping, and printing the images; cutting the images and weaving them back together; troubleshooting and overseeing the visual design of the quilt; and sewing the quilt together. The production room was festive and energetic, with students, survivors, and Kovler Center staff working together in various combinations. The quilt was reinforced and finished at Wheaton College."

The participants’ response was overwhelmingly positive:
 “They did the worst things to me, the worst. I have scars all over from where they hurt me. I thought I didn’t have a body anymore . . . I brought my therapist with me, and then I felt okay. I made some pictures, and I started feeling happy. I could do it by myself, without the therapist anymore. I liked the pictures I saw. I started moving and having fun.”
“I realized that I could have a body again; I could be in my body. I could move. I realized I could have a life here. I could start again. I felt like I was a model, that I was beautiful.”
“After what they did to my body, I never knew I could feel this way again.”
“You made me beautiful . . . I am beautiful!”
“I felt immortal.”
"A non-traditional intervention, the finished quilt has proven to be uplifting, empowering, and transformative, beyond what any of us could have imagined. Something magical and healing occurred when survivors took the remote control in their hands, determined how to pose their own bodies, and decided when and how their image was to be recorded."

Greg shares more ideas from this past fall on working  with another underserved population in the Chicago area...
 "I started my class this semester working with the escalating refugee population in Wheaton.  Mostly from Congo and Burundi; the civil war there is pretty harrowing.  A number of us in Wheaton donated our backyards for some of them to farm.  My students documented the gardens and we had an exhibition a few weeks back: all the African gardeners came.  There was abundant Congolese and other food that they made.  Only a few of the homeowners came.  The refugees had never been to an opening, nor had most of them seen pictures of themselves.  It was quite a wild time.  So Karen and I invited our gardeners for dinner this afternoon with another refugee family.  Talk about culture shock..."

 You can read more about the quilt project HERE.

Monday, August 27, 2012

The Art of Human Rights

Charles Gniech, Chief curator of The Illinois Institute of Art in Chicago and fellow artist, is at it again. He has organized an alternative exhibition at the Zia Gallery in Winnetka to support the amazing Heartland Alliance of Chicago. His energy and curatorial abilities are impressive. The show will only be up for a few short days, so if you are interested in supporting both artists and a wonderful social service organization, be sure to stop by.

Zia Gallery, 548 Chestnut Street;  Winnetka, Illinois
Monday, August 27 – Exhibition opens
Thursday, August 30 – Main event: 5-8:30 
Saturday, September 1 – Exhibition Closes

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Special Places

I am about ready to head out to a special place that I have been visiting for the past 35 years. Every summer I make my pilgrimage to a remote location in Northern Wisconsin where I am able to dip into nature. Every year I bring my camera and am surprised by  new discoveries. It reinforces my thought that the longer you spend with your muse, the deeper the work becomes. 

I thought it would be fun to share some of the images I have made over time.


Monday, August 06, 2012

The Evolution of an Artist Statement

I began the Burn work over 5 years ago. As many of you know, it coincided with my sister's first chemotherapy treatment. For the first 2 years of the project, I couldn't / did not want to, make the connection or discuss it in my artist statement.

Burn No. 21

Artist Statement Version #1

While accompanying restoration ecologists on prescribed burns, I am drawn to the ephemeral quality of a single moment when life and death do not seem opposed to each other, but are parts of a single process to be accepted as a whole.
The Burn series evolved from my ongoing interest in life cycles. Controlled burns imitate naturally occurring fires by removing accumulated dead vegetation and releasing seeds from dormancy. By opening the woodlands to more sunlight, the fires prepare the soil for new spring growth, and the cycle of renewal continues.
Burn No.74

After attending an artist residency with many writers, I was convinced that my sister's illness was a very important part of this work, and that I needed to include it in my statement.

Artist statment version #2
   While accompanying restoration ecologists on prescribed prairie burns, I am drawn to the ephemeral quality of the single moment when life and death are not opposites, but rather parts of a single process to be embraced as a whole.

As fate would have it, this project began on the same day (and actual hour) of my sister’s first chemotherapy treatment, having just been diagnosed with ovarian cancer. The parallels between the burn and chemotherapy were immediately revealed to me as I photographed with my sister in my heart and mind.

Burning helps reduce invasive vegetation that crowd out native plants, allowing sunlight to reach the seedlings. By opening the woodlands to more daylight, the fires prepare the soil for new spring growth, and the cycle of renewal continues. So too, chemotherapy removes unwanted growth, allowing for new healthy cells to reestablish themselves. It with this deeper understanding of the life cycle that these images were created.
And then I went to Fotofest where I met a curator who said that the artist statement did not really reflect what she was seeing in the work. I let this feedback simmer for a few months. I knew she was right and struggled with how to rewrite the statement. I worked on it on and off and nothing was coming to me. I could "feel" it but not articulate it.
I then had a very interesting conversation this summer with 2 dear friends who both completed their PHD's in art history. To my utter surprise, one friend said, and I quote, "It is not the job of the artist to write about the work. The job of the artist is just to make the work. Writing about it should be left to others." 
You can't imagine the weight that was lifted from my shoulders. I felt liberated....only I still didn't  have a statement that could guide the viewer.  My other friend offered to write the statement for me. I can't tell you how appreciative and grateful I was.  
I am thrilled to finally have an accurate and articulate statement which accompanies the work as I send it out into the world.
Burn No. 96
Final Artist Statement
These photographs are part of a series begun in 2007 when I observed my first controlled prairie burn. I was immediately struck by the burn’s visual and expressive potential, as well as the way it evoked themes that are at the core of my photographic work.  A controlled burn is deliberately set; its violent, destructive force reduces invasive vegetation so that native plants can continue to prosper.  The elements of the burn—the mysterious luminosity, the smoke that both obscures and reveals—suggest a liminal space, a zone of ambiguity where destruction merges with renewal.  These images of regenerative destruction have a personal significance—I photographed my first burn at the same time my sister began a course of chemotherapy—yet they constitute a universal metaphor:  the moment when life and death are not contradictory but are perceived as a single process to be embraced as a whole. 
Burn No. 48
Thank you Debbie!

Thursday, August 02, 2012

Taking the Summer Mary Schmich

Mary Schmich of the Chicago Tribune wrote a wonderful essay yesterday that I wanted to share with you, Taking the Summer Quiz. I am grateful for her wisdom as I thought about it this morning while swimming in the exquisitely delicious waters of Lake Michigan.

Light House Beach, Evanston © Jane Fulton Alt

Mary Schmich

August already.

The flowers are open wide. The air's still warm and as soggy as wet cotton. The days are still longer than the nights.
In other words, we've reached the season's peak, and perched here above summer's downhill slope, it's time to pause. Assess. And, if necessary, correct course in the summer time that's left.

Here's one of our occasional quizzes to help you. Select one answer in each category. Points are awarded for attitude as well as achievement.

1. Summer Harvest

A. I go to the local farmers market regularly! +10 points

B. I have Googled farmers market locations and fully intend to go to one before the summer's over. +1 point

C. Anything I can get at a farmers market I can get cheaper at Jewel, without the preening people, their annoying dogs and that bleepin' hammered dulcimer. -10 points

2. Water Sports

A. I've gone swimming so much that my bathing suit has a suntan! +15 points

B. Spare me the skin cancer, but I've read four trashy beach books lying in my backyard with a glass of sweet iced tea. +5 points

C. Why would I swim when I can lie on the couch in the AC and watch Michael Phelps? -10 points

3. Outdoor Entertainment

A. Millennium Park, Ravinia, neighborhood festivals! I've done them all! +25 points

B. Ravinia is too far. Neighborhood festivals are too loud. But I fully intend to go to Millennium Park now that that bleepin' electronica "music" is off the schedule. +2 points

C. Why would I go outside when I can lie on the couch in the AC and read about Kristen Stewart's love life? -30 points

4. Outdoor Exercise

A. Hardly a day goes by that I don't take a long walk/run/bike ride! +20 points

B. I walked over to Chick-fil-A to see if those sandwiches were worth the fuss. 0 points

C. If God meant humans to exercise outdoors, she wouldn't haven't invented temperatures over 75 degrees. -15 points

5. Lollapalooza

A. I'm in! +10 points

B. I am too old for Lollapalooza. +15 points (For self-awareness.)

C. What is Lollapalooza? -3 points (Age is no excuse for ignorance.)

6. Summer Dining

A. I've gorged on fresh tomatoes, peaches, corn, etc. + 15 points

B. Fresh tomatoes are overrated, but I'm all about brats on the grill. +1 point.

C. Does eating Cheetos while lying on the couch in the AC watching the Olympics count? -15 points

7. Heat Appreciation Index

A. Heat is the soul of summer, and I've savored these hundred-degree days! +15 points

B. Heat sucks but I'm not ready for winter. 0 points

C. I cranked up the AC in April and haven't turned it off since. -25 points

8. Summer Vacation

A. I spent half my vacation posting photos of my vacation on Facebook. -10 points

B. I spent half my vacation on Facebook, jealous of other people's vacation photos. -10 points

C. I spent my vacation without checking Facebook or email once. +30 points

9. Summer Reading

A. I finally read that fat classic I've been meaning to read since high school. +25 points

B. I've read four trashy novels and all my old magazines. +10 points

C. Does Facebook count? -40 points


Above 100: No summer regrets necessary.

0-100: Still time to improve.

Below 0: Remember this when you're grousing about winter.
© Jane Fulton Alt