What was your time like in the MFA program at CU Boulder?
“My MFA thesis work was conceptually centered around storytelling and narrative. I used photography and video to explore the complexity of people’s lives in the ranching community in Kremmling, Colorado. Initially, when I started in the MFA program, I made a series of black and white portraits of Kremmling ranchers; people trying to make a living off the land, at the end of the 20th century. Many of those ranchers were third, fourth, fifth generation people living on that land and battling over water rights lost back in the 1940s—forcibly having to sell to the Denver Water Board and then leased back for 25-30 years. When I was doing this project, a lot of the families were really struggling because they were paying exorbitant amounts of money for water, but they still chose this way of life for their children and grandchildren. Making photographs of these individuals and families within the Western landscape only presented a single perspective. I then took a video class with Luis Valdovino. He helped me realize that I needed to broaden the story and let people tell their own stories in their own words. This advice helped me understand how to construct a narrative. That video ended up being my thesis.”
"My undergraduate degree is in Media and Communications and not art, so it was a bit of an adjustment in graduate school because I didn't have the art background that my peers did. Alex Sweetman and Albert Chong were very helpful, specifically in sorting out how to make documentary work within the context of contemporary art. CU Boulder was a good place for me due in large part to the faculty.”
“The Art & Art History Department gave me support with a GPTI teaching position and I also ran the photography lab, which helped me financially. It also gave me teaching experience so when I went on the job market, I got a tenure track right out of the MFA program. Looking back, securing a tenure track position had a lot to do with not only my photographic work but also having video and electronic media as part of my practice.”
After School Experiences
“I taught at Lake Forest College, near Chicago, but then I decided I wanted to be in the West, because I was still working on my Kremmling project. I accepted a tenure track position at Willamette University in Oregon. While there, I started new work in Alaska making a film about women who live along the Alaska pipeline. The women I focused on were not native to Alaska and that landscape, but had transplanted themselves there from the lower 48 and were defining a new existence —a contemporary western expansion story.”
“Teaching in the West took me from Oregon back to the University of Colorado as a sabbatical replacement for Luis Valdovino, then to the University of Denver, then a position became available as the Director of Photography at Anderson Ranch Arts Center. I always thought I'd go back into academia but the Ranch became an amazing place to raise my son as a single mother and continue my artistic practice. Today, I am the Vice President of Artistic Affairs at Anderson Ranch and I've been working on a sixteen year project exploring gender, identity and the construction of masculinity through portraiture and narrative with my son and his best friend.”
“I love Anderson Ranch, Aspen and the Roaring Fork Valley. Not only because of my job but because I love the outdoors. There are very few places in the country where you can have this lifestyle AND live in a place known for its amazing cultural programs. Anderson Ranch also allows me to interact with artists of all levels, run robust art workshops and host a visiting artist program that features a series of critical dialogues about contemporary art. Anderson Ranch is a creatively rich place to be.”
Launching a career in the arts
“There are so many ways that artists can engage beyond their studio. For example, I still teach, often a couple of workshops a year at the ranch. I'll also co-teach with renowned artists like photographer Catherine Opie and David Hilliard. I enjoy our partnership program with over 70 colleges and universities that brings undergraduate and graduate students to the Ranch each summer, including students from CU Boulder.”
“One piece of advice for students today is to be true to yourself and your practice. Art allows us to reflect on what's happening in our culture, and by talking about it, hopefully, it opens up a larger dialogue about the world. But, I also think there is a level where artists need to be true to who they are and what they're interested in.”
“At Anderson Ranch, we talk to students and residents about the value of focusing on the process over the final product; it's about your journey. When someone takes a class here, I would rather see them leave the class with a sketchbook full of new ideas that they can take back to their practice in their home studio, than a finished object or a body of work they created in a week or two weeks. The experience is about taking risks and pushing boundaries, and even failing as there is so much to be learned from that process.
“Everybody wants to be able to go to art school and come out making a living with their art and it’s not always reasonable to think that everyone can do that—for a myriad of reasons. There are other opportunities in the arts.”
“When I got my MFA, I wanted to teach, but now I feel it may not have been the best reason to get an MFA because there are not enough teaching jobs. I think students who are going to get an MFA degree should be thinking from a perspective of what they want from their community. Things like critical feedback, time to explore and create new work, and even finding opportunities to change their practice through those explorations but not with the end goal of getting a tenure track job. Working in art adjacent professions and places can be very interesting and fulfilling. Not only a great opportunity for artists but it also enables organizations to start thinking more creatively too.”
Left: Nordic, 2018. 40x30" Archival InkJet Print
Right: The River, 2017. 40x30" Archival InkJet Print