A stellar group of historians, artists, and poets offered insights into Vanderbilt's pioneering work with visual materials this fall during programs organized to coincide with the James Watrous Gallery’s exhibition The Archive as a River: Paul Vanderbilt and Photography.
Although he was trained as an archivist, Paul Vanderbilt once said he would like to be called a "curator/poet," and it's hard to imagine a better description for his precise, yet intuitive approach to organizing pictures. On the one hand, he was dedicated to researching and preserving the facts about photographs: dates, locations, subjects, who was behind the camera, and why an image was taken. On the other, Vanderbilt took extraordinary liberties with the images under his care, freely combining and collaging them to tease out deeper, more poetic meanings.
We knew Vanderbilt's work would spark lots of questions for gallery visitors. After all, even with 18 months of preparation, we still had plenty of our own. In planning the programs for this exhibitions, we wanted to highlight Vanderbilt's aesthetic interests, take a closer look at his background and training, and share memories and reflections from colleagues and friends who knew him well.
Inspired by the short, allusive texts that Vanderbilt wrote to accompany his thematic panels and pairings, we invited local poets Thor Ringler, Sara Parrell (pictured left), and Mark Kraushaar to read selections from their own work at the opening celebration.
James Rhem was a good friend of Vanderbilt's and has an encyclopedic knowledge of the history of photography. He's also a terrific speaker with a wonderful ability to organize and present complex information. James talked about Vanderbilt's early career and the people that shaped his thinking, and shared his own thoughts about the philosophical underpinnings of Vanderbilt's approach to pictures. Lewis Koch also offered a perceptive and provocative gallery talk, focusing on what he described as Vanderbilt's oracular voice and his exceptional openness to the "wonder of being."
Jack Holzhueter, Andy Kraushaar, and Michael Lesy (left to right) shared their diverse perspectives in an October 18 panel called "Paul Vanderbilt's Intuitive Iconography." Jack and Michael talked about their personal relationships with Vanderbilt and their sense of his importance, and Andy re-created a fascinating slide-talk that Vanderbilt had developed to illuminate one particular thematic panel. We were especially pleased to present this in conjunction with the Midwest Society for Photographic Education conference, and introduce Vanderbilt's work to an enthusiastic audience of people engaged in the field.
Photos: Amanda Shilling