SPE Conference 2004; Photography and Place: Home/neighborhood/nation/world.newport (RI), March 25-28, 2004

Article excerpt

Place is space with character. This year for the 41st annual conference of the Society for Photographic Education, place meant Newport, Rhode Island, founded in 1639. Photography and Place, is a typical theme for a restricted as well as dominant genre in photography, landscape. How is our sense of place affected by evidences of globalization? How are image-makers dealing with the sense of place in a time when our clothes and language are increasingly homogenized, and "global". At SPE 2004, photographers and video makers played with such concepts in various ways, though one seemed to be dominant: documentary interpretations of specific areas. In the light of the past thirteen years, a different usage of the term has emerged: territory, a rather paradoxical emergence in an age of "globalization." Pseudo-globalization would probably be more correct as we are witnessing commercial and (pseudo) diplomatic behaviors that have nothing to do with a global approach to problems, and the global welfare of humanity. The apparent logical progression from local to global, home to world appears to be more problematic than one might expect. How do the arts, and more specifically the visual arts address these issues? The role, the meaning and future of our relationships to place and space evolves with the definition of boundaries: boundaries between private and public spaces, as well as between religions and cultures. All these issues are at the heart of most conflicts, and conflicts have been occupying the forefront of our discourse for the past months. However, the theme of the conference sometimes remained a remote pretext, in spite of the efforts of the organizers (in that respect the invitation of Mark Sealy, the director of Autograph, the Association of Black Photographers in London as a featured speaker was an excellent initiative).

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The first keynote speaker, whose career in landscape photography has been widely celebrated from New Topographics to the French D.A.T.A.R. project, was Frank Gohlke With such a lifetime achievement, the sole presentation of his work would have delighted his audience What Gohlke did however, to the dismay of a portion of his audience, was he spoke for about 90 minutes on the photographic work of Herbert Gleason of which only eight images were shown. The audience was later told that the archive comprised over 8,000 images.

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Friday evening started with Mark Sealy's presentation on Black photographers against the background of British photography; opening on photographic practices outside the American borders by a native practitioner was innovative, refreshing, and informative. Ken Burns introduced Honored Educator Jerome Liebling as his teacher from undergraduate days at Hampshire college, a person with "respect and concern for subject, dymanism, composition, sense of history and time, generous, loving, auspicious, a cynical wise thoughtful teacher and mentor, enduring long after fashions of particular moment blur. …