Welcome back readers! (Maybe I’m just saying welcome back to myself because even though this is my first blog post of the 2022-2023 school year, it’s already the seventh week of fall semester! And it’s 4pm on a Monday, and I’ve started drinking my third cup of coffee for the day.)
When I last left you, I was gearing up for spring final reviews and putting the final touches on completing my first year in the MFA Photography program here at Columbia College Chicago. I barely had time to collect myself from the end-of-year whirlwind before flying off to Spain for a month to embark on photo work and research about burlesque performance abroad! Thanks to the Abelson Graduate Research Fellowship, which the Photography department offers to first-year MFA candidates to fund travel, projects, and exhibition, I set out on my first adventure outside of the United States!
While in Spain, I traveled solo in Madrid for two weeks, meeting, interviewing, photographing, and spending time with burlesque performers and producers local to that scene. I also did tons of walking and step-counting—especially late at night, when the sun was settling in and therefore less likely to fry me—as Madrid is truly a lit-up city that never sleeps! After experiencing the art, culture, impressive history, and miraculous Air B&B solitude of Madrid, I traveled via train and then bus to join my friends Katina and David, who were staying on the southern coast of Spain in Almuñécar. While staying with them for my remaining two weeks abroad, I made collaborative portraits of Katina, my collaborator-in-burlesque and visual muse, who was living there all last year with her husband to teach English as a foreign language. We adventured out as a trio to cities like Granada, Seville, and Valencia via buses and rented cars.
During my time in Spain, I made many images to journal and track my destinations on my iPhone while also, of course, taking more “involved” photographs with my “fancy” camera. Returning wholeheartedly to the habit of snapping pics with whatever device is on me made me value collecting memories over as situating the images I make as “work.”
(I should clarify here that ALL image-making methods, in my view, produce valid and interesting imagery, from SLRs to disposable drugstore cameras to Polaroids to iPhones. After all, a Leica medium-to-large-format camera is a machine that I, and many others, will likely never be able to afford.)
In August, I spent a week with fellow Columbia MFA Photography candidate Jessica Hays in Colorado. We went to the enchanting and lush Snowmass Village (with adventures to surrounding towns Leadville and Carbondale) for a workshop at Anderson Ranch Art Center entitled “Looking In, Looking Out,” led by portrait photographer Richard Renaldi. I was awarded a stipend for the cost of the week-long workshop and room and board at the Ranch through Columbia’s Photography department! (Yet another amazing opportunity you should seek out!) I’m proud of the work I made during this intensive workshop, which was also my first time in the mountains.Everything there seemed to bring me inward, closer to myself. It was a chance to breathe and see myself at an overwhelming time of hyper-productivity (sort of what all of grad school is, really). After a year of mostly pointing my camera at others, I made some noteworthy self-portraits, and I meditated deeply on how my inner voice might infuse my visual practice more. I also just loved the rare opportunity to be immersed in scenic Colorado nature.
Now that I’m back to the grind of grad school classes in the bustling city of Chicago, starting research toward my thesis (graduation in the spring, anyone?), and juggling student jobs and my life as an up-and-coming local burlesque producer, I’m even more grateful for the time I had away this summer. I’m happy I had many chances not just to make art, but to think about what my experiences have brought me, and what they might continue to bring!
As I unpack my suitcase from my latest grad school adventure, (I was in New York City for the Printed Matter Art Book Fair, connecting with fellow artists, photographers, and bookmakers from all around the world), I am most thankful for my ability to reflect on all I’ve seen and done…thanks to the ever-present gift of accessibility to image-making–and images themselves.