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Spring 2012 SPOTlight

Everywhere we look today, we see photographic images. They are on our phones, computers, TV screens, as well as countless books, magazines, billboards, posters and, believe it or not, they even reside in our cameras. Last year, an article in the The Wall Street Journal reported that Creative Writing is the number one MFA program in the United States. The article went on to say that the statistic was not surprising because this type of program simply does not just teach the technical aspects of how to write better, but teaches the students the lifelong skills of creative problem solving, which translates into success in any profession one might to pursue.

This is where the Houston Center for Photography steps in. Photography is not just cameras, software and technical know how, which are so easily attainable with a simple Google search. Photography is a way of creatively seeing the world. HCP doesn’t teach people photography, but how to take a picture – and there is a difference. This exciting literacy is exactly what I encountered when asked to jury the HCP Master Class exhibition in December 2011. The evidence of fervor and commitment to photography made the selection process difficult, but fun. Even more challenging was the opportunity to choose two works that represent a balanced view of the scope of exceptional work that HCP educational programs and Master Class have nurtured both formally and conceptually. The two artists featured are Tiina Anttila and Mary Riggs Ramain.

– Stephan Hillerbrand, Assistant Professor, Photography Department, University of Houston and HCP Board Member

Stephan Hillerbrand: In your photograph that was presented in Master Class: An Exhibition of HCP Master Class Students, there is a wonderfully rich dichotomy of both beauty and foreboding, as if something strange was about to happen. Do you think this is true?

Tiina Anttila: I am inspired by the magical and dreamy side of life. The life that moves between the real world and the imaginary world that at first appears dark or hidden. I like finding the mystery or magic in the commonplace. Sometimes this may create the dichotomy that you observed. I am also interested in the shadow side of life and finding the hidden beauty there. As a psychotherapist, I get to hear lots of secrets; and those secrets become an everyday occurrence to me. Bad things happen to good people; the line between good and bad, as well as normal and abnormal become blurred. Normality may be a myth; imperfection and expression of the shadow side seem to be the condition of everyday life. It is often times in the shadow area of life that the magic and potential exists.

SH: Your image seems to celebrate the idea of process. How important is the role of craft in your studio practice and did taking a Master Class at HCP help develop that?

Mary Riggs Ramain: In capturing my images, I am not afraid to let the process show. In fact, my work celebrates beauty in the imperfection of my process. However, in fine-tuning the images, I am all about the craft. But most important to me is what the image expresses. In my critique Master Class with Sally Gall, I was able to see that some of my images allowed too much of the process to show, which was distracting to viewers and would prevent them from looking for my meaning – that was very helpful to me in developing this series. I am definitely a low-tech person. I only know just enough technical information to do what I want to accomplish -so, I really won’t talk about lenses, etc. But what I want to get from and give to the community of photographers is communication – what we are expressing and what else we do in our lives to support that process.