Meet the Speaker: Michelle Andonian

Author: Arkansas Arts CenterFiled under: Education, Events, Exhibitions, Museum, Video

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Michelle Andonian

ART AFTER HOURS
Why Documentary Photography Matters
Thursday, August 24
Lower Lobby Lecture Hall
5:30 p.m. Wine Reception | 6 p.m. Lecture | 7-9 p.m.  Late Night 

Join us for a lecture with photographer Michelle Andonian. Stay after the lecture and tour the galleries, including Will Counts: The Central High School Photographs, enjoy dinner at the restaurant and shop in the Museum Shop. The Arkansas Arts Center will be open until 9 p.m. Free for members, $10 for nonmembers – purchase tickets at arkansasartscenter.org/tickets.

How did you become interested in photography?

As a child, the camera always fascinated me. The act of lifting this box to your eye and making a picture was just so magical. Whenever a camera came out – I was always reaching for it. Knowing that the moment passed will remain in a photograph is how I hold on to the memory.

How is documentary photography different than fine art photography?

A documentary photograph captures a time, person or place that was real and true. If a photographer makes conceptual images, that are not documentary or journalism, that’s where it is usually considered fine art or illustration.

How have you been inspired or influenced by Will Counts’ work?

His photographs humble me. The legacy he leaves us is without question – inspiring.

Will Counts was born in Little Rock, he even attended Central High School. There is much to be said about knowing your own history and photographing in the place you grew up. You feel things that are impossible for an outsider to feel because your home is forever a part of you. The empathy he felt for Elizabeth Eckford on that day is what makes his photograph one of the most significant photographs to be made in the 20th century.

When he took those images, Will Counts was present is every way possible. He was following his instincts, he was not afraid to be close, and I would guess, he knew that if he was able to capture what he not only what he saw, but felt, it may make a difference. It certainly did, and continues to.

What other photographers have you found particularly influential?

Henri Cartier-Bresson, Dorothea Lange, Robert Frank, Eugene Richards, Sylvia Plachy, and my college professor Bill Rauhauser.

Bresson showed me the power of small gesture and the importance of capturing the decisive moment. Lange taught me to listen to your inner voice. A small sign on the side of a dirt road caught her eye as she drove past it at the end of a tiring day. Something inside her said, “turn around.” One of the most significant images reflecting the depression – Migrant Mother – was made that day. Robert Franks work The Americans showed us a country that could only be seen from the perspective of an immigrant, and allowed us to see a country we were blind to. Eugene Richards taught me to bite my lip and keep shooting when things got tough. His work is so raw in its honesty and truth. Truly I believe he is one of the greatest photographers of our time. Sylvia Plachy’s work is that of a true free spirit. She introduced me to the Widelux camera and the magical moments that can appear when you are curious.

Recently I lost a dear teacher and friend Bill Rauhauser. He was 98 years old and shooting right up until the day he died. His classic images of Detroit capture a time long gone. His final work taught me that just when you think your wrapping life up, don’t just sit around organizing your archive— pick up your camera and get out there.

Photo by Michelle Andonian

Why is documentary photography important?

I just believe that what’s true and out there is important to document and share. Every generation has a story and it’s a humble effort to do our best to add to the visual narrative of history.

What are you working on right now?

I’m trying to figure out the visual component to a performance collaboration of Mozart at Detroit’s Masonic Temple, so I’m busy documenting what is the largest Masonic building in the world working toward bringing that history together with Mozart (who was a mason).

It’s challenging to bring imagery and tell stories into live performance. I’ve been experimenting with that on that last few bodies of work I have done on Armenia, including Hope Dies Last and The Detroit Dequindre Cut. In both works the still image remains the permanent document and at the core of what the rest of the performance evolves around.

There is an upcoming exhibition of the Armenian work from my book, This Picture I Gift, scheduled for 2018. I would like to try to get back to Armenia before to add to that body of work. Detroit and Armenia are places that are deeply rooted within me as I continue to revisit these stories again and again.

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