In September I began working on an idea for an exhibition to have in February for PhotoTapas – Arizona Photography Month! Generally, I have found with curating I go through phases of meeting people or looking at their work, and naturally I begin drawing connections between ideas and artists, based things I have already been thinking about.
For the past few years, I have been fascinated with the new food movement to grow your own, responsibly source, eat organically, and just plain give a shit about what you put in your body! It is pretty impressive to me that most people (in the US) now care, at least a little more than they did before. You go to other countries where quality and tradition are the most important aspect of food, rather than the emphasis on a bulk of production. Here, that has never been the case – we have no history or ancient traditions, just the aspiration of prosperity.
One of the artists who really made me take a closer look at the idea of how each person can change food, is Jill Ison. She is a mother and incredible photographer who I’ve known for a few years now, and she is especially gifted when it comes to photographing her family and in portraiture. Her father purchased a farm several years ago and is invested in growing the best possible food, because it is more to him than a paycheck. Mostly he grows organic oats and ancient grains, which are delicious by the way! The idea of reviving ancient grains, and recovering lost strains of food, is really cool in my nerdy brain. Jill has been visiting her father’s farm regularly and photographing every aspect of the operation, as well as shooting her three beautiful daughters in their day-to-day activities there.
Another artist who I have been working with for some time at Art Intersection to make prints, also got me thinking about the history of food, farming, and ranching. His name is Scott T. Baxter and for Arizona’s centennial in 2012, he completed a 10+ year project titled 100 Years 100 Ranchers, in which Scott spent a lot of time alongside ranching families who had been operating in the state for at least 100 years. He made beautiful portraits of them, while also photographing what was happening throughout a typical day in their boots. This project and his experience with it made him a tremendous cowboy photographer, and it sheds light on the incredibly hard-working men and women who still move cattle, and work with the animals we usually only see packaged in the meat section of our supermarkets.
Scott lives and works at an amazing facility called Cattle Track, which was established by Philip C. Curtis, one of the founders of the Phoenix Art Museum. This facility is an artist compound with local businesses, residential units, operating artist studios, and an art gallery, of course. The gallery, which I had visited many times, seemed like the perfect funky place for the show I had brewing.
To flesh out the show, I included the work from my Revisiting the Photographs of Marvin Morrison project, which was an insider’s view of farming life photographed by an actual farmer, shooting literally out in the field. I also invited well-known Western photographer Jay Dusard to show some work from his collection of esteemed images he’s made over the years. In the gallery hangs two gigantic black and white cowboy portraits from Jay, and also a colorful grid of action shots he made while photographing commercially.
Our exhibition Working the Land: Arizona Farming and Ranching Families is up now through February 14, 2016, with a Closing Reception on Sunday, February 14, from 1 – 4pm. It is free and open to the public! In the end, I feel this is a well-balanced and intimate show, invested in the lives of the people who are still doing the things we might think of as being from the wild wild west and times past.
This exhibition is also part of PhotoTapas: Photography Month in Arizona! To learn more about all of the February events happening around the state in February, visit phototapas.com.