Byron Wolfe

2009 - US & Canada Competition
Creative Arts - Photography


Byron Wolfe holds a deep and abiding interest in ideas about time and change, as well as the intimate relationships often made with a place and with others. He explores these themes collaboratively and individually as an artist and an educator. His creative efforts are often meditations on how photography and other forms of representation can visualize these themes in scales both grand and small.

Mr. Wolfe has worked extensively in the broad territory of the American West using 19th-century photographs to inform and consider personal contemporary stories of people living in historic landscapes. He says, “I have peered through the window of iconic photographs that first defined photography as an interpretive art form and used them as a method to examine change in the physical environment and ever-evolving ideas in culture and representation.” His proclivity for long-term, multifaceted projects that connect pictures, places, and people is most evident in his project for which the Guggenheim Fellowship will be used: rephotographing Eadweard Muybridge’s 19th-century photographs of Central America.

Eadweard Muybridge, best known for his innovative motion study photographs, spent 1875-76 photographing throughout Central America, and made the single largest collection of photographs of the region in that era. When he returned to his home in San Francisco, he crafted a limited set of albums that document everything from the public plazas and colonial architecture of government buildings, to the workers and processing methods of several nascent coffee fincas in the Guatemalan Highlands. Because the Muybridge albums are so scarce (only eleven are known to exist and each is unique in picture selection and quantity) they are a relatively unknown and unstudied body of work. In 2005, working with cultural geographer Dr. Scott Brady, Byron Wolfe began re-photographing a selection of the Muybridge pictures from Guatemala. He has since made numerous trips to the region and relocated and photographed over 75 of the roughly 90 scenes that Muybridge originally depicted.

Mr. Wolfe describes the project as both compelling and complex in that the pictures and accompanying rephotographs have been like puzzle pieces slowly coming together to reveal a larger image that conveys complicated and often paradoxical narratives about the past and about photographic interpretation. He has noted how this project connects people and pictures back through time in completely unexpected ways that tend to disrupt the anticipated narrative implied by the relationship of past to present. He has also discovered that many of Muybridge’s photographs are highly interpretative as they sometimes consist of pictures taken from completely separate locations and at different times, but were later recombined to form seamlessly blended images that are romanticized depictions of his travels and experiences. Mr. Wolfe plans to locate and rephotograph the remaining sites in Panama, and to complete a book manuscript and accompanying exhibitions of the work.

 Byron Wolfe has published three books: Everyday: A Yearlong Photo Diary, a photographic narrative about creative practice, place, change, and the meandering flow of life, and two collaborative projects--Third Views, Second Sights: A Rephotographic Survey of the American West (with Mark Klett et. al.) and Yosemite in Time: Ice Ages, Tree Clocks, Ghost Rivers (with Mark Klett and Rebecca Solnit). Byron Wolfe is an internationally collected and exhibited photographer; his work is held in many permanent collections, including the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, The Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, Texas, The J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, California, and the Nelson-Atkins Museum in Kansas City, Missouri. He is also a recipient of the Santa Fe Prize for Photography. He received an M.F.A. from Arizona State University in 1998 and a B.A. in 1985 from the Johnston Center at the University of Redlands in Redlands, California.

Byron Wolfe is a Lantis’ University Professor at California State University, Chico, where he teaches courses in digital photography, design, creative process, and innovation. He lives in Chico, California, with his wife and two sons.

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