Wendy Ewald

Wendy Ewald

Fellow: Awarded 2012
Field of Study: Photography

Competition: US & Canada

Duke University

Wendy Ewald is a conceptual artist and educator who has for forty years collaborated in art projects with children, families, women, and teachers worldwide.  Starting as documentary investigations of places and communities, Ewald’s projects probe questions of identity and cultural differences.  In her work with children she encourages them to use cameras to record themselves, their families, and their communities, and to articulate their fantasies and dreams.  Ewald herself often makes photographs within the communities she works with and has the children mark or write on her negatives, thereby challenging the concept of who actually makes an image, who is the photographer and who the subject, who the observer and who the observed.  In blurring the distinction of individual authorship and throwing into doubt the artist’s intentions, power, and identity, Ewald creates opportunities to look at the meaning and use of photographic images in our lives with fresh perceptions. Ewald has received many honors, including a MacArthur Fellowship.  Her work was included in the 1997 Whitney Biennial.  She has published ten books; her fifth was a retrospective documenting her projects entitled Secret Games

During the Fellowship period, Wendy Ewald and Elizabeth Barret are leading a creative collaboration in photography and media entitled Portraits and Dreams: A Revisitation.  Ewald began her early career working with students in rural Kentucky during 1975–1982. While making films exploring Appalachian themes, Barret worked with Ewald at the Kingdom Come School, one of the last one-room schools in Kentucky.  The photographs and writing resulting from those years was collected in the book Portraits and Dreams, published in 1985. 

Portraits and Dreams: A Revisitation is a documentary project that combines new narratives and insights that grew out of Ewald’s pioneering practice in photography and collaborative art.   The project is following the process of re-engagement by Ewald and the students, now adults in their forties, who she taught in three public elementary schools in the Appalachian mountains.  As Fellows, Barret and Ewald are working with these former students to gather photographs they made in the intervening years as well as objects and audio-visual materials related to the process. The two artists are also seizing the opportunity to create new images, video, audio, and writing with project participants for eventual presentation and publication. 

By reflecting on and further illuminating a collection of images made by children from a single locale, planning in this phase of the project for an installation will highlight the power of these unassuming photographs which continue to influence how those who have made and viewed them now see the world.  In the creation of this new work that draws on the former students’ shared experiences as children and adults, the artists with Guggenheim support are exploring the multiple meanings behind the photographs, what is revealed about the practice of collaborative art, and the relationship of images to personal memory across the passage of time.

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