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Diane Arbus

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Original author: 
Liz Ronk

Elaine Mayes might well be the most accomplished photographer and photography educator that many passionate photography aficionados have never heard of. As one of the very first women teachers of photography who learned her craft primarily in art school, Mayes has influenced generations of photographers while quietly, steadily and tenaciously pursuing her own vision as a creative artist. This summer, Mayes’ work from her seminal Autolandscapes series will go on display through January 2014 at the Smithsonian’s American Art Museum, alongside work by Steve Fitch and Robbert Flick.

Mayes, who defines her aesthetic, in part, as a “Walt Whitman approach” to photography — i.e., embracing influences found in “everything and in nothing” — has taught both photography and film at the University of Minnesota, Hampshire College (where she was a founding member of the faculty), Pratt, Bard and several other schools. (She’s currently Professor Emerita in NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts.)  She studied with Minor White; was friendly with the likes of Bruce Davidson, John Szarkowski and Diane Arbus in the 1960s and beyond; has shown her work at MoMA New York, MoMa San Francisco, the Brooklyn Museum and elsewhere; and cites fellow artists like Paul Caponigro and Wynn Bullock as major influences on her photography.

Her work belongs to no “school.” Instead, across six decades, Mayes has employed a deeply individualistic sensibility — nowhere more evident than in the Autolandscapes (1971). She had just gotten a job teaching at Hampshire when, after requesting an NEA grant for $3,000, she won a grant for a mere third of that. Undeterred, she drove across country with her husband and four cats, chronicling the landscape — other automobiles, gas stations, homes, factories, road signs, cows, empty tarmac. The result is a marvelous, unadorned, understated and perfectly “of its time” document of early Seventies Americana. Focusing on the horizontal plane witnessed outside of her moving car, the photos formalize the idea of capturing movement in a way that also seems to slow, and even stop, time.

The work seen in this gallery, meanwhile, is primarily comprised of photos that are part of an ongoing series Mayes began when she moved to Minnesota to teach in the 1960s, and has continued to work on through today. With her keen interest in photos that have a mysterious quality, and images where the scene is big, but the tiniest details are still cleanly visible, Mayes characterizes her own goal as an effort to make photographs by “responding [to her environment], but not knowing why.”

This body of work will be on view as part of a group exhibition, Landscapes in Passing: Photographs by Steve Fitch, Robbert Flick and Elaine Mayes, at the American Art Museum in Washington D.C.

Liz Ronk is the photo editor of

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el teide no.2El Teide, view #02, 2011 by Meike Nixdorf

El Teide, view #01, 2011 by Meike Nixdorf

El Teide, view #06, 2011 by Meike Nixdorf

El Teide, view #03, 2011 by Meike Nixdorf

el_teide_view#08_2011_nixdorf-590.jpgEl Teide, view #08, 2011 by Meike Nixdorf

Meike Nixdorf


Meike Nixdorf (born 1976 in Mainz, Germany) is a Berlin-based photographer and artist. She has a background in science, and she was educated in photography and video at the International Center of Photography during her three-year stay in New York (2005-2008). She is an award winning photographer whose work has been exhibited internationally. She was featured in a juried group exhibition at the Darmstadt Photography Festival, Germany, 2010; and she took part in the FotoFest Houston Reviews 2010, where her work was acquired for the Joaquim Paiva Collection, Museum of Modern Art, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. In early 2011, her work was on view at the International Center of Photography, New York, in a group exhibition curated by Amy Arbus, Moment of Recognition. Her work was also shown at the Museum of Modern Art, Rio de Janeiro, as part of the exhibition Photographs — The Joaquim Paiva Collection, a selection of 69 international artists, including photograpers like Diane Arbus, Ansel Adams, Edward Ruscha, Grete Stern and Martin Chambi.

In the Orbit of El Teide, 2010-2011, is a visual and psychological approach to the notion of the perspective. [Since] my 2009 project, The Point of View, I have been looking at various aspects of the viewing process and, consequently, decision making in photography, in terms of the perspective and, even more so, the framing. [I've also been examining] the consequences these processes have on the way we [perceive] specific places by showing them each in multiple, [but] very similar views. In the Orbit of El Teide now focuses on the question of what can be seen, or how much information can be gathered, from only one single point of view, versus the information, visual or abstract, one could gather by orbiting an object, question or focus point. In this way, two different points of views of the same subject matter could differ in their look or feel tremendously and might not even be recognized as the same subject matter anymore. Like pieces in a puzzle, every image from In the Orbit of El Teide holds different visual aspects of the same subject, in this case the mountain El Teide. But other than a piece in a puzzle, each image appears to strongly stand on its own. And it is only through looking at these images one-by-one that one realizes how much more information, visual aspects, perspectives or stories-to-be-told there are to just one single mountain—or to any subject matter, basically.

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Name- Olivia Malone 
Age- 27 
Where are you from?- Los Angeles, CA 
Your equipment- Contax G2, Contax T2, Mamiya 7, Canon 5d. 
Influences and photographers you like- Francesca Woodman, Rieneke Dijkstra, Yelena Yemchuk, Robert Frank, Guy Bourdin, Diane Arbus, Noguchi Rika
A little about you- I like adventures..said to be a travelling spirit, an old soul with a young heart + an observer in awe.
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