Methodologies in Experimentation: A Symposium on Photography at Cranbrook has been canceled. Please stay tuned for information about a future Carl Toth event before Reordering Fictions closes.


On the occasion of Carl Toth: Reordering Fictions –the first museum retrospective to reassess Toth’s legacy in photography – Cranbrook Art Museum and Cranbrook Academy of Art will co-host Methodologies in Experimentation, a symposium on photography, pedagogy, and innovation since Carl Toth served as the Artist-in-Residence of the Photography department at the Academy from 1972–2007. The symposium will overview the Academy’s Photography department as a space for experimental practices – from early leadership by Toth, to the culture fostered by Liz Cohen through the emerging methodologies led by current Artist-in-Residence Chris Fraser.

Methodologies in Experimentation is hosted by Kat Goffnett, Assistant Curator of Collections at Cranbrook Art Museum; Paul Sacaridiz, Director of Cranbrook Academy of Art; and Chris Fraser, current Artist-in-Residence and Head of the Photography department. Moderators include Liz Cohen, former Artist-in-Residence and Head of the Photography department (2008-2017), Michael Stone-Richards, Director of Programs and Partnerships at Cranbrook Academy of Art, and Ash Arder (MFA Fiber 2018), Fiber department Studio Fellow at Cranbrook Academy of Art. Speakers include Academy alumni Kyohei Abe, Akea Brionne, Clare Gatto, Kara Güt, Patrick Kelley, Julian Jamaal Jones, Jova Lynne, Brittany Nelson, Sheida Soleimani, Ricky Weaver, and Qualeasha Wood.

While each of these alumni and practitioners could easily engage their work with each other in totally different and infinite arrangements, these conversations set about to engage the promiscuity of the image, which makes the medium vital. Photographers have defined the place of photography in the art world, and we now must continuously define the medium, in a constant sense of evolution that is not present in other modes of artistic production – complacency is not an option. Like the Academy itself, these conversations attempt to enact the radical potential of the space of photography.

Themes Explored in the Symposium:

Picture and Texture 

Presenters: Akea Brionne (MFA Photography 2023), Julian Jamaal Jones (MFA Photography 2022), and Qualeasha Wood (MFA Photography 2021) will engage in conversation moderated by Ash Arder (MFA Fiber 2018). Academy Artist-in-Residence Chris Fraser will provide the introduction.

Discussion Topic: The desktop is an accidental site of collage. Advances in technology are leading to a new sense of materiality in photography. The dematerialization of contemporary culture has led to the materialization of what could be a digital medium. Three recent graduates each explore identity through tactility, pushing back against the ephemerality of photography. For these artists paper is not enough, we see texture, we feel the sense of the hand. Yet the results of their explorations are entirely different – ranging from appropriation of the religious iconography of tapestries to celebrate Black Queer bodies; to the elevation of heritage in the Black tradition of textile making which exalts the found and discarded; to the examination of the inescapable intertwined nature of personal histories and place.

Reflection, Construction, and Assemblage

Presenters: Jova Lynne (MFA Photography 2017) and Sheida Soleimani (MFA Photography 2015) in conversation with Liz Cohen (Artist-in-Residence, Photography, 2008-2017)

Discussion Topic: Former Photography Artist-in-Residence Liz Cohen impacted an entire generation of aspiring, experimental photographers, with a practice that foregrounded lived experience as a mode of research, blurring the line between documentation and performance. Jova Lynne and Sheida Soleimani are two exemplary artists coming out of the Academy under the tutelage of Cohen. These artists are linked not only by place but through their interests in the constructed scene as well as their active, explicit engagement with politics and identity beyond the white, Western spheres.

What does it mean to teach in an environment that offers the opportunity for radical pedagogy? How might we harness the opportunity to question? The Academy’s unique structure allows for a direct and current reflection of the world of photography. During her time as Artist-in-Residence, Liz Cohen set performance as a baseline of conversation in the department. What does it mean to create constraints in a space of unlimited possibilities? With each Artist-in-Residence and student arriving and leaving this site completely changed how do we construct community while we construct our images? How are we responsible for finding ways to talk to each other? How does the medium create space for the full expression of the individual?

Icon, Index, and Symbol 

Presenters: Ricky Weaver (MFA Photography 2018) in conversation with Kyohei Abe (MFA Photography 2002), moderated by Michael Stone Richards, Dean of Programs and Partnerships, Cranbrook Academy of Art.

Discussion Topic: In photography, the relationship between text and image is involved in an ongoing push and pull, contemplating the hierarchical understandings of image and text as well as the context, provided by artist, site, or audience. This often fraught, yet symbiotic, relationship is at the foundation of the study of semiotics, a theoretical framework that allows us to make meaning from images, from the visually complex to the minimally abstract.

Semiotics played a major role in shaping photographic movements in the late 20th century, influencing many theorists and artists including Carl Toth. Kyohei Abe, a student of Toth, and later Cranbrook alumna Ricky Weaver have both shaped their practice around an investigation of the image’s relationship to language and the making of meaning. In Abe’s studio practice, he creates images directly engaged with “visual translation, construction, and chance as afforded by play,” motivated by a desire to explore the changes in the meaning of an image from staged composition to screen and from artist to viewer. Weaver has developed an Image-Based Ontology Philosophy centered around the lived language of the experience of Black womanhood, dark sousveillance, and “images as objects that alchemize the archive on a quantum level.” Together, these artists will discuss language as sign, symbol, and index in relation to the photographic object, its creation, and life beyond the lens of its creator.

Before and After the Camera 

Presenters: Clare Gatto (MFA Photography 2017), Kara Güt (MFA Photography 2016), Patrick Kelley (MFA Photography 1995), and Brittany Nelson (MFA Photography 2011) in conversation moderated by Artist-in-Residence Chris Fraser.

Discussion Topic: To draw a parallel between embodied and technological perception, the artists in discussion in this presentation fall into the realm of photography as a point of entry rather than as a means to an end. Working in spite of the anxiety of image making in the 3rd decade of the 21st century – they ask how do we expand to create a bond between the seeing body and the technological image? Each artist both discards and maintains a connection to traditional, 19th-century photography, enacting a radical potential by mining its ruins, creating a tactile process without a pre-conceived outcome. As such, these artists act as theorists of the medium in addition to their role as practitioners. Theorists in act not just in order.

The symposium is accompanied by a Photography department reunion for all generations. All Photography alumni will receive an email with details for this private event. Email for more information.

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