Tell us about your work
I’m trained in literature and as a visual journalist. The DNA of my practice comes from a documentary photography tradition, which means I start every project by asking lots of questions; immersing myself in communities, watching, taking notes and listening. I use photography as a tool to record, reflect and revisit what I’m learning and experiencing. I look for local collaborators in the communities where I work. I try to draw people into the stories and experiences of others, to communicate across the distances between us that prevent us from working toward common goals, common good and sustainability; in a world that is increasingly on the brink of disasters that cross political borders.
I’ve worked outside of the U.S. as a journalist and artist, making photographs, writing, reporting, publishing photography books and showing work in spaces from galleries to museums and street corners. Crossing into unfamiliar cultural spaces challenges my own notions of people; teaches me about other experiences of being human. It’s very humbling because in each new culture or social context, I discover how much I have to learn.
How would you describe arts and culture in Dallas?
Most of the dominant art culture in Dallas doesn’t embrace art that is socially engaged in contemporary life. If there is ever a time that we needed socially engaged art inside our institutions, work informed by the experiences and challenges in our city and neighborhoods it’s now. There is some room for this in academic realm – and of course academics are worked to death – but even those examples are isolated from each other and largely from the public. Rarely do you find artists in Dallas who are supported or celebrated for pushing against social boundaries, or asking for civic self-examination and reform.
Due to the layout of our city, and the dominance of our arts district which depends on large performance venues and institutions; the rest of the art scene is very decentralized, fragmented and often obscured. There is certainly a lack of a strong photography community or photography space that other large cities and some smaller cities enjoy. Traditionally, photography is one of the mediums mostly likely to engage in immediate, social reflection. Also the longer I’m here, the more I see that the much of the socially relevant work in Dallas city is left to the churches. If you start exploring how to engage with creative social change, seeking others doing that work, in other cities you’ll find a non-profit, an art collective, here in Dallas you’ll bump into a church and that [could] be alienating to some people. I know there are a handful of non-church affiliated groups working hard at social and civic change. Respect.
What drew you/what keeps you in Dallas?
I came to Dallas because my partner got a job here. He teaches journalism at UNT in Denton and we chose to live in Dallas instead of Denton to have access to a broader cultural landscape, and more freelance work for me. I’ve been teaching at various universities while still freelancing for U.S. and European publications. We’ve started a family here and found a somewhat walkable community and supportive neighborhood in Oak Cliff. My work doesn’t fit easily into commercial spaces and I’m ok with that; but I’ve found it a somewhat isolating place to be a photographer interested in social and political issues, or as an artist working outside of the commercial realm and on the periphery of the academic institutions. It’s not easy to find an organized, socially engaged creative community or to make a living as a cultural worker in Dallas outside of the major institutions. What keeps me where is the potential, the rich diversity of this city and the people working hard to make it a better place.
What are your hopes for the cultural plan?
My hope is that the cultural plan will help bring local artists – and I don’t mean just the makers but also the creative thinkers, the writers, the curators innovative social reformers, and by association more citizens – into more consistent and productive civic self-reflection. We are in desperate need to create a more inclusive, livable, and welcoming city, and to improve our quality of life for everyone, to reflect on our history and plan for a more equitable future. This is the challenge of modern cities everywhere and our cultural workers can help. There is so much room for improvement in our schools, healthcare, housing policy, and there is much potential to activate our communities to reflect and work together. The cultural leadership of the city could acknowledge this urgency and offer more affordable working spaces, resources and platforms to support creative change-makers. The common dreams and fundamental human rights of ordinary citizens could be acknowledged as integral to a healthy cultural life.
The artist micro-residency is an interesting attempt to address the potential that already exists within the community among creative and cultural workers, but what is the follow up? After the residencies, what comes next? The ideas formed there be expanded upon, implemented, shared with the public and receive critical feedback, and offer open doors for more citizens to get involved in their own neighborhoods. How can the cultural plan continue to nurture and support artists, grow the network of cultural workers who understand the city mechanisms from the inside out, then facilitate their dialogue and engagement with each other and with citizens? My participation was inspiring and it has given me hope for the directions the cultural plan could take us to encourage more direct engagement with the arts as a catalyst for community and cultural transformation.