Collecting the Stories Photos Tell

May 08, 2012

Is it true that every photograph tells a story? Students working with the Voices of Photography program, located within the Center or Creative Photography at the University of Arizona Libraries, are delving deep into the question. What they have learned, for sure, is that every photographer has a tale or two — and they are working to record them for posterity.

Voices of Photography is an oral history project that began at the Center under its first director, Harold Jones, in 1975. Its goal is to add depth and breadth to the Center's archives through the creation of taped interviews with noted figures in photography. The Center for Creative Photography is the largest institution in the world devoted to documenting the history of North American photography. In addition to its archive, the Center’s 5,000 square-foot gallery hosts an ongoing stream of original exhibitions and a permanent collection gallery that features selected highlights of photographic history.

The Student’s View

Nick Pollack, this year’s assistant director, is seeking a master’s of fine arts in photography. His tasks are numerous: “I record video footage/audio to tapes that are then digitized to be stored on DVD. I also record our Skype interviews that are copied to DVD. All of these source materials are archived along with annotations of each session for scholarly use. As a crew member I often coordinate with the artists or other individuals leading up to the interview and I find myself doing a variety of other tasks as we figure things out.”

However, what Pollack has learned that he considers of most value is how to listen. He notes that this crucial when working with student colleagues and renowned photographers. Under the tutelage of Harold Jones, an icon in the history of American photography, he has developed his listening skills. Jones’ description of his role in Voices of Photography is characteristically humble: “I teach them what I know and they teach me what I don't. They are from the future, I am from the past.”

The Professor’s View

To say that Jones knows quite a bit is an understatement; he has been an important voice in American photography. “First” often precedes his name: He was the first director of LIGHT Gallery in New York City, the first gallery to exclusively represent contemporary photographers. In 1975 he became the first director of the Center for Creative Photography and then went on to start the photography program at the University of Arizona where he taught for the next 30 years. Presently he is professor emeritus and volunteer coordinator of the Voices of Photography.

A Unique Perspective

What makes Voices of Photography unique is that students are learning a traditional liberal arts subject — art history — while also gaining 21st century skills like project and technology management. Jovan Erfan, who received her master’s of fine arts in painting in 2012 and worked on Voices of Photography in the fall of 2011, was in charge of more of the management/director aspects of the project. “Having the opportunity to overcome issues while in that role was especially challenging and interesting for me,” she says. “Of course, the interviews we conducted were all illuminating. As a non-photo major, I’ve found my experience on the Voices crew to be the most rewarding photo art history class I could imagine.”

As higher education evolves, the Voices of Photography program has found a way to honor both the past and the future. Not only are UA students better for it, but they’re picking up countless new tales of their own along the way.

The recordings resulting from the Voices of Photography program are available for public listening and viewing, so contact the Center to make an appointment. The Center’scurrent exhibitions are open Monday through Friday from 9 am to 5 pm, and Saturday and Sunday from 1 pm to 4 pm.