They’ve got the look

The McKnight Foundation fellows take photography in new directions.

Jenny Phan

Photography was perhaps the first field of artistic endeavor to face serious questions about whether it was, in fact, an art. In the century and a half since the discipline’s inception, that question has been decisively answered in the affirmative. The challenge now for photographers is to peer into their vocation, plumb its depths and explore its boundaries.

Our culture’s view of photography is constantly evolving. We want photographs that can incite change, photographs that can confirm our prejudices and photographs that transcend their simple material form.

This year the McKnight Foundation awarded four $25,000 fellowships in photography. The grants will allow the recipients to pursue their photographic explorations with fewer limitations.

Doug Beasley, Bill Cottman, Vince Leo and Peter Haakon Thompson were the four men chosen for the honor out of hundreds of artists.

A McKnight Fellowship is an honor, but it also has a practical benefit. “It enables them to work with a great degree of freedom,” Fellowship Program director George Slade said.

This year’s McKnight fellows are a diverse group. Leo’s art questions traditional photography, which limits itself to visual information. His videographic art looks at his parents’ graceful movements in contrast with the sounds of clumsy preparations that constitute the soundtrack.

This pairing of visuals with audio challenges the audience’s expectations for photography. Leo’s art includes more information than a traditional photograph.

Beasley’s work uses negatives from Polaroid film to create new images. The content is determined both by what is positioned within the frame as well as the steps taken to create the finished piece.

While Beasley and Leo question the ways we view photography as a medium, Cottman and Thompson raise questions about the subjects photographed.

Cottman fuses these ideas by combining time with storytelling. His photos allow the audience to feel movement through time, in contrast to the static moment in time. His dramatic black and white photos reference the past and present.

Thompson reintroduces the author’s subjectivity by placing himself within the frame of his photographs. His colorful, dynamic landscapes are merged with self-portraits.

The McKnight Foundation fellowships make it possible for these artists to continue to upset standard conceptions of photography. Thanks to their work, we can expand the definition of the medium to include more than meets the eye.

A panel discussion by jurors of the McKnight Foundation will be held at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday at the Nash Gallery.