Award-winning documentary photographer Carolyn Drake, whose work explores the effects of modernity on individual and cultural freedoms, will speak at Watkins College of Art, Design & Film on Wednesday, November 11, as part of the school’s Visiting Artists Series. The presentation, which is free and open to the public, will begin at 6:30 p.m. in the Watkins Theater.
She is perhaps known for extensive documentary projects on the people of Central Asia, captured in two highly acclaimed photobooks. Two Rivers (2013, and funded by a Kickstarter campaign) was the culmination of a six-year odyssey exploring the shifting borders, histories and life systems between the Amu Darya and Syr Darya rivers, looking at the connections among ecology, culture and political power.
Her follow-up project, Wild Pigeon (2014), praised in the New York Review of Books, is a collection of her photography from the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of China and collaborative images made by people in Xinjiang. Traveling through China’s far western province with a box of prints, scissors, glue, colored pencil, and a sketchbook, Drake asked willing collaborators to draw on, reassemble, and use their own tools on her photographs of the region. She hoped that the new images would bring Uyghur perspectives into the work and facilitate a new kind of dialogue with the people she met—one that was face-to-face and tactile, if mostly without words. Her photographs demonstrate the power of art in documenting the lives of people living under conditions of precariousness and political repression, and through this work, she allows them to speak with their own voices.
“Carolyn Drake’s sympathetic collaborations with her subjects redefine the documentary approach,” said Tom Williams, Watkins associate professor of art history. “Her work offer a clear alternative to the ‘victim photography’ so pervasive among her precursors and peers.”
Read more about the Uygurs in National Geographic
Drake became interested in documentary work at Brown University, where she received a BA in 1994 in Media/Culture and History. Her photo career began at the age of 30, when she decided to leave her job in New York (as a producer, designer and writer for multimedia projects) to learn about the world through personal experience. After studying at the International Center of Photography (ICP) and in the MA visual communication program at Ohio University, she began a project photographing the Lubavitchers. She moved to Ukraine in 2006 to study the Russian and Ukrainian languages and to photograph life along the edges of the country.
Between 2007-2013, she based herself out of Istanbul, Turkey, and traveled frequently to the far western province of China, a contested area long inhabited by the Uyghurs.
Among her many honors are a Guggenheim Fellowship (2010), Fulbright Fellowship (2006) and the Lange-Taylor Documentary Prize (2008), as well as recognition from UNICEF and the National Press Photographers. Her work is in the collection of the Library of Congress and she has been profiled by National Geographic in their “Women of Vision: Photographers on Assignment” series. Drake’s work has been exhibited at the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford, Third Floor Gallery in Cardiff, Somerset House in London, and Open Society Institute in New York, among many venues. Her clients include the Nature Conservancy, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Harpers, and the New York Times. She lives in Athens, GA.
For more information, visit CarolynDrake.com
Now in its sixth year, The Watkins Visiting Artists Series welcomes nationally and internationally recognized fine artists, designers, filmmakers, educators and critics to the campus and the community. The guest artists, whose work crosses many disciplinary boundaries, give public presentations, sharing their expertise and perspectives on their careers and providing insight into issues facing contemporary artists and designers. The VAS offers the area’s cultural community a rare opportunity to engage the work and ideas of trendsetting visual artists, designers, filmmakers and intellectuals.
The critically acclaimed initiative has not only brought a number of internationally renowned artists to Nashville—like first-time visitors Harrell Fletcher, R. H. Quaytman, Martha Rosler, David Hilliard, Jonathan Katz, Alec Soth and Artemio Rodriguez—but it has also invigorated the local art scene by introducing artists working in new media and performance—artists like Nick Briz, Jon Satrom and Liz Magic Laser (2013 New York Armory Artist)—and those expanding the parameters of traditional media and art practice—such as Jessica Hische, Ashley Hunt, Chris Sickels, Deborah Luster (2013 Guggenheim Fellow) and Natalia Almada (2013 MacArthur Fellow).
Watkins is located at 2298 Rosa L. Parks Boulevard in Metro Center; free parking is available in the campus lot.