Retiring Regents Professor honored with a photography exhibition
Editor's note: This story originally stated that the exhibit ran through April 2, but the exhibit has already closed.
Northlight Gallery and the School of Art are honoring Arizona State University Regents Professor Mark Klett for 40 years of service to the university with an exhibition titled "Circle of Influence."
More than 60 BFA and MFA alumni who have been mentored by Klett during their time at ASU have been invited to have their work represented. Their graduation dates range from the mid-1980s to last year. Most of the work in the show has been donated to Northlight Gallery and will become part of the Mark Klett Archive.
“The show is a great honor for me,” said Klett, “showing the work of students I have mentored over my 40-year career at ASU.”
Klett started teaching at ASU in 1982 when he joined the staff as a master printer before later joining the faculty to teach photography.
Question: Has there been any particular student or student’s artwork that has stood out over the years?
Answer: Byron Wolfe was my grad student in the mid-1990s, and he was one of the students who worked on the Third View project (we later published a book by that name in 2004). After he graduated, we continued to collaborate on projects, and in over 25 years published three other books together and continue working on projects today. Byron now leads the photo area at Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia.
Q: What has been your favorite subject to photograph?
A: Subject matter-wise, I’m considered a landscape photographer. I guess it would be safe to say that one of my favorite locations to make new work is the Sonoran Desert. But I actually consider my dominant subject to be time. I’ve been interested in the relationship between time and change, how we perceive the passage of time, and how photography can be used as a tool to express time. The Western landscape is such a wonderful place to examine the relationship of place and time, and to experiment with photography and perception.
Q: If you could give advice to a new photographer, what would it be?
A: Think of photography as a process, not just a product. Also, one’s practice must evolve over time, and it’s important to realize that evolution takes place in a community. So it’s all the more important to choose and participate in the community you want to be a part of.
Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
A: Photographs don’t exist as isolated images or objects. They’re surrounded by contexts — by association with other images, by the choices made by the photographer and by the social and cultural surroundings in which they were created and received. This came from my mentor, Nathan Lyons, who was an icon in the field of photographic education.
Q: Do you have a favorite artwork of your own?
A: Not really. I have projects that were more fun to work on than others. But the ones I enjoy most are the ones that led to the most discoveries. I measure the success of work not by the images alone, but by how much I was pushed to expand my practice. This is one reason I value collaboration. In a good collaboration, my partners help me go beyond what I could do alone.
Q: How has ASU changed over 40 years?
A: Wow, don’t get me started! I can honestly say it’s a much better university now than it was 40 years ago. I love some of the obvious changes, like the increased diversity of our students. We’ve always had good students in our program, yet today I see an even greater range of students and modes of expression. That’s especially rewarding for me in the classroom.
Q: Do you see any of your style in your past students’ work?
A: I distrust the concept of having a “style,” and I try really hard not to impose any of my working preferences on my students. But there’s certain to be overlaps in the way images look, because as artists, we’re all exploring ideas that sometimes lead us to shared solutions — meaning the results may look similar. I just encourage students to explore their own ideas and methods, and if they overlap with mine or someone else’s, that’s OK. Sooner or later, their hard work will lead them to their own specific solutions and individual look. You’ll see in the Northlight show just how varied my former students’ work is — it’s wonderful.
Q: What are your thoughts or opinions of photography as a medium?
A: That answer could take a book-length response. I will say that it’s the medium I stumbled onto and have spent my career exploring. I still get transfixed by the ability of photographs to simultaneously work in multiple visual modalities. Photographs can be descriptive documents that have the authority of fact, while at the same time explore the nonlinear language of metaphor and other linguistic forms. They hover around the concept of truth, but in the process make one decide what truth, exactly, one is choosing.
Q: Are you excited for retirement? What are your next plans?
A: Yes, mostly — though I will greatly miss mentoring students. That joy is why I have stayed in academia this long. But I look forward to the next stage of my life, which is to become a full-time artist, for once. I have a lot of ideas I’d like to explore.