MY TIME AT TCU: PHOTOGRAPHS
BY LUTHER SMITH
AUGUST 23–SEPTEMBER 20, 2018
THE ART GALLERIES AT TCU: MOUDY GALLERY
2805 SOUTH UNIVERSITY DRIVE
FORT WORTH, TEXAS 76129
FORT WORTH, TEXAS, July 26, 2018—The Moudy Gallery at TCU presents My Time at TCU: Photographs by Luther Smith, a mini-retrospective of work by the highly acclaimed Fort Worth artist and professor of photography, from August 23 through September 20. The gallery hosts an opening reception for the show on Thursday, August 23, from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m. The exhibition includes black-and-white and color photographs highlighting Smith’s artistic focus over the past thirty-five years, with subject matter ranging from his early work documenting the intricacies of the human experience to his long and ongoing journey capturing the vast nuance and beauty found in the common landscape.
The Art Galleries at TCU mounts this exhibition on the occasion of Smith’s retirement from TCU, where he has taught photography since 1983. My Time at TCU demonstrates Smith’s evolution as a photographer, giving viewers a window into the visual, intellectual, and technical explorations his photography has encompassed over time. The images have been curated from Smith’s various bodies of work, and include prints from the High School Rodeo series (1985–1986); his book, the Trinity River (1986–94); the Photographs of the American South series (1989–present); the Where I Live series, featuring scenes around DFW (1984–present); coastal scenes from Savannah, Georgia and Carmel, California (2015); and images from his recent trip to Paris, France (September–October, 2017).
A common thread woven throughout Smith’s photography is the constant effort to reveal the underlying substance of the subject. This manifests visually in dramatic tones, invigorating textures, and intriguing spatial relationships among the figures and inanimate objects that populate his work. Further, it appears as he manages to coax a certain vitality from inside the compositions—at times quiet, at times kinetic—to lift the veil on their inner workings.
The phenomenon emerges on a figural level in his early work, shot soon after Smith arrived in Texas. The black-and-white photographs chronicle the artist’s experiences at the High School Rodeo—not a strict observation of the event itself, but a thought-provoking examination of the young participants. “I am especially interested in this transition between childhood and adulthood,” Smith writes. “The High School Rodeo scene was a place I could observe this transition and to photograph individuals.”
Smith shifted focus to his relationship with the landscape in the mid-1980s, and since that time, his oeuvre has revolved around open-air scenes seemingly rife with unmitigated nature, but invariably hosting signs or signifiers of human impact. Black-and-white compositions, such as those from the Trinity River, American South, and Where I Live series, were forged at the edge of civilization and offer unconventional perspectives to evoke the intrinsic drama of places typically driven by, passed through, or discarded into the collective ephemera. Created with large, stationary banquet or view cameras, these prints convey a sense of gravitas through rich, variable tones and dynamic line quality.
Comprising the Where I Live and American South series, as well as his most recent work, Smith’s color photographs explore the endless facets of pigmentation in the landscape as they depict outdoor spaces with a saturated vivacity that seems to blossom from inside the picture plane. Not simply a vehicle for the subject matter, color acts, in part, as the subject. Smith’s landscapes serve as evidence of the realities we navigate every day, both on the surface and in the maelstrom that lies just underneath. The artist’s ability to see deeper, to separate then re-align layers of energy, creates a pictorial authenticity that is at once an accurate representation and hyper-real version of itself, spanning the physical and mental strata it occupies.
“The landscape pictures come from my interest in the world fostered by my time as a child on a farm in Tishomingo County, Mississippi, and my time growing up in Aurora, Illinois,” Smith writes. “I found the spaces near houses both rural and urban fascinating. They provided the fodder for imagination and excitement. Springs, small streams, and creek are the source of great amusement and fun for a child. Most of my work is as simple that, finding magic in green spaces. Even seemingly tragic events contain beauty.”
Overall, Smith’s photographs pluck overlooked yet fascinating aspects out of the everyday, uncovering the unexpected allure of a Metroplex subdivision, a deserted Southern field, or a trendy Paris street. Such intense juxtapositions between unsettled and settled, wild and tamed, natural and manufactured make up the fundaments of his art. “Photography is about the photographer,” says Smith, underlining his core tenet that subject matter is secondary to the unique vision and interpretation of every artist.
During his decades-long tenure, Smith saw many changes in the medium of photography, most notably the shift from analog to digital media. He presided over the change at the university, approaching it in what he calls a hybrid fashion, converting first to digital printing processes, and later to cameras, once he felt their quality was up to par.
The dawn of digital photography changed how Smith related to subject matter within his own practice as well. “It sparked a whole new idea about photography,” he says of the paradigm shift. He dove headlong into the new order, replacing his film cameras with digital and converting his darkroom into a studio space filled with monitors, scanners, and printers. “Digital opened up color possibilities that I hadn’t experienced before,” he says. “It allows me to emphasize things that I really wasn’t that aware of when I was making black-and-white pictures.”
Before arriving at TCU, Smith began his teaching career at the University of Illinois, where he was on the faculty for nine years, including a stint as the head of photography. Prior to embarking on a teaching career, Smith received his MFA in photography from the Rhode Island School of Design and his BFA from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. He describes his time at TCU as “an ideal situation,” in which he was able to do the two things he loves to do: teach and make art. “I got to introduce students to photography, and I had the opportunity to make a lot of photographs I really love,” he remarks. “It is a great place, and it was a great job. I worked with a lot of good people.”
ABOUT LUTHER SMITH
Throughout his long career, Smith has exhibited his photographs extensively across Texas, in local and regional shows in Fort Worth, Dallas, Arlington, Austin, Houston, San Antonio, and Waco, to name a few. Nationally, he has exhibited work from California to Maine, including venues in New York, San Francisco, Boston, Chicago, Kansas City, New Orleans, Philadelphia, Santa Fe, and St. Louis, among others.
Smith’s photographs appear in many public collections, including the Amon Carter Museum of American Art, the Library of Congress, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Dallas Museum of Art, Fidelity Investments, the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, the Illinois State Museum, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Houston’s Museum of Fine Arts, the Pacific Telesis Collection in San Francisco, the Phoenix Arts Commission, and the Arkansas Arts Center in Little Rock.
Publications featuring Smith’s work include the books Photography 9, Photography 8, and Photography 7, published by Prentice Hall; the Trinity River, a monograph published by TCU Press; and the Book of 35mm Photography by Curtin & London. Periodicals that have printed Smith’s work include Fort Worth Magazine, D Magazine, Chicago Magazine, American Artist Magazine, and Mademoiselle.
The Art Galleries at TCU, Moudy Gallery
2805 S. University Drive
Fort Worth, TX 76129
Exhibition review by Barbara Koerble for Glasstire: