Ben Schonberger is a visual artist and lecturer of photography based on the north side of Pittsburgh, PA. Utilizing photography, appropriated imagery, collage, performance and sculpture, his work examines the complexities of identity through longterm social investigations and archive augmentation processes.
Ben has exhibited his projects nationally and internationally. His work is part of public and private collections including The Detroit Institute of Arts Department of Prints, Drawings and Photographs and The Toledo Museum of Art. His self-published photobooks can be found in the MoMA Library, The Cleveland Museum of Art Library and The Arts Library at Yale University.
PROJECT SPOTLIGHT: Beautiful Pig
2013 – 2016
While working in Detroit, I acquired a series of photographs from a retired former Detroit Police officer, Marty Gaynor, whom I began to interview weekly over a course of two years. Among his thousands of photographs were images that he had taken in the line of duty.
By cataloguing, arranging, and interpreting his work, I gave it the parameters of an archive. I arranged Marty’s images to create documents in the format of a grid. Each grid was presented to Marty as a canvas for him to transcribe a narration for his images. I infiltrated and paired the grids with images I had taken during my investigation and interaction with Marty.
After organizing the images, I began to struggle with indexical notations the archive revealed when presented as unified work. I embarked on an image making process along side Marty to see if I could understand the realities of identity, spirituality, and empathy.
When and where did Beautiful Pig begin?
Shortly after moving to Michigan in 2011, I began searching for middle age men that held masculine professions in the city of Detroit.
I thought I would interview a hand full of guys and collect obscure stories they would tell me about their line of work, ultimately resulting in a collection of photo essays. Before investing all of my energy into Beautiful Pig, my photographic work recorded my interactions with Militia Members, Taxidermists and Tattoo Artists.
I was introduced to Detective Sergeant Marty Gaynor by a neighbor.
He encouraged me to reach out to Marty in thought that I would be interested in the fact that he was a Jewish Cop. With no other knowledge about Marty, I cold-called him and asked for an interview. I was invited over to his house the following day to discuss his faith and connection to labor.
For two years, we met almost every week. Either in my studio or a gold shop downtown where he worked part-time; we’d sit in the back room and I would augment his collection of photographs.
The project is the result of two years of interviews and a year and a half of editing and bookmaking to resolve the works that shape Beautiful Pig. For a long time, the work only existed in book-form. A small edition of 100 copies was produced and distributed. A larger printing of the book soon followed. It was not until recently that the work was formatted for an exhibition experience.
Where do you see this project going?
The project has received a lot of attention, especially in Europe. I was very lucky and honored to be selected as a 2017 Foam Talent. Foam really supported the project and published the work in Foam Magazine as well as exhibited the work in a traveling group exhibition.
It’s funny, at first I thought the project would only exist in book form. In 2016 I was asked by curator Brian Carpenter to format the work for an exhibition with Contemporary Art Toledo.
It was a great challenge because the exhibition offers an experience thats very different from the book. The book feels intimate where the show feels exposed.
The amazing thing that comes from experiencing the project are all of the conversations that arise. I have participated in and witnessed many compelling and challenging dialogues about race, class, power and responsibility from exhibiting Beautiful Pig.
What helps you sustain your current creative practice?
I’m very lucky to be a full-time lecturer of Photography at Point Park University in Pittsburgh, PA. I get to work with fellow artists and very hard working students. For much of the year my job is extremely time consuming but 4 months out of the year, I can be a full-time maker. I tell everyone its a juggling act, and i’m constantly throwing something up into the air and catching something else. As an artist, it helps keep things moving.
I also have a very small studio in Pittsburgh where I host studio visits.
What’s next for you?
Currently I have been working on a long term multidisciplinary project that examines ideas that surround archiving, outlying, and historical context. The project pulls from vintage police training material and more police-based archives. The work incorporates photography, glass, neon and screen printing. I am working on formatting the project into a solo exhibition that will hopefully be ready by Spring 2019.
I am also looking forward to showing Beautiful Pig at Filter Space in Chicago this Fall!
What other artists should we be keeping an eye on?
Check out my amazing partner, Zachariah Szabo!