Daniel W. Coburn was born in San Bernardino, California in 1976. His work and research investigates the family photo album as one component of a visual infrastructure that supports the flawed ideology of the American Dream.
Coburn's friends and family members confront his camera to construct a potent amendment to the idealized family album. Daniel's projects illuminate important issues that are often suppressed in traditional family albums. In doing so, he intends to expand the perimeter of visual information considered for inclusion in new iterations of the family album.
Coburn's prints are held in collections at major institutions including the Museum of Contemporary Photography at Columbia College, The Marianna Kistler Beach Museum of Art, and the University of New Mexico Art Museum. His photographs have been the subject of solo exhibitions at the Mulvane Art Museum, Silver Eye Center for Photography, Filter Photo Space and La Fototeca Gallery. Photographs from Daniel's comprehensive body of work have appeared in numerous international group exhibitions including Álbum de Família at Centro Municipal de Arte Hélio Oiticica, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. His first monograph, The Hereditary Estate, was published by Kehrer Verlag in 2015.
Daniel Coburn is a recipient of a 2017 John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Fellowship. He was named as a finalist for the Arnold Newman Prize for New Directions in Photographic Portraiture the same year.
Coburn received his MFA with distinction from the University of New Mexico in 2013. He has served as Assistant Professor of Photography at the University of Kansas for the past five years.
Becoming a Specter
Consider the mind and body as a parchment that is scribed, erased, and scribed again—used and reused in perpetuity until its fibers begin to unravel and fall apart. Each layer is affected and shaped by the previous—partially healed—but forever bearing the wounds of its history.
A psychological estrangement has occurred: a cavernous fissure, a misunderstanding and an ultimate rejection of the teachings of my ancestors. Their ideologies are largely rooted in fear—a mode of self preservation designed to protect them from those that are different—from the unknown.
My only fears manifest in tandem: I fear from where I came—I fear what I've become.
This is a knee-jerk reaction. This is narcissism.
I am a con man. I am a soothsayer. I wield the camera as my scepter, harnessing light—conjuring images from the past—selling you images of the future.
I am selling you truth.
I am lying to myself: I am a child—I am a man—I am a woman—I am but a shadow.
Q&A: UNIVERSITY OF KANSAS
Why the University of Kansas?
It is important to find the school that is right for you. My advice is to attend a school where your teachers are current and active participants in the larger photographic community. Dedicated educators will impart knowledge but also introduce students to a comprehensive network of professionals that can provide support after graduation.
The Photography program at the University of Kansas resides in the Department of Design. We have a longstanding partnership and funding provided by the Hallmark Corporate Foundation. As a result, we are able to invite renowned national and international photographers to provide lectures and interact with students. Our list of esteemed visiting artists includes Duane Michals, Alec Soth, Mark Klett, Julie Blackmon, David Hilliard, Arno Rafael Minkkinen, and Rania Matar. This provides an opportunity for students studying at KU to engage in a personal conversation with these creative icons.
Photography Faculty members at the University of Kansas have received Guggenheim and Fullbright fellowships, and our accomplished lecturers have accumulated extensive exhibition and publication records. The Department of Design provides funding opportunities for faculty and students to attend national conferences. Class sizes are small (always less than 18) which allows for a more personalized and immersive educational environment.
The University of Kansas is a major research institution. As scholars, we are engaged in making images AND investigating the strengths and weaknesses of the photographic medium as a powerful conduit for communication. We place a strong emphasis on craft, but also help students distill their interests down to a core set of ideas. We encourage students to cross disciplines and to carefully consider the medium of photography and its relationship to painting, drawing, printmaking, sculpture, video, performance, and time-based media. Our graduates leave as keen observers with critical thinking skills that allow them to identify problems and potential solutions.
Students have all the necessary tools at their disposal to become successful photographers. We have a spacious, well-equipped lighting studio, an alternative processes lab, a twenty station-darkroom, a large computer lab, a collection of large format inkjet printers, and three spacious classrooms that are perfect for lecture and critique. Many prospective students become interested in our program because of our extensive equipment checkout. Photography majors have access to the latest DSLR cameras and lenses, video and sound recording equipment, and an extensive collection of analog photography gear. Our facilities are clean, well maintained and accessible.
As a student you will receive instruction on the full spectrum of photographic expression ranging from the earliest photographic processes ever invented to current lens-based video technologies. All of these factors contribute to an environment that can effectively nurture fledgling photographers toward a successful and rewarding career.
What courses do you teach?
I teach Alternative Processes, Photography Seminar, Fundamentals of Photography, and Photography Portfolio, which is our undergraduate capstone course. We often teach "Special Topics" courses, which allow us to cater to the pedagogical needs of our current student body. I have taught courses on Advanced Darkroom Techniques and Photographic Portraiture.
We currently offer a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree but plans for a Minor in Photography and a Master of Fine Arts degree program are on the drafting table.
How does your program bridge the gap between traditional and contemporary photographic practices?
Faculty member, Elise Kirk, is an expert in large-format photography and teaches our Photo One course. Students enroll in the first semester of their second year. This class is part of our core curriculum that requires students to make photographs exclusively with a large-format camera for an entire semester. Students develop sheet film and make analog prints from those negatives. Later in this course, they scan film on a high resolution Hasselblad scanner and print them digitally. We believe it is absolutely critical that students understand the basic mechanics of the camera and this class provides them with a comprehensive understanding of those principles. Students are free to continue with the large format camera or other analog formats in later courses.
Our Alternative Processes course offers a unique opportunity to bridge the gap between analog and contemporary photographic practices. Students often make digital images, manipulate those in post-processing, and then create inkjet negatives from digital files. Those inkjet negatives can then be used to make contact prints with a variety of antiquated photographic techniques. This offers an exciting opportunity to make art at the confluence of contemporary and archaic photographic technology.
Describe the process of output for photographs.
Critiques are conducted by examining prints unless some other means of presentation is critical to the conceptual foundation of the work. I encourage students to experiment but I believe learning how to print is an essential skill for successful photographers. Most students choose to print digitally but some fully embrace analog and alternative processes as their primary form of expression. We often engage in critical discourse surrounding the value of the photographic object: When is an object necessary? How and why is it necessary? How does the concept of ephemerality play into the notion of photographic expression? When should an image be projected?
Describe the critique format.
Critiques for my courses happen in class or on-location for installation based works. I believe it is best to experience work in-person—the way it was designed to be experienced. Other faculty members or lecturers are occasionally invited to lead critiques. We organize special forums for critique and discussion when we have a visiting artist or lecturer on-campus.
I often organize students into smaller groups to discuss work and request that they present their findings to the entire class. Students are required to stand and present their work verbally to the class before we commence discussion. In more advanced courses, the group will sometimes conduct a cold-read of projects or assignments. Students are required to maintain an evolving artist statement in advanced courses.
All of these strategies are designed to help students improve their written and verbal communication skills and become proficient in describing/deconstructing photographic works. I believe that most learning is facilitated through the act of "making" and "discussing." This approach nurtures students toward a deeper comprehension of visual literacy.
Where can we keep up with your photo department online?
We have a student run gallery. Follow us on Instagram:
You can also request to follow our KU Student Photography Organization on Facebook:
You can see some of our student work here: