Elizabeth M. Claffey is an Assistant Professor of Photography at Indiana University in Bloomington where she has worked since 2015. She is an honors graduate of Earlham College and has an MFA in photography from Texas Woman's University, where she also earned a Graduate Certificate in Women's Studies. She received a 2012-13 William J. Fulbright Fellowship, which she used to support her documentary and creative research in Eastern Europe. Elizabeth's work focuses on the way personal and familial narratives are shaped by interactions with both domestic and institutional structures and spaces.
2016 – 2017
Matrilinear is an ongoing series that addresses embodied memory and its relationship to personal, familial, and cultural identity. These images examine family folklore, ritual, and mnemonic objects passed down through generations of women. The photographs of each object reveal the physical remnants of a body long gone; including stains, tears, and loose thread from clothing that was kept close to the body for comfort and protection. The stitching and/or photographic representations are both a visualization and an expansion of stories shared as family lore. These interruptions also represent the deep influence of one’s familial past on personal identity and perceptions of the body.
Q&A: Indiana University
Why Indiana University?
The Photography area is part of the School of Art, Architecture, + Design – we are a new school, having recently merged the fine arts with architecture, apparel merchandising, and design. It’s an exciting time for our program as we transition into this dynamic group of faculty and students. Photography students can earn a BA, BFA, or MFA and while the majority of their credits will be taken in photography, they are welcome and encouraged to cross disciplines and explore other areas of interest. Many students take courses in textiles, ceramics, digital art and much more. Students also have the option to venture outside the school if their research takes them there – we have students who take classes in Science, English, Gender Studies, etc.
What courses do you teach?
I work with both graduates and undergraduates. My colleague, James Nakagawa, and I switch off each semester teaching the BFA/MFA classes – so, every Fall I teach the BFA seminar and every Spring I teach the MFA seminar. Even though we switch off as the teacher of record, James and I work closely with those dedicated students year-round and always participate in weekly critiques together. I teach two courses per semester and my second course is usually an advanced photo course with rotating topics. I am currently on leave but this Spring, I will teach Bookmaking and last Spring I taught Visual Storytelling.
How does your program bridge the gap between traditional and contemporary photographic practices?
We hold all photographic practices in high regard and encourage students to practice both traditional and contemporary modes of making. We bridge the gap by encouraging cross-pollination and experimentation. It’s critical that artists have a wide range of tools to express complex ideas and so we maintain a traditional wet darkroom, digital printing facilities, an alternative processes room, and a lighting studio (with green screen and video lighting equipment as well as traditional photographic lighting equipment). Additionally, we provide personal darkrooms to students who need those accommodations in order to expand their work. Our students also have regular access to the MAD LABS (Maker Space for Art + Design), where they can learn to 3D print, laser engrave, and use CNC equipment. Our school also has scholarship and grants available to students who want to participate in workshops outside of Indiana University. Since graduate students often come into the program with specialized knowledge and interests, they are challenged each Spring to give demonstrations to their peers – a few examples include wet plate collodion, laser etching, and color processing with a Jobo.
Describe the output for photographs.
Our students print images for critique… lots and lots of images! We challenge them to “fill the wall” in order to examine concepts and concerns, technical skills, and to visualize presentation possibilities. We strongly believe that you don’t know the magnitude or failure of an image until you see it printed, on the wall. That bright, beautiful glow from a computer screen is deceptive!
Describe the critique format.
Our BFA and MFA critiques happen in class, often on a weekly basis. Although, when I run the MFA seminar, we hold critique twice a semester in order to practice “finishing” a body of work and preparing it for exhibition. The expectation is that images will be professionally finished for those two critiques and students will comment on the work as a finished series. Critiques are open to visitors, especially if a student has been working closely with faculty or students from other areas of study.
Where can we keep up with your department online?