Andy Mattern has held the position of Assistant Professor of Photography & Digital Media at Oklahoma State University since 2015 and he is represented by Elizabeth Houston Gallery in New York. His work has been exhibited at the New Mexico Museum of Art in Santa Fe, Silver Eye Center for Photography in Pittsburgh, Photo Center NW in Seattle, the Lawndale Art Center in Houston, Candela Gallery in Richmond, Virginia, and the Photographic Centre Peri in Turku, Finland. Mattern has received awards for his work including the triennial Art 365 Grant and Individual Artist’s Fellowship from the Oklahoma Visual Arts Coalition and the Artist Initiative Grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board. His work is included in the collections of the New Mexico Museum of Art, Photo Center North West in Seattle, BMO Harris Bank, and the Tweed Museum of Art in Duluth. He holds an MFA in Photography from the University of Minnesota and a BFA in Studio Art from the University of New Mexico.
Average Subject / Medium Distance
Photography has long been an expanded medium and it continues to take on new forms. My work engages this plural space by employing both established and novel modes of picture creation. On the one hand, I use the camera to organize discarded objects into new taxonomies. On the other hand, I generate projects that question photography itself, its conventions, mechanisms, and representational problems. This body of work merges abstraction with hyperrealism, formal territories that are normally opposite and distinct. In this effort, I hope to unveil aspects of the contemporary unconscious mind while revealing the underlying structures implicit in the image making process itself.
Turning the camera on its own logic, the photographs in Average Subject / Medium Distance (2018) reconfigure paper guides once used to determine exposure and other image settings. Stripped of example imagery, technical numbers, and explanatory text, these relics from midcentury photographic practice are reduced to their underlying structure. In the process of removing this information, digital traces are created, shifting the surface into a rupture between physical and virtual, analog and digital, functional and useless.
This process creates a new surface that hints at broader formal themes in the medium. A single word remains in each composition in its original location, while all the other information has been neutralized. This word operates as a springboard for interpretation while pointing to the priorities and conventions contained in the original object.
Why Oklahoma State University?
The Department of Art, Graphic Design and Art History at Oklahoma State University offers a BA and BFA in Studio Art, BFA and MFA in Graphic Design, and BA and MA in Art History. One advantage for students studying art in this program is the amount of time they work directly with full time faculty. In the studio area, full time faculty teach at every level from foundations to capstone. The photography program is the newest addition to the department, which already has strong programs in ceramics, printmaking, painting, jewelry, and sculpture. Our building has an exhibition space, the Gardiner Gallery, which has shows of not only student work, but also national and international artists.
What courses do you teach?
I mainly work with undergraduates since the studio area does not offer an MFA, however, I sit on various graduate committees and work on independent studies with graduate students from both art history and graphic design. Courses I teach: Photography I, Photography II, Photography Studio, Digital Art Survey, and BA Capstone.
How does your program bridge the gap between traditional and contemporary photographic practices?
Every photography class I teach has both an analog and digital component. We have a small darkroom and a state-of-the-art digital lab. The students shoot film in 35mm, medium format, and as of next fall 4x5. They also shoot DSLR, cell phone cameras, and use appropriation with images from the library archive, books, and of course the Internet. We have done cyanotype, liquid light, and salt prints as well as digital output. We use primarily Adobe Lightroom, but also Photoshop and whatever other software may be necessary for a given project. The department also has an impressive technology lab, the Visual Resource Center, which has multiple 3D printers, a laser cutter, scanners, iPads, large format printers, and lot of other equipment students can check out.
Describe the process of output for photographs.
For every project we do, students are required to make prints. We use Canon ink just printers, specifically the iPF6400 series in a shared lab on roll paper. This helps the students see everyone else's work and offer feedback. I have designed the lab with a large magnet dry erase board that the students use to proof test strips from the printer. This is a highly interactive and collaborative process that harkens to the community of the darkroom.
Describe the critique format.
In my classes the critiques happen during class and usually only students in that class are in attendance. I often have written and verbal components for the critiques so students have multiple ways to express feedback. While there is an emphasis on verbal dialogue, I also think written responses are useful. I expect that the conversations are elevated beyond superficial comments, but that they remain productive. There are visiting scholars and artists nearly every semester and the students have the opportunity to interact with them. If these visits coincide with critiques, these outside voices may be invited into the classroom.
Where can we keep up with your photo department online?