D. Bryon Darby (b. 1979) was born and raised in the high-desert mountains of northern Utah where he received a BFA in Graphic Design from Utah State University (2001) and an MFA in Photography from Arizona State University (2011). Central to Darby’s creative work is the relationship between place and meaning. Darby investigates perceptions of place as mediated through culture, technology, and experience and uses photography as a means to question and engage with the unfolding world.
Darby’s work has been prominently featured in solo and group exhibitions throughout the United States and internationally including notable exhibitions at Paris PhotobookFest, the Museum of Ethnology (University of Neuchâtel, Switzerland), the Museum of Contemporary Art in Jacksonville, the 2012 International Symposium on Electronic Art, the Phoenix Art Museum, and the Center for Land Use Interpretation. His photographic works are held in collections at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, the Spencer Museum of Art, Tempe Center for the Arts, and the City of Phoenix Portable Works Collection, among others.
Darby’s solo and collaborative projects have been generously supported by Rocket Grants (The Charlotte Street Foundation and the Spencer Museum of Art with funding from the Andy Worhol foundation for the Visual Arts), The Commons with funds from the University of Kansas Office of Research, with a Collaborative Research Seed Grant from the Hall Center for The Humanities, and by the Phoenix Office of Art and Culture for which he was awarded a multi-year public-art commission in on the subject of water in the desert.
Darby was Assistant Professor of Photo Media and Courtesy Faculty in the Environmental Studies Program at the University of Kansas from 2011-2016. He currently resides in Logan, Utah where he is Photography Coordinator and Lecturer of Photography at Utah State University.
Lost Shadows was the result of a brief 4-week residency at the Center for Land Use Interpretation in Wendover, Utah. In my initial proposal, I was primarily interested in the still operational airfield – once, the training ground for World War II heavy bombardment crews, including the Enola Gay team that dropped the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. My intentions were to focus on the airfield's current and sole commercial traffic – casino junket flights arriving, once per day, from various destinations across the United States. However, as it is often wont to do, the work grew a mind of its own fueled by Wendover’s deep, visceral sense of place and my own personal psyche, experiences, and sensibilities. Five years later, I would say the meaning of the work continues to evolve with the evolving political and cultural climate of the West. Now, I speak of the work as a contemporary fable that confronts the mythology of the American West in the early twenty-first century. It is a tale of invasive fear and mistrust, a land scarred and violent, and a citizenry that is broken and malignant.
Why Utah State University?
The most succinct answer is place. Utah State University is minutes from mountain rivers, canyons, and alpine lakes. It is within five hours of seven national parks and exponentially more state parks, national monuments, recreations areas, and historic sites. It is only an hour-and-a-half from a major metropolitan area (Salt Lake City) or, conversely, thirty-minutes or so from vast isolation. Utah State University is a moderate-sized campus of about 16,000 students in a mountain valley with a population of just over 100,000. USU is large enough to provide adequate resources, opportunities, and support while small enough to not feel invisible. The Department of Art and Design is nationally accredited and offers graduate and undergraduate degrees in art history, art education, ceramics, drawing and painting, graphic design, interior design, photography, printmaking, and sculpture. The photography program at USU has a long history as a somewhat traditional craft-based program with deep land-based and nineteenth-century roots. In more recent years, faculty have added a strong social and conceptual slant to that tradition. There are two full-time Photography Faculty (Fazilat Soukhakian and Carsten Meier), and myself, Photo Coordinator and Lecturer of Photography.
What courses do you teach?
At my previous institution, I taught a little of everything: Fundamentals of Photography, View Camera, Lighting Studio, The Moving Image, Photobooks, Professional Practices, and Portfolio. As well as more interdisciplinary and experiemental courses like Collaborative / Field Work. At Utah State, I am currently the lowest person on the totem pole and, as such, I teach Photography I.
How does your program bridge the gap between traditional and contemporary photographic practices?
We have fully-operational traditional gelatin-silver darkrooms, dedicated alternative-processes / nineteenth-century spaces and exposure units, a digital lab with up to 44-inch wide capability and a dedicated digital-negative printer, individual film-processing rooms, some private darkrooms, jobs processors, a color c-41 print processor, and a well equipped lighting studio. There is also a “general” wood shop and multiple department exhibition spaces. Students have ample opportunity and the resources to utilize just about any photo-related medium/processes imaginable.
Describe the output for photographs.
General students have lab access (digital and traditional) during staffed hours. Photo majors have 24/7 access to labs and some upper-level students have private darkrooms. As far as course requirements, I can only speak for myself. Ninety percent of the time, I require physical “work” prints for critiques. In my experiences, critiques are more productive – especially in an editing phase – when we can sit and look at groups of prints, together, over time. This strategy give us ample attention to flush out ideas and make connections across the body of work in a more wholistic way. More often than not, this just doesn't happen as easily in a projected, linear sequence of images.
Describe the critique format.
Again, I can only speak for myself here. I utilize a combination of full-group, small-group and one-on-one critiques in my classes. They are generally closed to those not enrolled in the course. However, as students move through the curriculum, one has more chances for interdisciplinary and public critiques through department-wide courses and exhibitions opportunities.
Photography typically brings one or two visiting artists per year most of whom participate in portfolio reviews or guest critique. Recent visiting artists have included Martin Parr, James Balog, Tomiko Jones, and Joni Sternbach. This fall we have Rania Matar scheduled as part of the Year of the Arts.
Where can we keep up with your department online?
What other photo programs and artists should we be keeping an eye on?
Of course, I feel my time as a graduate student at Arizona State University was incredibly crucial in so many ways. And, my positive experience there had everything to do with faculty. At the time, the outstanding photo faculty at ASU were Julie Anand, James Hajicek, Bill Jenkins, Mark Klett, Stephen Marc Smith, and Betsy Schneider. My advice to anyone pursuing an education of any kind is to seek out faculty you admire and go there. Facilities, curriculum, and funding is important, but they are nothing without good faculty mentors who, in turn foster good community.
Additionally, and in all sincerity, I have been incredibly impressed with the quality of MFAs coming out of University of Nebraska–Lincoln. Whatever Dana Fritz and Walker Pickering are doing, they are doing it well.