Amanda Breitbach grew up on a family farm and ranch in eastern Montana, a background that inspired her deep love and respect for land, as well as a critical interest in the representation and mythology of the American West. She studied photography and French at Montana State University and earned her Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. She also served as an agroforestry volunteer with the United States Peace Corps in West Africa and has worked as a newspaper photographer/reporter and a freelance writer. Breitbach began teaching photography as an Assistant Professor of Art at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, TX in fall 2017.
2014 – 2016
These photographs are from a body of work called Land/People, which uses my individual experience growing up on a third generation family farm to speak about the decline of family farming in an increasingly corporate agriculture industry and to describe the loss of a daily, physical/emotional/spiritual relationship to land. The project combines panoramic and aerial images of my family’s farmland in eastern Montana with intimate photographs of family members and domestic spaces.
Large-scale panoramic photographs help viewers experience a vast, immersive landscape, while aerial views of fields, pastures, wildlife and farm buildings installed in a grid reveal attitudes about land ownership and traces of human and animal use. Many of the images are visibly constructed, using multiple photographs with exposed seams and overlapping edges to create a sense of multiple perspectives or shifting truths. By using multiple photographs to create a single image, I suggest that no single view is adequate to capture the entirety of this vast landscape and the complex culture that depends on it. Each image can offer only a piece of the larger picture. Interiors are meant to contrast with the landscape in a number of ways: in scale, intimacy, and in their sense of time and impermanence. A recurring motif of windows connects interior to exterior and also refers back to the framing of the view. These formal elements remind audiences of the subjectivity of the view in general and in these photographs specifically.
My photographs reflect my personal experience as a woman who grew up on a multi-generational family farm and ranch owned and operated by men, developing a deep love and respect for the land while knowing that I would never inherit it. These may be the last images of a farm in slow decline. It is my position as an insider to this culture that sets my work apart from other art about agriculture. By exploring a single farm and family in depth I intend to tell a complicated and specific story, one that reflects the changing nature of agriculture and critically questions its future.
Why Stephen F. Austin State University?
I was excited to join the faculty at Stephen F. Austin this year, because although the department is fairly small, the photography program is extremely dynamic and has the potential to grow even stronger. I’m proud of the work that my students are making. Right now, many of our advanced students are dedicated darkroom users, which fosters a strong sense of community and pushes everyone to make better work. We have a large darkroom, with both color and black and white enlargers and a color print processor, as well as a Jobo for developing color and black and white film. We also have a well-equipped lighting studio, a number of large-format Epson printers, dedicated computer labs, and facilities for alternative process printing. We have an active, student-led Photo Club, whose members (including non-art majors) plan regular activities like group trips to see exhibits or shoot on location, process workshops, and a campus-wide poster contest. There is also an interdisciplinary student group, the Art Alliance, that plans social events for all art students.
Undergraduate students at Stephen F. Austin can earn either a BA or a BFA in art. Our faculty offer courses in photography, filmmaking, painting, drawing, printmaking, sculpture, ceramics, metals, digital media, and design, as well as art education and art history. All art students choose an area of studio emphasis, and BFA students choose an additional area for their secondary emphasis. Students have ample opportunity to explore different media and to find their passion. In their final year, BFA students take part in an interdisciplinary seminar course that includes regular group critiques and hang a capstone exhibit. BA students have the option of taking the seminar course and hanging a capstone, but are not required to do so.
We also have a graduate program, with approximately 20-25 students in all studio areas. In addition to an MA or MFA in Studio Art, we offer an MFA in Filmmaking and an MAAE, Masters of Art in Art Education. MA and MFA candidates have their own studio space, and graduate teaching assistantships are offered on a competitive basis. I am actively recruiting graduate students for the coming year, and hope to accept 1-2 students annually.
The department hosts 7-10 visiting artists each year, and we offer international study abroad programs in interdisciplinary media, as well as a unique Maymester photography course that gives students the opportunity to travel and make photographs in national parks and other scenic locations.
What courses do you teach?
I work with both graduate and undergraduate students. As the only faculty at SFA teaching photography full time, I have the opportunity to teach a wide range of photo classes, from beginning darkroom to advanced digital, studio lighting, color darkroom, large format film, and alternative processes. Advanced photography courses are offered on a rotating basis, according to student interests and needs. Our curriculum has the flexibility for me to custom design the advanced course each semester. This fall, I taught a class in color photography (film and digital), while this semester the advanced class is in alternative processes, and next fall it will be an advanced digital class. I also teach digital media courses, the interdisciplinary seminar course for graduates and undergraduates, and a class in professional practices.
How does your program bridge the gap between traditional and contemporary photographic practices?
Students at SFA have the opportunity to explore the full range of photographic processes, from the darkroom to digital image capture and editing, as well as alternative processes and time-based digital media. Our program is strongly rooted in the darkroom, with beginning students taking their first course in traditional black and white photography, and continuing with intermediate courses in digital photography and studio lighting. Advanced courses give students the opportunity to refine their skills in both analogue and digital formats. Students can build on their photographic skills by taking courses in time-based and interactive digital media, as well as fine book-making, taught by faculty whose personal art practices give them an expert command of those skills.
Describe the process of output for photographs.
Photography students at every level are required to make prints for class assignments and encouraged to use the facilities to develop a personal art practice as well. Darkroom facilities include 14 Besseler and Super Chromega enlargers that accommodate 35mm, 120mm, and 4x5 film, as well as Kreonite and Hope color print processors and a Jobo CPP2 for developing film. For digital output, SFA students have access to large format Epson inkjet printers (up to 44”) and student labs equipped with the latest version of Adobe editing software. Facilities are open generous hours for student use, with some hours staffed by graduate students who are available to offer help.
Describe the critique format.
Regular classroom critiques are an element of every photography course at SFA. One unique critique opportunity is in the interdisciplinary seminar class that BFA and MFA students are required to take. This course is taught by a team of three rotating faculty, who guide students in developing their capstone and thesis exhibitions. Photography students offer each other peer critique during Photo Club events and seek outside input through portfolio reviews at regional conferences. In addition, SFA hosts visiting photographers each school year, who offer fresh perspectives about developing student work.
Where can we keep up with your photo department online?