Vaughan Larsen is a fine artist in Milwaukee currently studying in the undergraduate photography program at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee with an anticipated graduation date of May of 2019. His work addresses the concepts of identity, relationships, and the human connection. Exhibited internationally, he has been awarded the 2017-2018 Joy of Giving Fellowship from Imagining America/ White House Millennium Council, as well as the 2019 SPE Student Award for Innovations in Imaging from the Society for Photographic Education.
In the self-portraits that comprise my body of work Rites, I reenact ceremonies from hetero-normative, cis-gendered culture. These photographs are direct parodies of experiences my family members experienced, but also contain altered details that are more aligned with my queer identity and experience. By over-emphasizing the already performative nature of these events, my work provides the opportunity to participate in celebrations, ceremonies, and rites of passage that are historically not as accessible to me as a queer-identifying person. Through these performances, my work questions the societal expectations and roles played by those engaged with these age old rituals, while showing the viewer the perspective of not feeling as welcomed to participate in life milestones.
Q&A: UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN MILWAUKEE
Why The University of Wisconsin Milwaukee?
I originally enrolled at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee for the sole reason of it being in the largest city in my state, as I grew up in a small town. The desire to live in a community that included more LGBTQ people and artists than my hometown is really what drew me here. I began as more of a theatre major, with some visual art classes on the side, but dropped out for three years, and returned to enroll in the Photography & Imaging program.
How has your experience at your school informed or shaped your work?
I believe my interest in theatre greatly influences my work, especially my most recent project Rites. I've always been drawn to both performance and visual art, and when I decided to make the switch to visual art I believed the theatre portion of my life was over. After being encouraged by my professors to delve deeper into my reasons for creating photographs, the performance aspect of my expression arose again. The photography program here has encouraged me to think about why I do what I do.
What kind of exhibition or arts-related job opportunities exist in the area for current students and recent graduates?
As I'm approaching graduation this coming May, I was originally planning to leave Milwaukee immediately afterward. But as I've grown more active and comfortable with the art community, it's easy to see there are plenty of opportunities. Focus Photography Club on campus is very good about having juried shows, as well as the Union Gallery. For during and after school, there are a few open-calls throughout the year from local galleries, such as Var Gallery in Walker's Point. The community of creatives is small enough to easily become a part of it, but still big enough where there's always something happening. I'm aware of a few internship/ mentorship programs in the city such as MARN Mentors, and Bridge Work.
What’s the most memorable piece of advice you've received from a mentor?
There's no sense in getting a big head with your art practice, as everything you've made has only been possible through the help of everyone around you. Whether it be instructors, friends in critique, family supporting your goals, etc. This has greatly impacted my view of how art comes to be, and it's never made by a sole person.
What advice do you have for prospective students looking to attend your school?
UWM is very diverse with a fine arts school at the cost of a public state college. The city has multiple colleges, making it a really fun place to be when growing up and adjusting to adult life. I also really love how close we are to Chicago -- only 1.5 hour drive or train ride. This has allowed me to attend gallery shows and such in a bigger city if I desire.
Where can we keep up with your photo department online?
What other artists should we be keeping an eye on?
I'm really inspired by Haley Morris Cafiero, who just released a new book featuring her latest project, "The Bully Pulpit." She is taking internet bullying by the horns by dressing as the bullies' Facebook profile photo and incorporating the mean comment directed at her. It's playful yet serious, which is what I'm really drawn to.