2018 Guggenheim Fellow
Associate Professor, Montana State University 2006-2018

Ian van Coller was born in 1970, in Johannesburg, South Africa, and grew up in the country during a time of great political turmoil. These formative years became integral to the subject matter van Coller has pursued throughout his artistic career. His work has addressed complex cultural issues of both the apartheid and post-apartheid eras, especially with regards to cultural identity in the face of globalization, and the economic realities of every-day life.  

Van Coller received a National Diploma in Photography from Technikon Natal in Durban, and in 1992 he moved to the United States to pursue his studies where he received a BFA from Arizona State University, and an MFA from The University of New Mexico. He currently lives in Bozeman, Montana with his wife, children, and three dogs. 

His work has been widely exhibited nationally and internationally and is held in many significant museum collections, including The Philadelphia Museum of Art, The Getty Research Institute, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Library of Congress, and The South African National Gallery. Van Coller's first monograph, Interior Relations, was published by Charles Lane Press (New York) in 2011. He is a member of the Piece of Cake collective.

Van Coller's most recent work focuses on environmental issues related to climate change and deep time. These projects have centered on the production of large scale artist books, as well as direct collaborations with paleo-climatologists. Van Coller's Guggenheim Fellowship will be (motivated) by collaborations with scientists in Norway, Svalbard, Baffin Island, Greenland, Brazil, Chile, Antarctica, Nevada, Wyoming and Montana.

Naturalists of the Long Now

Naturalists of the Long Now breaks down barriers between art and science, and creates a dialogue between text and image, landscape and viewer, expert and novice, past, present and future. Since 2015, I have been collaborating with scientists to make art that challenges viewers to think about the vast scales of geologic time through scientific analysis of various planetary archives, such as glaciers, trees, sediments, and fossils. This project was initially inspired by the 10,000 Year Clock Project of the Long Now Foundation, the mission of which is to "foster responsibility in the framework of the next 10,000 years."

© Ian van Coller

© Ian van Coller

© Ian van Coller

© Ian van Coller


Why Montana State University

Our photography program teaches an incredibly broad curriculum. It is also primarily hands on learning based. Our photo checkout has incredible equipment that students can use, including Phase One cameras and Profoto lighting equipment. We teach analog wet darkroom, view camera (both analog and digital), digital image processing (both Photoshop and Capture One), extensive studio lighting in a massive professional studio, tethered capture, professional practices, bookmaking, photo history and more. My colleague Christina Anderson’s specialty is Alternative Process. Many students come to our program just to study with her. We have a brand new dim-room lab dedicated to her classes where she teaches gum bichromate, cyanotype, platinum/palladium, mordancage, and many other processes. We also do not have a graduate program, so all of the professors are focused 100% on the undergraduates. As a rural land grant state university, Montana State U is still reasonably affordable. Students get a lot of bang for their buck. In addition, Bozeman Montana is a pretty nice place to live, with literally unlimited outdoor recreation opportunities. On powder days I don’t have many students in class.

What courses do you teach? 

I teach View Camera, Portraiture, Landscape and the Book, and Senior Production.

My specialty and favorite class to teach is Landscape and the Book. My own art practice is focused on making very large scale handmade artist books. In the class, students work on several handmade book projects including single signature, Japanese stab bound, drum leaf, and case bound. They also learn how to make clamshell boxes.

How does your program bridge the gap between traditional and contemporary photographic practices? 

Our program is in the School of Film and Photography at Montana State University. Film and Photography are integrated at the Freshman level where all students have hands on experience in still and video approaches. We emphasize hands on learning, so students get to use really great equipment from day one. After the Freshman year, students can choose to do a BA in Film or Photography, or they can do a BFA in Integrated Lens Media.

In the photography option, Freshman year is 100% B%W analog. In the Sophomore year we use the View Camera class to bridge the gap between analog and digital. Students learn to scan their 4x5 negatives, optimize them in Photoshop, and print them on large format inkjet printers. We also have a small format Toyo VX with a Phase One medium format back that I teach students to use tethered using Capture One. 

In the Lens Based Media BFA, students get to customize their program of study to suite their creative desires and strengths.

Describe the process of output for photographs. 

We require physical print output in all of our classes. We have 2 dedicated B&W gang labs with both 35mm and large format enlarges. Each lab has 16 enlargers. We have a dim-room dedicated to students making alt process prints, and we have a dedicated digital printing lab with 4 large format Epson 7900’s and a 9800. These will soon be upgraded to Epson P10000’s.

Describe the critique format. 

I would say that critique varies depending on the content of the class. For example, in my Landscape and the book, I emphasize craft and content. At the beginning of the critique, finished books are passed around in a circle with an accompanying sheet of paper for students to write comments on. Once everyone has spent time with all the books, I have each student choose a book to present to the class. I ask them to address both positive aspects as well as things that could be improved. Discussion is then opened up to the class.

Where can we keep up with your photo department online?