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Continuum: KCAI Alumni Photography
new work by graduates from 1975 - 1979


An Introduction

Most of us that have attended the Kansas City Art Institute have fond memories of our time spent there. Activities, both in and out of the classroom, gave us a sense of community. Students, and often faculty, bonded to form friendships with a mutual support and respect that lasts to this day. To paraphrase exhibitor Ellen Carey, "Attending KCAI was one of the highpoints of my life, which has given me cherished memories and a very good start on my life-long journey as a creative person." Her sentiment echoes what I have heard from nearly every graduate I've encountered.

We all have occasions to attend school reunions to hob knob and compare our life histories. But how often is a group of art school alumni, who worked side by side in the same medium during a particular time, given an opportunity to re-exhibit together? This event marks the first time that so many graduates of the KCAI Photography program will be exhibiting together outside of the school. It also gives proof to the lasting impact of the Kansas City Art Institute.

I got the idea for this exhibition when, by coincidence, I saw new work by three other former KCAI graduates in a short time span. I recognized a familiar KCAI attitude, but their themes had expanded and matured. I remember the camaraderie of the photography students and thought it would be interesting to see what everyone was doing now. It seemed natural to try and put together an exhibit of graduate work from the time period I was familiar with: 1975 to 1979. Knowing that KCAI was aggressively promoting a new annual alumni event, I contacted the Alumni Relations Director, Anne Jordan, for input. Her interest and an offer of support from her office gave me the impetus I needed to get started. I also contacted Gary Sutton, the current Dean of Faculty, who taught photography at KCAI from 1975 to 2001, for assistance in evaluating the submitted work.

In the Fall of 2006, an open call was put out to eighty graduates from 1975 to 1979, of which a respectable percentage are still involved with photography in some capacity: some work in various aspects of the commercial realm; some have set up their own business; others have found a place as technicians; and many are teachers. A very few have found some success in the art world. By the deadline for submissions, twenty graduates responded to participate.

Over 50 photographic works from across the U.S. will be on exhibit. A majority of the work proceeds from the classic traditions of representational photography that were taught at KCAI in the 1970s. Many participants have embraced the newer digital technologies or found other approaches, while others continue to work with darkroom materials.

At the core of the exhibit are a number of photographers working with landscape, both natural and urban. Jim Walker's point of view is to look straight down at the natural world and transform it into a visual pattern of surface. Chuck Avery offers a selection from his "Landscape of Progress" series that depicts the development of land by urban growth. Similarly, my own "Erosion" prints compare the effects of nature and man on the land. John Parker shows us that a colorful beauty can be found in a compost heap. Don McKenna's images of trees are about the ordering of nature within an urban context. Toying with the conventional notion of photography's "frozen moment," Russell Phillips combines elements from multiple negatives shot at different times of the same scene. Karen Glaser shows us large views of underwater scenes, putting a new twist on conventional landscape photography.

Other traditional genres of photography are also well represented. Tom Jenkins and Lyle White carry on the mantle of "street" photography. Commercial photographer Mark Estes and photojournalist Katherine Jones work in portraiture. Frank Hamilton and Michael Crane each show a series of nudes, Hamilton's lit by sunlight and Crane's by flashlight. In quite opposite approaches, Jeff Peter and Leslie Sheryll continue the still life tradition, Peter with intimate views of flowers and Sheryll with a mural sized photogram of crushed plastic bottles.

A few photographer’s works are unique within this exhibit. Ellen Carey has come up with techniques to process 20 by 24 inch Polaroid film without an image, combining them into colorful wall hangings. Chuck Kelton has simplified the elements of the black and white photographic process to give us a two-toned composition. When the call went out for submissions to this show, Tim Wilson decided to revisit his first KCAI photography assignment and came up with a group of metaphorical images. Robbin Loomas has added paint to the surface of her digital prints. And deciding that the internet would be the best medium to get her work seen by the most people, Diane Covert gives us "The X-Ray Project," an enormous collection of x-rays of victims of terrorist bombings.

I hope that this exhibit will be of interest to the public, other alumni and current students of KCAI. Maybe this event will induce other graduates to organize their own exhibitions in the future.

I'd like to thank Michael and Rane Cross for the generous use of their wonderful gallery space and Frank Hamilton for suggesting them. I am grateful to Anne Jordan and Gary Sutton for encouragement and guidance. And , of course, a big thanks to all the participants.

Jeff Burk, Curator
KCAI Alumni 1979

Jeff Burk is currently a photography instructor at the College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn, Illinois.

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