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Museum of Contemporary Photography

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Around the Block with Brian Ulrich

A question that fascinates me is this - What is it about a photograph (or any piece of art, really) that makes it stick with you?  For any given artist, collector, or art lover, what qualities take an image to that next level for you? On the tour we started asking people who have a reputation in the photography field this question and recording their answers - sometimes while they were driving Lady Blue around the block.  Fred Bidwell was our guinea pig, and he rocked it (because he's just like that).

When I was in Richmond in June, I had an awesome studio visit with Brian Ulrich.  His brain is just on fire.  He agreed to drive Lady Blue around the block, and was even gracious enough to do it twice when I thought the audio may not have recorded on the first go-round.  

In this series we ask noted photographers, collectors, writers and curators this question: "What are the qualities that make an image really stick with you?" And we ask while they are driving Lady Blue around the block. (Or if the drive is not an option, we have an adorable miniature to be involved in her place.)

This "Around the Block" features photographer Brian Ulrich. Brian Ulrich was born 1971 in Northport, NY. His photographs portraying contemporary consumer culture reside in major museum collections such as the Art Institute of Chicago, the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Museum of Fine Arts Houston, the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, and the Museum of Contemporary Photography. Ulrich earned his MFA in photography at Columbia College Chicago and a BFA in photography at the University of Akron. He is an Assistant Professor at Virginia Commonwealth University in the Photography and Film department.

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Looking vs. Owning: Why Collecting is Awesome

The past two days in Chicago have been a whirlwind of photo awesomeness.  The photographers here - Chicagraphers, as they call themselves (clever, right?) - are an enthusiastic and welcoming crew.  They seem to love the medium and love their community, and we have felt like VIPs every minute. Yesterday we (the "we" is Sarah Moore - my trusty co-pilot on the east coast leg of the tour - and me) and I had the biggest treat.  Jess Dugan, a supremely talented and incredibly thoughtful and sharp Chicagrapher who is in the MFA program at Columbia College and works as a curatorial assistant at the Museum of Contemporary Photography, pulled out photographs from the museum's collection for us to drool over.  When we were setting this up, she asked what we might like to see, and I told her I wanted her to pull some of her favorites.  I didn't know the museum's collection, and I knew she would know the jewels.

We got to see Sally Mann, Larry Sultan, Mary Ellen Mark, Robert Mappelthorpe, Dawoud Bey, Alec Soth's prototype of Sleeping By the Mississippi. . . it was a dream.

When Jess and I were speaking about how fortunate she is to be able to work with these images and view them daily, she said something that struck me.  She said that just knowing an image and loving it is different than living with it every day.  That when you get to see a photograph that speaks to you hundreds of times, it becomes part of you and the connection becomes intrinsic.  (I'm paraphrasing.)

That is why collecting is so amazing.  You get to interact with an image you love on a daily basis, and it seeps into your soul.  That may sound mushy and overly-romantic, but hey, I'm driving a bus around the country to talk about collecting, I'm pretty mushy about it.  You should be too.  Art is awesome.

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