Photography professor Terri Weifenbach has spent her life taking photographs of nature, blending styles of the past and present. This year, Weifenbach received the Guggenheim Fellowship, a grant awarded to 173 individuals in 2015, which will help her continue her artistic endeveours.
The fellowship, which is managed by the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, received 3,100 applications for the 173 awards that it gave out this year. Each grant varies in value, and Weifenbach can use her funds to develop new projects for six months to a year. Fellows may use their grant funds “in any manner they deem necessary to their work” with little oversight, according to the fellowship website.
Weifenbach won the fellowship with her work on a project called “Cloud Physics,” a project that explores science and climate. One of the ways in which she explores her thematic interest is by contrasting manmade technologies against images of commonplace nature.
Weifenbach began working on “Cloud Physics” in 2014 and is scheduled to finish in 2016, when the fellowship ends.
Weifenbach said her passion for climate helps her develop innovative ideas for her project every day.
“In order to keep the energy for one’s work going, it is essential to be utterly transfixed,” Weifenbach said. “I’ve always been very excited about weather, how it affects and is affected.”
To capture much of what she has produced so far in “Cloud Physics,” Weifenbach travelled to the Atmospheric Radiation Measurement Climate Research Facility in Oklahoma.
“I found that they essentially measured clouds, aerosols, photons and moisture in the air and around clouds in differing conditions. This supported the idea of photographing what can’t be seen, as these instruments measure the invisible and, actually, what creates what is visible,” Weifenbach said.
Weifenbach seeks to inform with her art by catalyzing the interaction between viewer and photo. It is her hope that images or groups of images help to create new thoughts for a viewer, even if these thoughts vary between viewers. Photography, like any artwork, is informative because, according to her, it can “create a mystery, invite inquiry, rather than give an answer.”
Weifenbach said her initial training as a painter helps to inform her work.
“I can’t imagine what my work would be like if I had never spent time looking at and thinking about [Henri] Matisse, Gerhard Richter, the abstract expressionists. The different ways painters deal with color inform my work more than other photographs do,” Weifenbach said. “Painters make informed and instinctual decisions for the content, color, everything that is included on a canvas, or wall. … They build. As a photographer that pulls from the real world, I must edit, but seeing and knowing the process of painting leads me to more informed decisions about what to include and what to edit.”
Despite having explored a wide variety of places throughout her career as a photographer, Weifenbach said she finds life at Georgetown to be refreshing.
“I very much like the size of the school of art and design at Georgetown,” Weifenbach said. “I also enjoy the inquiring minds I’ve met there.” Weifenbach appreciates the small but passionate arts community at Georgetown and enjoys her role as a teacher. To her, teaching is a dynamic role.
“Most thoughts will go quickly to the idea that the teacher teaches and there is a one-way path of information, but it is not so,” Weifenbach said. “There are questions I’ve not considered that are asked, propelling me into more thought and affecting my future teachings as well as how I might think of my own work occasionally. Being engaged with those that are young and have a life that is mostly future is energizing.”
As a teacher and successful artist, Weifenbach said she encourages her young students to work tirelessly toward their passions.
“It helps to be obsessive. You truly need to be not just committed or diligent but have an inner drive that won’t turn off. It is a way of life, not a career. It will be in your dreams, and everything you see will be filtered through the thoughts you are working on at the moment. Don’t expect financial return. … At least, not right away, and possibly never. Your desire to make work needs to be greater than your desire for response and recognition.”
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