She could never have guessed at age 13 when she visited the Dayton Art Institute with her grandmother and gazed at the Ansel Adams photograph, “Moonrise Over Hernandez,” that she would someday be curating photography exhibits at the DAI or directing the largest photography biennial in North America.
“That moment has had lasting effects on my career as an art historian who specializes in the history of photography,” says Katherine Ryckman Siegwarth, a member of the DAI curatorial team from 2014-2021. Today Siegwarth serves as the Biennial Director of FotoFocus, the far-reaching project that connects artistic communities in Greater Cincinnati, Dayton, Columbus and Northern Kentucky. The 2022 Biennial, which kicks off Sept. 29 and runs through October, boasts 101 exhibitions at 90 different venues including museums, galleries, universities, and public spaces. With the free FotoFocus Passport available to all of us, most of these exhibits can be seen at no charge.
When she moved to Ohio in 2014 to work at the Dayton Art Institute, one of the first things the chief curator suggested was that she go to Cincinnati and check out FotoFocus. “I didn’t know what it was but I met Mary Ellen Goeke, the founding director, and it was clear that this was a unique organization that championed photography and was also extremely generous in nature,” says Siegwarth. “There’s an openness to this organization—It’s not only celebrating photography but celebrating community and connection. It presents photography on a local, regional and international level to build bridges and think about the world at large.”
Siegwarth says one of the reasons she loves photography is that it is a window onto our world in a way painting is not. “It is more accessible, people feel comfortable with photographs,” she believes. “I love that photography can be both a record of a moment and an opportunity to see the world in a new way. Images allow us to witness events but to also see a new perspective, to expand our horizons.”
Credit: Photo Copyright: Ian Cox.
Credit: Photo Copyright: Ian Cox.
We asked Siegwarth about FotoFocus and what visitors can expect to see at the upcoming Biennial:
Question: Can you describe FotoFocus?
Answer: FotoFocus was founded in 2010 with the idea of celebrating photography and lens-based art, while connecting local, regional, national and international communities. Our main program is the FotoFocus Biennial but we also produce original exhibitions and develop thoughtful programming and symposia.
We also serve as a granting institution and have awarded over 600 grants to support partners presenting projects and educational programs that are accessible and engaging to the public.
Q: Does this year’s Biennial have a theme?
A: “World Record” is the theme for 2022 and considers photography’s extensive record of life on earth, humankind’s impact on the natural world, and the choices we now face as a global community.
The 12 FotoFocus curated exhibitions feature nearly 20 curators and 70 artists, and are showcased at many of Cincinnati’s major institutions, such as the Cincinnati Art Museum, Contemporary Arts Center, the Taft Museum of Art, the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, Art Academy of Cincinnati, CampSITE Sculpture Park, Michael Lowe Gallery, the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and The Carnegie in Covington. When combined with our Participating Venues, the Biennial boasts over 600 artists, curators and collaborators contributing to this month-long celebration.
Q: What will we see in Dayton?
A: There are 12 projects on view in Dayton alone! These projects are hosted and organized by Antioch College, The Contemporary Dayton, the Dayton Art Institute, Dayton Society of Artists, Rosewood Arts Center Gallery, the University of Dayton and Wright State University. They range from solo exhibitions featuring Teju Cole, Carol Golemboski, Jay Hoops, and David Levinthal, the two-person exhibition at Rosewood featuring artists who find interesting ways to connect to their subjects during the pandemic, group exhibitions such as “Flourishing” at Antioch which seeks to represent a range of images to illustrate the Black experience, as well as Amy Powell’s solo yet collaborative exhibition at The Co in which she has selected an extensive collection of images found on Instagram that are geo-located in Dayton.
Q: Are FotoFocus exhibits family-friendly?
A. With over 100 projects, it’s hard to think that there isn’t something for everyone to see! Each venue selects their projects and therefore each one presents a unique perspective on the theme.
For example, i.imagine worked with teenage students on a collaborative project with the Cincinnati Zoo, where the student’s photographs of the zoo’s endangered animals will be on display. Many venues, like the Cincinnati Nature Center, The Garfield Theatre, and the Lloyd Library & Museum also look at this year’s biennial theme through an ecological lens. Other projects are socially oriented, such as “Michael Coppage: American+” that explores negative archetypes and racial disparities and Wave Pool’s investigation of tenderness as a radical tool to confront the racist and colonial gaze of photography.
Additional projects are historical in nature, such as the Mercantile Library highlighting the nineteenth-century Black photographer James Presley Ball, the Cincinnati Museum Center showcasing historic films in their Newsreel Theater, or the Miami University Art Museum’s presentation of photographs by Steve Schapiro from the 1964 Freedom Summer Project in Oxford, Ohio and Mississippi.
Another interesting project is a limited performance series at the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra titled “Sun Dogs,” where composers and filmmakers came together to create original, collaborative works rather than a composer responding to a film or vice versa.
Q: Is admission required?
A: I recommend reviewing the FotoFocus website for information on all of these projects and their related events. Better yet, everyone should become a FotoFocus Passport Holder, which helps visitors gain free access to most projects during the month of October and exclusive access to many of our programs and events. The Passport is free: https://www.fotofocus.org/biennial/2022/passport
Q: What’s next for FotoFocus?
A: FotoFocus is in a moment of growth: not only is this our largest Biennial to date, we also recently announced plans to build the FotoFocus Center: a nearly 15,000 square foot building (in Cincinnati) dedicated to photography and lens-based exhibitions and related programming. We look forward to hosting future Biennials in this space, but also engaging with the community year-round!
HOW TO CONNECT WITH FOTOFOCUS:
ALSO: Throughout the month of October, FotoFocus promotes “Neighborhood Spotlight Days” to highlight participating venues in certain areas. Dayton’s spotlight is Oct. 14. Dayton Passport Holders are welcome to join, RSVP is required.