One of four artists recently selected to receive the 2011 McKnight Artist Fellowships for Photographers, Minneapolis-based photographer Beth Dow uses historical references and traditional processes to address contemporary issues of land use and our experience of time. In this interview with CBSMinnesota.com, Dow discusses her current project “Here, Nor There”, and shared her insights on the photography and arts community–and the support it receives–in Minnesota.
CBSMinnesota.com: How did you get started in photography?
Beth Dow: My dad was a photographer, and when I was small I assumed everyone had a darkroom and wide assortment of cameras. I was mainly interested in drawing (obsessed, actually) but photography was also a big part of my life. I think my early love of drawing informed my photography because I mostly work with the mid-tones of black and white.
CBSMinnesota.com: What inspires you and your work?
Beth Dow: I love things that don’t make visual or intellectual sense, and I’m also struck by mystery and wonder. I’m a puzzle solver by nature, but am most excited by those things I encounter that defy an easy logic.
CBSMinnesota.com: Can you tell us about your current project ‘Here, Nor There’ and the themes you’re exploring for this project?
Beth Dow: I had been shooting faked ruins in the American landscape, and that got me thinking about our own place on the timeline. Since we have no authentic classical history of our own, I thought I’d take a stab at imagining what ours might look like. “Here, Nor There” will be in two parts that merge images of Roman and Greek monuments with local structures that echo their forms. “Roam” links Roman ruins with local elements that look similar somehow, like bridge supports that resemble ancient columns, and “Polis” will merge Greek monuments with local architectural quotations such as ornamental pediments on houses. I will eventually add Egypt and The Holy Land, too. This is a tongue-in-cheek assertion of our importance in time and space.
CBSMinnesota.com: How do you go about choosing your locations and subjects?
Beth Dow: I think they’ve always chosen me.
CBSMinnesota.com: What do you think of the current photography scene in Minneapolis? Is there a strong emerging talent–and a supportive community–here?
Beth Dow: Yes, there is strong emerging talent here, and the community has long been celebrated for its support.
Local photographers are thoughtful, driven, and active even though there is virtually no commercial gallery scene here. Where are the collectors? Where are the dealers? Photography is well-supported by artist-run spaces, but those are funded by the producers themselves or the few, deeply cherished foundations who understand the importance, both financially and intellectually, of investing in the creative culture of our state.
The Minnesota State Arts Board is the engine that pulls this train, but is under increasing attack by those who, for whatever bewildering reason, don’t understand that a vigorous local arts community is a crucial part of what defines and distinguishes our state identity. Perhaps their incomprehension is a signal that we need to invest more in arts education. Throughout human history there has never been a single visionary bean counter. Just try to name one.
To learn more about Beth Dow’s work, visit her website at bethdow.com.
Interview by Stephanie Valera, CBS Local