Stephanie Garrison + PGH Photo Fair

PGH Photo Fair is visiting some friends of the fair, and we’ll be sharing snippets over the coming weeks. To kick things off, we’re sharing an interview with Arts Administrator Stephanie Garrison who welcomed us into her home in Pittsburgh’s Point Breeze neighborhood. Team member Tori Meglio talked with her about PGH Photo Fair and the arts in Pittsburgh.

TM: How do you fit into the Pittsburgh arts community?

SG: I'm an arts administrator and I support contemporary artists.

📸© 2019  Ivette Spradlin

📸© 2019 Ivette Spradlin

TM: You’ve just hung up some new artwork in your home that compliments your PGH Photo Fair pieces, would you tell me about them?

SG: My favorite new piece that I just got is by Adam Linn. It’s a mezzotint and this one is called Dark and Stormy. I met Adam through my work as an arts administrator. I absolutely love meeting new artists and then supporting them by going to their events. When I can, financially supporting them by purchasing their work. Encouraging artists, in general, is important to me. I have a lot of work from local Pittsburgh artists.

TM: When did you discover PGH Photo Fair and what has been your favorite related experience?

SG: I’ve attended the PGH Photo Fair every year since I discovered it, three years ago. My favorite part about Photo Fair is the Ace Hotel speakers series leading up to the actual fair. I just really love the type of people that the lectures bring together, and I love that they let them speak about whatever topic they’re an expert on. I feel that it actually brings the most passion and the most interesting conversation. Sometimes when people are told to talk about a specific topic, it just makes them sort of boring or it limits their range, and these lectures are filled with experts talking about the niche topics they love. And I appreciate that you never know what you're going to get from the lectures, but you’re guaranteed an awesome experience because of their standing in the photography and art world. The speaker series has really opened my eyes to different aspects of photography.

TM: Have you purchased any pieces from the exhibiting galleries?

SG: I purchased this Aperture book by cat photographer, Walter Chandoha at my first visit to PGH Photo Fair. I remember seeing just a whole bunch of books, and while sorting through them this one particularly caught my eye because, of course, I love cats but also the style of photography encompassed kitsch with fine art together. And that's sort of what I loved about it. The colors are really bright and it focuses on these strange animals personalities, and I feel like you can really learn a lot about the different animals. As a cat guardian, I understand the personality of each cat is very different. It’s a true conversation starter. I also learned a lot about Chandoha and the history of cat photography, which is a niche. Chanodah is a different generation than myself but I’ve connected with his work nonetheless.

📸© 2019  Ivette Spradlin

📸© 2019 Ivette Spradlin

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TM: Where does this book live in your home?

SG: The photo book lives in my dining room on a bookshelf with all my other art books. I am not someone who hoards books, I try to maintain a limited number of books and use the library a lot. So I make a point to only have art books that have really spoken to me and also seem rare in some way. They might just be rare in my life, but I feel like this collection by Chandoha speaks to who I am and I appreciate looking it every now and then.

📸© 2019  Ivette Spradlin

📸© 2019 Ivette Spradlin

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TM: Can you describe your relation to photography?

SG: I’m usually attracted to abstract photography. And I do enjoy studio photography where the creator is trying to get at something that exists ephemerally. Or I really feel like hiding the process of photography is really interesting. I know very little about photography as an art form compared to other art forms, so I like not just guessing how it was made process-wise, but being able to not immediately see how it was made and be able to be in my brain about what else it could be. 

TM: Are there any works from PGH Photo Fair that you’d wish you would have been able to take home?

SG: Oh yes! Hold on, let me grab this magazine and I will bring it down. I just saw something yesterday in the newest edition of Bust. These are Daniel Handal’s ‘Parjaritos’ series presented by CLAMPART. His portrayal of the small bird's personalities paired with the pop color backgrounds draws me in similarly to Chandoha’s cat photography. I’d pretty much take home anything from the Photo Fair if I could. 

Stephanie on the far right with Daniel Handal’s ‘ Parjaritos ’ at the 2018 VIP Preview Party 📸© 2018  Brendon J Hawkins

Stephanie on the far right with Daniel Handal’s ‘Parjaritos’ at the 2018 VIP Preview Party 📸© 2018 Brendon J Hawkins

TM: What is it about the Parjaritos series that draws your attention?

What I love about Handal’s birds is the presentation of the matching frame -- the entire object is the art. I also am connected to objects individually which is why I love art. So I think the whole package of having the color of the print, of the bird, first of all just how sharp and 3D it looks, and it's illusionary qualities.  

With the framing, they're treating it as an entire object rather than a frame and an artwork within the frame.

TM: Have you ever been surprised by the presentation of work by the galleries?

SG: I thought it was interesting that they had an Andy Warhol photograph this year because I work at the Andy Warhol Museum, I've seen a lot of his photography, but I don't think that many people would have recognized it as a Warhol photograph. To me, it just immediately screamed Warhol photograph, even though it was a simple chair and a shadow. And so the cropping of that was really interesting. 

TM: What was your experience like with the lending library at PGH Photo? 

SG: So there is a lending library in Braddock and they were part of the 2018 Photo Fair. I got to take home a piece, ”Detail 1-95 Basketball Hoop”, 2001-2010. by Strauss, Zoe. The piece was a snowy basketball court with a broken basket inside a white frame. The frame matched the piece really well, as you know I like that aesthetic. I was able to live with this piece in my home - I think I did a renewal, so it was about a month and a half - and then I returned it for someone else to borrow. 

It’s a nice feeling because I remember that time, and you know that you can go back, but it's cool to be able to think like, "That was in my home and now it's going to go to somebody else's home," and they're maybe going to think something totally different about it. It's a great resource that Pittsburgh has that I had never heard of before. The artwork in the lending library is of a variety of mediums and subject matter, and I was really excited to see all the photographs that they brought to the PGH Photo Fair. 

TM: Can you elaborate on your style for curating the artwork in your home?

SG: Sometimes people will buy artwork because it fits in this one space in their house, and they have an idea of the space and what to fill it with. And I sort of think the opposite of that, that I'm just buying the artwork for itself and then -- and I rent my home so I don't-- I'm not necessarily even connected to the space long-term, but I know that I can take those things and curate them for me in the space accordingly. 

📸© 2019  Ivette Spradlin

📸© 2019 Ivette Spradlin

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About the Photographer: 

Ivette Spradlin is a Cuban-American photographer, video artist, and educator whose work centers around the emotional aspects of transition, adaptation, and balance in one's life. She received her BFA in Photography from the University of Georgia and her MFA in Photography from Tyler School of Art. She is a Creative Capital and Flight School Fellow, Artist Opportunity Grant awardee, and an Art on the Walls artist through the Pittsburgh Arts Council. Her photography has been published in Next Level Magazine and featured on BBC. Her films have screened nationally, including at the Carnegie Museum of Art and at the Transmodern Film Festival in Baltimore. In 2014, her Oval Portrait photographs were part of a Magenta Foundation public art project in downtown Pittsburgh, and Unseen was featured in the Pittsburgh Biennial. Recently, her video You Are Gone, I Am Here won Best In Show in the Three Rivers Arts Festival Juried Exhibition.

She lives in Pittsburgh, PA and teaches at Carnegie Mellon University and Pittsburgh Filmmakers.