Photographer Leonora Hamill has traveled the world capturing quiet moments at art schools for her Art in Progress series. Creative environments are in clear focus, but it’s chemistry—implicit between teacher and student, materials and limitations, assignment and epiphany—that makes these images so striking and alive.
The project itself evolved as Hamill started visiting various campuses with a specific premise in mind. “At the beginning of the series, I thought I would only shoot art schools in countries that were emerging on the international contemporary art scene,” she tells Co.Design. “I went to Poland and Cuba, but quickly realized that kind of judgment—who decides which country’s artistic tradition is emerging and which country’s artistic tradition is already established—is deeply subjective and hence problematic.” With her reach broadened, Hamill would research potential locales online, then make contact with administrators or, if she was lucky, connect with someone studying. She’s since touched down in 15 countries pursuing unique educational havens, many of which gave her a personal buzz. “Some places like the Kunstakademie in Dusseldorf—where photography as a fine-art medium first emerged in the '70s with the teachings of Bernd and Hilla Becher—were absolutely essential to shoot, and it was thrilling to photograph the spaces where great artists such as Andreas Gursky and Peter Doig teach today.”
There were common bonds to be discovered, and despite the wide range of spaces, Hamill found more similarities than differences. “There seems to be a certain uniformity to the way art is taught globally,” she says. The majority were organized by department—painting, sculpture, photography, multimedia, and sometimes graphic design—but some were organized instead by professor, where students work side by side in different mediums. “Some institutions are stuck in the past and use the same references and teaching tools over and over again. Others are more aware of what is being created today and teach accordingly,” she says. “I really believe in a classical training which the student then attempts to transcend; it does not have to be apparent in the work you actually make, but as an artist I think it is really important to have absorbed what has happened before you.”
As far as surprises, Hamill needed to be open to whatever happened to appear before her when it was time to take pictures, which included everything from skeletons—both animal and human—to sleeping students. “There is a strong element of serendipity in the series,” she says. “Sometimes I would see a studio I would like to shoot and by the time I returned, it had vanished—students had come by and moved around the objects or tidied up so the arrangement of forms and lines I had envisioned no longer exists. Then I’d pop my head in the adjacent studio and something that was not there the first time I looked will make complete sense for me visually.”
The collection was published by Actes Sud last June as part of the Prix HSBC de la Photographie collection, and though she’s winding down, there’s still some spots on her wish list that she’s hoping to capture before she’s through.
(H/T Design You Trust)