An innovative collaborative project, combining Curt Richter‘s Key West portrait photography and the literary talents of over a dozen writers, is now on view at the Key West Armory, 600 White Street. Entitled “Still and All,” the exhibition comprises 18 exquisite images, each with an accompanying biographical text panel. An opening reception will be held on Thursday 15 January from 5 to 9pm, and the public is invited.
Still and All has been produced as a partnership between The Studios of Key West and the Key West Literary Seminar, and began during Curt Richter’s initial visit to the island as Artist-in-Residence in January 2008. Based at the Mango Tree House, on the campus of The Studios of Key West, Richter shot over 60 subjects ranging from local shop-keepers to notable visiting writers. As a first-time visitor to the island, he found inspiration in both his new subjects and his temporary tropical home.
“I came to Key West without any preconceived goal or ambition. I began meeting people, and then started asking them to sit for a portrait with my 8 x 10 camera. After the first dozen, I realized how special this place is. My entire understanding of the island, and its sense of place, emerged from the experience of taking these portraits.”
Back at his home base in Helsinki, Finland, Richter processed and printed his Key West portraits throughout 2008. And after editing hundreds of images, he began planning a new body of work to coincide withe the 2009 season.
“The Literary Seminar announced its upcoming theme, ‘Historical Fiction and the Search for Truth’, and that inspired us to invite writers to contribute new biographies for each portrait,” says project coordinator and director of The Studios, Eric Holowacz. “We wanted to play around with the notion of what is being perceived and what is considered true, and we wanted to add a strong literary component to the exhibition. We wanted new, impossible stories.”
When Miles Frieden, executive director of Key West Literary Seminar, heard about the plans for Still and All, he immediately gave it his blessing and firmed up the partnership that would help bring the project to fruition. Arlo Haskell, media and technical director for the Seminar (and editor of Littoral), jumped on board as the literary coordinator, and began inviting dozens of local and nationally-known authors to contribute to the project Eighteen new stories emerged.
Writers who have contributed to Still and All include Mark Hedden, Judy Blume, Silas House, Dean Wareham, Ann Beattie, Robert Richardson, and Jolly Benson. Other participating writers include Tina Chang, Arlo Haskell, Tayari Jones, Martin Lehmann, Bret Lott, Mike Marrero, Kristen-Paige Madonia, and William Wright.
“In the end, Still and All became a four-way collaboration between our organizations, Curt Richter, and over a dozen writers who agreed to provide these portraits with their new biographies,” says Holowacz. “Everything has culminated in the exhibition now on view inside the Armory’s main hall.”
Thursday’s opening reception will include a 5:30 guided talk by Richter, in dialogue with Haskell and Holowacz, who will discuss the project’s origins, methods, and the complication of ersatz histories.
“Portraits represent, at least in my work, an interaction between me and the subject. Every image has a context that cannot be known, yet may unravel as the viewer takes in more of the image. That’s very much like the unknowns behind any written biography or account of history. With this project, my subjects were the starting point, but they became something almost supernatural and much bigger than my work.”
Over the coming weeks, Richter will set up a new temporary photography studio in Key west and pick up where he left off. The Studios of Key West is looking for new portrait subjects willing to sit before Richter’s large-format camera between now and the end of January. The photographer hopes that eventually the bulk of his Key West images will become the pages of a new book about our island identity.
“I work with an 8 x 10 camera, which is a very significant presence, usually right in the face of the subject. They are not sure whether to address me or the camera. It’s akin to going to the dentist and getting your teeth cleaned, only without the free toothbrush.”
To learn more about Still and All and Curt Richter’s 2009 Artist-in-Residency projects, contact The Studios of Key West at 296-0458 or stop by the office inside the Armory. The upstairs artists’ studios will also be open, during Thursday’s Walk on White reception, and the public is invited to meet and learn about the work of some of Key West’s most productive and interesting creative people.
The opening exhibit January 15, 2009
Still and All at The Studios of Key West