The working photographer
Apr 04, 2017 01:02PM
By Steven Hoffman
Joshua Meier wants to create photographs that aren't obvious or easy to read. He wants people to be able to sit with his work, to consider it, and then feel something as a result.
Meier, a recipient of the 2016 Individual Artist Fellowship in Photography from the Delaware Division of the Arts, recently had an exhibition featured in that organization's Mezzanine Gallery titled “[Un]Ravel.” The exhibition focused on a 2016 project that found Meier photographing the same ordinary object—a ball of string—each day. The photographer saw the unraveling ball of string as a metaphor for the constant change in life.
Meier wrote the following about the exhibition:
[Un]Ravel is about when things come undone. It is about the loss of what was.
It is a shift in the state of things,
It is a movement from the way things were to something else,
It is about the uniqueness of chaos, and how it is never the same twice,
It is an inability to put things back the way they were,
It is about finding quiet, grace, and balance within the random mess.
String or rope has shown up consistently in Meier's work throughout his career as a photographer. In 2016, during a time when he was struggling a bit to develop a cohesive project to work on, he returned to string as a subject for his photographs.
“I gave myself an assignment to come into the studio and photograph this ball of twine each day,” Meier said.
He would pick the ball up and roll it around in his hands, creating something new and different each time—a new image to capture with his camera.
“The more I photographed this ball of twine, the more I became interested in this changing form,” he explained.
“[Un]Ravel” had a connection to an earlier exhibition titled [Un]Remembering, in which Meier showcased a series of images that related to memory. The photos illustrated the process of selecting the experiences that we choose to remember and those that we choose to forget.
“In our lives, we build these memories up and then we unravel them,” Meier explained.
So, no, there is nothing superficial or obvious to be found in his work.
As the head of the photography department at St. Andrew's School in Middletown, Meier works to instill an understanding of and appreciation for photography in his students. His own interest in photography started when Meier was just a boy growing up in Oklahoma.
“I was always interested in photography and photographs as a child,” Meier said, explaining that he loved visiting his relatives and looking at their photographs, especially the older photographs.
“That really stuck with me as I grew up,” he said.
Meier's high school didn't offer a photography class at the time, but he took every art class he could. His varied experiences in these art classes helped him develop his creativity as an artist, and they still impact his work to this day.
In 1996, Meier moved to Montana, which is the state that his wife grew up in, and he enrolled in the Rocky Mountain School of Photography.
“I finally got serious about photography,” he explained. “I went to photography school and I became a working photographer and artist.”
After graduation from the Rocky Mountain School of Photography, Meier assisted photographers who worked in a variety of areas—including architecture, fashion, and commercial photography. He also started teaching some classes at the Rocky Mountain School of Photography, learning the basics of teaching. Eventually, Meier earned his MFA from the University of Tulsa, and he set out to land a teaching job.
That's how he ended up as a teacher at the St. Andrew's School in Middletown, teaching three courses—Photography 1, Photography 2, and Photography Major—to sophomores, juniors, and seniors at the distinguished boarding school in Middletown. Meier is currently in his sixth year teaching at St. Andrew's School.
“I feel really fortunate to have landed at St. Andrew's School,” Meier said. “I have a lot of freedom to develop the curriculum and the program for the students.”
The courses he teaches involve everything from traditional dark room work to digital photography to very old photographic processes.
“My goal is to educate them about all that photography is and all that it can be,” Meier explained. “I want to teach them about different techniques and processes.”
He also wants to help the students to start to think like an artist and to develop the eye of an artist.
Even though Meier stays quite busy teaching his students, he still manages to find the time to work on his own photography.
“Typically, I work on several bodies of work simultaneously,” he explained. “With any artist, getting into the habit of working day to day is very important.”
He fondly recalls a time when he was still working in Oklahoma, Texas, and Montana when he developed a body of work named “Parables” that utilized staged, surreal imagery.
“The days of creating that body of work really stick with me,” he explained. “It was all-consuming work at the time.”
Delaware provides a much different backdrop for his work than the American west did. Meier said that he really likes being able to work and live on the school's sprawling and beautiful campus.
“It's home for us,” he said. “I don't do a lot of landscape photography, but the campus is beautiful.”
He also likes being a part of Delaware's burgeoning artist community.
“There are a lot of really talented artists in Delaware, especially for this being a small state,” Meier said. “There are a lot of creative people here.”
As a teacher to a lot of young, creative people, Meier is sharing what he has learned about the life of a working artist. He loves to hear from students who have studied with him for three years and are now finding what they learned to be useful.
“I want them to be able to use what they learn in my class,” Meier said. “They may not major in photography, but I hope that what I teach them will stay with them, and that it helps them. It's reaffirming when I hear that I might have helped shape them in some way, or inspired them in some way. It encourages me to keep doing what I'm doing.”