|February 27, 2003
Volume 33 Number 11
|A publication for the faculty, staff, administrators, and friends of California State University, Chico|
Black Branches Taking on Snow by Byron Wolfe
On his 35th birthday, Professor Byron Wolfe, Communication Design, began
a project to take a visually compelling photograph every day for a year.
His Everyday project, he said, is a “focused effort to make narrative photographs about personal experience.” He wants his photographs to “follow the meandering pace and flow of life” and to “discover the extraordinary in the ordinary.”
He started on June 23 and was immediately dealt an opportunity to live the reality of several of his objectives—“to observe growth, change, and loss,” “to mark the passage of time,” and “to honor relationships”—when his grandfather died that very day. His first eight photographs are about traveling to the funeral. His meticulous study of top and side views in My Grandfather’s Favorite Slipper shows his skill at telling a poignant story through static objects. “You can look at the slipper and understand what kind of person he was,” he said, calling attention to the duct tape and sheet metal screws holding the worn slipper together.
Wolfe feels that his work is more similar to Japanese haiku than to photography. “I like taking a common experience and presenting it so people can identify with it in an interesting way,” he said. As the project has gone on, he explained, text has played an increasingly important role, with a growing interplay between text and imagery.
Working every day has turned out to be a wonderful creative experience for Wolfe. Some of his best photographs, he said, have been created when “suddenly it’s 11 o’clock at night, and I have to come up with something interesting.”
His subjects are drawn from the landscape of his personal life. His fruit trees are a recurring subject, especially his favorite, a weeping Santa Rosa plum. He uses their leaves, branches, and fallen fruit to form images of “daily life made monumental.”
Wolfe’s chickens are also an “ongoing story.” Several photographs feature a favorite named Yellow and her beautiful eggs, both in the shell and ready to serve, sunny-side up. Domesticity intrudes with spilled cereal, a sink full of dirty pans, and an especially endearing close-up of his small son’s bleeding toe.
My Fruit Trees at Night
Trees at Night
He acknowledges a keen sense of satisfaction from creating something
every day. “I get ideas from working, and I keep relearning a fundamental
lesson: the more I work, the more ideas I have.”
Wolfe shares his work with his beginning and intermediate photography and digital imaging classes. “My motivations come out of teaching to some extent. To be an effective teacher, I needed to be working, actively photographing.”
He encourages his students to recognize that they are all involved in the same process, and that he has to do the same things they are struggling with: generate ideas, troubleshoot equipment, problem-solve. He lets them know that not every picture is interesting or successful, but that ideas that don’t work can lead to ideas that do. For example, several weeks into the project, his digital camera broke, so Aug. 9 is a blank page titled Broken Camera. “For many students,” Wolfe said, “this is the first opportunity they have had to actually see someone working and producing ideas.”
Wolfe was awarded a CSU, Chico Research Foundation grant for spring 2003 to cover materials for printing book mockups. He hopes to publish his project as a book and to mount an exhibition of selected pieces.
Wolfe is also working on the collaborative Third View Project (http://thirdview.asu.edu), a rephotographic survey of the American West with added contemporary material. Book and DVD publication are expected later this year.
Yosemite Regenerations is another collaborative project to make a “portrait of the Yosemite of the 21st century,” which includes rephotography of images by revered Yosemite photographers Edward Muybridge, Ansel Adams, and Edward Weston, plus new photography, maps, and essays that connect Yosemite’s past with its future. A book and exhibition are planned.
Wolfe came to CSU, Chico in 1999. He holds an M.F.A. in photography from Arizona State University.