Award-winning photojournalist Ron Tarver says creating art from an idea is “probably the hardest job I’ve ever done.”
“It’s a thing where I can point my camera at something and I can take a picture of this thing as it exists in the world,” said the Fort Gibson High School graduate in 1975 and former photographer of Muskogee Phoenix. “But making an image of an idea is difficult. My background is photojournalism.”
The John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation honored Tarver’s art by awarding him a $ 52,000 Guggenheim Fellowship earlier in April.
The scholarship was established in 1925 “to add to the educational, literary, artistic and scientific power of this country.”
âIt cuts across all disciplines, from chemistry to poetry to French literature,â Tarver said. “If you look at all the disciplines covered by Guggenheim, it’s amazing.”
Tarver said big names, such as novelist Saul Bellow and âHarper’s Bazaarâ photographer Robert Frank, have come out of Guggenheim Fellows.
The fellowships last from six to 12 months and aim to give grantees time to work with as much creative freedom as possible.
Tarver said he plans to use the scholarship to continue and finish a book on black cowboys he started about 25 years ago. He said he photographed black cowboys in Oklahoma, Texas, Illinois and California. He said his photos were on display at the Chisholm Trail Heritage Center in Duncan.
âI wanted to enter into the culture of people who have this Western heritage,â he said. âComing from Oklahoma, I grew up with it. I had parents who had ranches and I grew up riding. It’s always something I do, go to the rodeo, go to the sales barn . “
However, Tarver said it was his work “A Late Conversation with My Father” that helped him win the Guggenheim Fellowship.
âIt’s so long to get it,â Tarver said. A friend was one of my recommenders, and he’s one of the most prominent people in photography and design, and he’s applied 14 times. He wrote 20 books. “
In âA Late Conversation with My Father,â Tarver uses photos his father took in the 1940s and 1950s and incorporates them into works of art. For example, an old photo of a woman is burnt on a brown bag.
Tarver’s creative work will be on display throughout the summer at the Oklahoma Contemporary Art Center in Oklahoma City. The âWe Believe in the Sunâ exhibition runs from May 6 to August 9 and features Tarver and Oklahoma artist Ebony Iman Dallas.
According to the Oklahoma Center for Contemporary Art website, the exhibit pays homage to the legacies of the Oklahoma City civil rights movement. The website said the exhibit “explores public and private perspectives on the past struggle and features black Oklahomaniacs for civil rights and equal protection before the law.”
Tarver said his work looks at how his father lived and worked during the time of discrimination and Jim Crow, “then explains how this idea of ââJim Crow still exists.”
âI want to do work that isn’t didactic, but also gets to the heart of what these issues are,â Tarver said.
Tarver is Associate Professor of Art at Swarthmore College. He was a photojournalist at the Philadelphia Inquirer for 32 years where he shared a 2012 Pulitzer Prize for his work on a series documenting school violence in the Philadelphia public school system. His work has appeared in “Life”, “Newsweek” and “National Geographic”.
If you are going to
WHAT: âWe believe in the sunâ, exhibition with Ron Tarver and Ebony Iman Dallas.
WHEN: May 6-August. 9
O: Mary Leflore Clements Oklahoma Gallery, Oklahoma Contemporary Art Center, 11 NW 11th St., Oklahoma City.