Roy L. Flukinger
Senior Research Curator, University of Texas at Austin
ROY FLUKINGER is the present Senior Research Curator of Photography and former Department Head and Senior Curator of Photography and Film of the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center at The University of Texas at Austin, where he has served as a curator since 1977. He holds degrees from Tulane University and from The University of Texas Austin, and has taught as an Adjunct Lecturer or Assistant Professor at UT and other institutions of higher learning. The subjects of the courses he has taught have ranged from the management of photography and film archives, through the history of photography, to great ideas of the twentieth century. He has published and lectured extensively in the fields of regional, cultural and contemporary photography and the history of art and photography, and has produced or participated in nearly eighty exhibitions.
His service on professional boards has included, among others, the Texas Photographic Society, the Texas Humanities Resource Center, the Houston Fotofest, photolucida, the Getty Art & Architecture Thesaurus, the Houston Center for Photography, the Austin Center for Photography, and the Steering Committee for the Texas Historical Foundation’s Historical Photographs Project. He is engaged in numerous other projects including presentations or articles on photographic history, collection management, and contemporary and Texas photography, as well as contributing essays to many publications each year. He consults with a variety of institutions on the administration, funding and operation of photographic organizations; serves as juror, reviewer and evaluator for contemporary photographic events, groups and support organizations; conducts peer reviews and evaluations for a number of professional and developmental organizations including the Guggenheim Foundation, the Texas Commission on the Arts, and the National Endowment for the Humanities; and also assists in research, management and development matters for the Photography Department.
“I do not wish to take part in making harmless pictures.” — Bart Parker
At no other time in its history has photography stood on such sandy ground.
The whirlwind that has overwhelmed the art’s technologies – electronic imaging, HDR, workflow software, digital video, social networking, and so on down the road – provides continuous variations for machine, mind and eye. The daily production and sharing of camera imagery is no longer set at a mere pace but now expands at an uncertain but ceaseless velocity. And photography’s impact upon art – indeed, upon all forms of the arts – is transformative and fascinating as the media gets mixed, formats are redefined, disciplines are knocked about like videogame adversaries, and the conceptual and the concrete continue their infinite regression into a new century.
All that, plus the not-too-insignificant fact that seemingly everyone has a phone that can take and distribute pictures.
I remain fascinated, therefore, to be able to continue to participate in the jurying of the IPA’s annual best awards – not only by witnessing the rich variety of fine work done by each year’s entrants, but also with the organization’s striving to deal with a certain, Roy Stryker-like taxonomy being imposed on the entire field. To expedite the selection process, the many entrants’ images are divided up not only into broad, professional/non-professional categorizations but also into manageable parameters involving dozens of the subcategories from photography’s diversified potentials that ripple and course through genres, subjects, photojournalism and the arts. At that point the sorted photographs are then divided up and distributed among a corps of jurists who are just as diverse – and from their voting the multiple annual honors are awarded. Is this the commodification that Nathan Lyons and others have long warned us about? I think not, because such specious socialism would be the death of artistic creativity and the IPA award winners have now long reflected a notable power and feel that belies such an ignominious fate.
I have come to reflect upon this process because it has now been my distinct honor and privilege to circumscribe a final circle around the exceptional finalists in my service as the curator for the IPA’s Best of Show Exhibition for 2015. Not an easy obligation. And no easy task. It is the culmination of a mammoth annual project – a summation and an encapsulation of the labors of many staff members and jurors, and especially the thousands of photographers from throughout the immediate planet who have submitted their imagery – not to mention opening their hearts and minds – to us all. And for the finale, all one must do is look deeply at over 2,000 final photographs and select some 40+ for this exhibition. Piece of cake. Sure.
At this final stage of the process, however, something wonderous happens. All those categories, all those sections, all those genres and subject categories – all those individual works that had been taxonomically sorted like so many steers into the cattlepens at the Fort Worth Stockyards –they all seem to go away. Or, at least, to fade back into an amorphous distance behind the curator’s last good hard look at each photographer’s images and words. To push the metaphor to an excessive limit, they all get blended back into the herd while this cowboy has to cut out the very best from the rampant stampede. After all the many previous days of classifying and jurying have become settled, the curator gets the privilege of returning to the fundamental experience of being able to judge squarely the expressive power and elegant presence of all the photographs equally.
This last stage made for a refreshing journey as the print total dwindled down to just hundreds and one was allowed to experience the works competing and jostling with one another in this common arena. There is something almost electric about these last phases – something that puts one closer to each photographer’s thoughts and feelings, and that allows the curator, and now hopefully the viewer, to experience the impact and momentum of each artist’s creativity as well.
By and large the great majority of photographs that the IPA competition attracts are not harmless. They arise above mere generalizations and classifications while they continue to challenge us. In securing their place on the wall of this exhibition they may also allow us to experience much of the creative diversity and human experience that photography and life itself continue to share. And, just perhaps, even as those sands continue to shift under our feet, it remains my hope that the experience of such photography will, as John Gardner once put it, make us all just a little bit less vulnerable than we were before.
My thanks to all the great folks at IPA, to my fellow hard-working jurors, to those who come to see this exhibition, and to the myriad photographers who continue to participate and enrich the experience for us all.