Janet Pritchard

2008 Last Fellow
Photographer
Mansfield Center, CT

www.janetpritchard.com
www.like-a-whisper.com

Research at AAS

I first visited ASS in 2002. A colleague, Deborah Dancy, was working on an artist book as a Hearst Fellow and thought AAS would interest me. Gigi Barnhill graciously met with me to introduce the collection and suggested a few resources targeted at my current work. I came away so jazzed by the possibilities I remember driving home that night wishing I had a project suitable for a fellowship application. Six years later, I was in the reading room as a Jay & Deborah Last Artist Fellow working on More Than Scenery: Yellowstone, An American Love Story, a photographic project on Yellowstone National Park. My goal was to immerse myself in the park’s nineteenth-century origin story in hopes that when I began to photograph in Yellowstone later that fall, I would find a way to insert myself into a venerated history of photographic representation.

The idea of sitting for so many hours over four weeks, and I do mean sitting was daunting. After all, I’m an artist, not a scholar (although I have a bent that direction). My first few days were mostly learning the lay of the land, preparing my introduction for staff, and questioning what I was doing there. It didn’t take long before I got into a routine and felt myself to be on a roll checking things off the to-do list of collection items I had put together for my application. Somewhere early on, I began using my digital point and shoot camera as a note-taking device of some consequence. Over time these photographs became a thing unto themselves, an unexpected bonus, which I ultimately included in my project in the section titled Collecting Yellowstone in the forthcoming book. I also kept a reader’s log listing each item called up from the archive’s depths, which has proven invaluable in hindsight, not only for additional work at AAS but also at other institutions.

Although I had incorporated historical research in earlier projects, I was unsure how AAS collection items would influence my fieldwork in Yellowstone National Park. I acknowledged this uncertainty in my application narrative: “However, it is often the materials that are not so obvious that yield new directions and enrich a project. Only time with a collection can bring forth these connections.” I was wonderfully surprised by the richness of the truth of this musing. I began my work with a list of items I identified to write my application concentrating on exploration history and visual depictions from the Hayden expeditions in the 1870s. Most particularly work by photographer William Henry Jackson and artist Thomas Moran. The 1876 Prang portfolio of chromolithographs from Moran watercolors is a feast for the eyes. But, it was that special moment when a staff member approaches a reader and offers a suggestion. (Jaclyn Penny?) She asked, “Do you know about government documents?” Gov Docs unfolded as a mysterious world, traveled by only a few intrepid souls. Still, she was brave and introduced me to wonders of the Twelfth Annual Report of the United States Geological and Geographical Survey of the Territories: A report of progress of the exploration in Wyoming and Idaho for the year 1878. The rest, as they say, is history.

 

About the Fellow

Before her career in photography, Janet Pritchard worked as an outdoor education instructor and spent her youth traveling between the Northeast and Rocky Mountain West. She describes herself as geographically bilingual. Pritchard is a Professor at the University of Connecticut.

She has received a number of honors and awards: John Simon Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship; Connecticut Office of the Arts Artist Fellowship; National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Scholar, Newberry Library; Artist-in-Residencies at Jentel Foundation, IEA at Alfred University, Millay Foundation, Ucross Foundation, and the Vindolanda Trust. Her exhibition venues include Philadelphia Museum of Art; RISD Museum, Providence; Fruitlands and New Bedford Art Museums, Massachusetts; Fraction Magazine; Lenscratch; Photographic Resource Center, Boston; and the National Trust for Historic Preservation; as well as numerous permanent collections.

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