The Center for Creative Photography will feature the work of Tucson-based fine arts photographer Alanna Airitam in its next exhibition, April 16-Oct. 29.
“Alanna Airitam: The Golden Age” celebrates a vision of Black Americans that is uplifting, inspiring, and empowering. In 10 luscious and elegant large-scale portraits, the artist features contemporary African Americans as symbolic saints who are simultaneously magnificent and powerful.
“I believe if we don’t tell our own stories, someone else will,” said Airitam. “I also believe art is powerful and can move people. I use photography as my medium to share stories, generate action, and most specifically to empower and remind people of who they really are despite how history or the media may omit, skew, or manipulate our stories to form false narratives about our humanity.”
Alanna Airitam’s powerful portraits of symbolic saints
The title refers to an era of portrait painting when Dutch Old Masters like Rembrandt van Rijn and Johannes Vermeer created images of the merchant class to highlight their sitters’ stature and wealth. Airitam uses the trappings of these centuries-old oil paintings–with their dramatic lighting, rich fabrics, and symbolic items–in contemporary portraits. She combines historical references with the Harlem Renaissance period of artistic efflorescence in the early 20th century; each portrait is given a fictional title, combining “Saint” with a Harlem, New York, street name.
“This act of reawakening and reconfirming value in one’s self-identity helped me resist the despondency I was experiencing from the increasing number of violent acts against the Black community in America,” says Airitam. “In this way, art has been an act of rebellion and a source of activism for me.”
“The Golden Age” belongs to a larger discussion about omission and erasure of Black experiences within the telling of North American history and the damaging impact of art historical biases. These photographs assertively contribute to a new visual culture that focuses on Black beauty, innovation, and connectedness.
“It is important for me to create work that celebrates Black culture and form while addressing how we’ve largely been omitted from art history.”
The Center’s Chief Curator Rebecca Senf is pleased to focus an important collection from a local artist.
“Airitam’s project speaks to photography’s powerful role in visual culture and its ability to critically examine representation within the arts. The Center is honored to share this Tucson-based artist’s work with our communities and to celebrate this significant project.”
Questioning generalized stereotypes and the lack of fair representation of Black people in art spaces has led photographer Alanna Airitam to research critical historical omissions and how those contrived narratives represent and influence succeeding generations. Her portraits, self-portraits, and vanitas still life photography in series such as The Golden Age, Crossroads, White Privilege, Colonized Foods, Ghosts, and individual works such as Take a Look Inside and How to Make a Country ask the viewer to question the stories of history and heritage we were taught to believe.
Alanna was named on the 2021 Silver List as one of 47 exciting contemporary photographers to follow. She is a 2020 San Diego Art Prize winner and recipient of the 2020 Michael Reichmann Project Grant Award. Her photographs have been exhibited at Catherine Edelman Gallery in Chicago, Art Miami with Catherine Edelman, San Diego Art Institute, Pentimenti Gallery in Philadelphia, Colorado Photographic Arts Center in Denver, and Candela Gallery in Richmond, Virginia. Three prints from The Golden Age were recently added to the Center for Creative Photography’s permanent collection. Born in Queens, New York, Airitam now resides in Tucson, Arizona.
Center for Creative Photography
The Center for Creative Photography at the University of Arizona is recognized as one of the world’s finest academic art museums and study centers for the history of photography. The Center was co-founded in 1975 by University President John Schaefer and Ansel Adams. The collection began with the archives of five living master photographers—Adams, Wynn Bullock, Harry Callahan, Aaron Siskind, and Frederick Sommer—and has grown to include 270 archival collections, including well-known 20th century North American photographers as Lola Álvarez Bravo, W. Eugene Smith, Edward Weston, David Hume Kennerly, Louise Dahl-Wolfe, and Garry Winogrand. Altogether there are over eight million archival objects in the Center’s collection including negatives, work prints, contact sheets, albums, scrapbooks, correspondence, writings, and memorabilia. In addition, the Center also actively acquires individual photographs by modern and contemporary photographers. There are currently more than 100,000 works by over 2,200 photographers.