Sept. 9, 2011

Justin Kimball, associate professor of art, has received a $10,000 Individual Photographer’s Fellowship (IPF) from the Aaron Siskind Foundation. The funding will support his latest photography project, through which he intends to document some of the effects of the nation’s economic downturn. 

An image from Justin Kimball's photo series Pieces of String

For his previous photo series, titled Pieces of String, Kimball traveled with his brother Douglas Kimball, an auctioneer, to the homes of people who had died—some recently, others many years ago. He photographed the deceased individuals’ furniture, clothing, religious items and other possessions—“the things that they hold, that then, once they’re gone, seem to be empty.”

“In a time where everybody wants to be famous and everyone lives their lives on Facebook,” Kimball said of the project, “it was interesting to me to go to these places and discover that there are people living very humble and interesting and quite magnificent lives that we don’t really ever know about or think about … piecing together what I imagined were these people’s stories in a … maybe sad but also sort of romanticized way: who we are as individuals rather than as icons.”

His next project, as yet untitled, will build upon Pieces of String, but will focus more upon locations that show the effects of the current economic climate, such as foreclosed homes and abandoned hotels, as well as upon people whose lives, careers and hometowns have been affected. Compared to the previous project, “the newer work is more of a documentary sort,” Kimball said, “… looking at what’s being left in the wake of this economic tragedy.”

“The photographs—for me at least—are much more personally charged than a normal documentary photograph would be,” Kimball explained of both projects. “They maybe … challenge our ideas about what documentary is: that they all are sort of colored, in some way, by the person who’s making those pictures. … I take liberties with what’s in the room and how I photograph stuff—not really moving stuff around [but] associating things that may never have been meant to be associated together, to create a kind of tableau or story about what may or may not have happened in that place.”

The Aaron Siskind Foundation awards the IPF annually to several professional photographers “on the basis of artistic excellence, accomplishment to date, and the promise of future achievement in the medium in its widest sense.” The panel of distinguished judges who chose this year’s winners included curator and writer Susan Bright; Alexa Dilworth, publishing director and editor at the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University; and Jamie Wellford, senior photo editor at Newsweek. Kimball says that it’sterrifically exciting” to have won the fellowship, which will help pay for travel and materials for the new project.

With degrees in photography from the Rhode Island School of Design and the Yale University School of Art, Kimball has taught at Amherst since 2001. His work is held in numerous collections, including those of The J. Paul Getty Museum; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the Guggenheim Foundation; and the Mead Art Museum. His photo series Where We Find Ourselves was published as a monograph in 2006 and appeared as a solo exhibition in various galleries in Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania and Oregon between 2006 and 2008. A monograph of Pieces of String is scheduled for publication in 2012.