Meet the Artist: Stephanie Brunia

Meet the Artist is a series of interviews with the Iowa Arts Council Artist Fellows.

Photo courtesy of DEFT.

Stephanie Brunia is a photographer who lives and works in Oxford, Iowa. She uses the medium to explore desires and fears surrounding human connection. Brunia received a Master of Fine Arts with distinction from the University of New Mexico in 2012. In 2007, she received a Bachelor of Fine Arts with honors and higher distinction from the University of Iowa. She has exhibited at the Griffin Photography Museum, Rosalux Gallery, the Center for Fine Art Photography, and Rayko Photo Center and Musee d’Elysee in Lausanne, Switzerland. In 2011, Brunia was one of three artists to be featured in the Des Moines Art Center’s annual Iowa Artists exhibition.

Where are you from?
I’m from Ames. I am the daughter of two Ames High graduates. On my mother’s side, I am the third generation to have been born at Mary Greeley hospital in Ames — my great-grandmother having been born on the farmstead across the street from Mary Greeley (a generation too early to have been a hospital birth). We are quintessential Ames townies.

Where do you currently live?
I currently live in Oxford, a small rural town just west of Iowa City.

Brunia working in her Oxford studio, 2016.

Where do you make your work?
I’m lucky enough to currently live in a space that is also my studio — an old mainstreet store front in a small rural community equidistant from Iowa City and Cedar Rapids. My place has high ceilings, lots of natural light and is more space than I probably need, but it’s been a fantastic studio space that I very much cherish. As my latest project involves my father, I frequently take photos at his home in Ames, though he also travels to my studio in Oxford for some of the shoots.

What is your artistic medium of choice and why?
I am a visual artist — albeit that is a somewhat dated buzz term to throw around. It is also rather misleading because I am a visual artist who works rather exclusively in photography. Although I have dipped my toes in other mediums from time to time, I always come back to photography.

Gesture 2998, Thursday’s Child series, 2014.

Photography is a medium fraught with its own baggage — baggage that I find myself seeking to overcome every time I make a photograph. In order to set out and make a photograph, I need to accept some very basic tenants of the medium — in large part the fact that it is not possible to photograph what isn’t there to be seen. Yet, as an artist I am interested in the realm of interiority — the facets of human experience which aren’t readily viewable, or at least those which are obscured by or in opposition to a physical reality (i.e. human connection, the understanding of another, my anxieties about temporality, my longing to reclaim that which is no longer, etc.). The void between what I am attempting to say and the language of a photograph (surfaces, spaces, bodies, light) comes into play in each of my projects. Navigating this void is the continual challenge of my work. For some time now I have crossed this void through a performative approach to photography. In a previous body of work, The Space InBetween, I used staged bodies smooshed together in domestic scenes to speak to the awkward dance of intimacy — of attempting to merge with/be seen by/to see another individual. In my latest work, Thursday’s Child, I use gesture to explore my anxieties about my father’s aging. In one photograph I wrap my hair across his face — an abstract gesture that at once speaks to the notion of wanting to shield and protect him while also visually obscuring him. In another image, I reach out and softly smooth the wrinkles on his brow — attempting to erase and undo the evidence of his aging.

What themes does your work deal with?
My work often deals in intangibles — loss/absence, intimacy/connection, and an understanding of self through the examination of another. I have found that inspiration often strikes in the quiet moments that reveal a small fissure in my perception of my reality — a fissure that begins to grow and forces me to see my reality anew. These moments are personal and pertain to my own lived experience, but my hope is that, when distilled and broken down, they pertain to a more universal human experience. In many ways I photograph that which is impolite to talk about openly — the work becomes my way of confessing my experience in hopes that it strikes a nerve with others.

Brunia photographing her father for Thursday’s Child series, 2016.

What are you currently working on?
My most recent body of work, Thursday’s Child, is my attempt to understand and examine the transitional relationship I have with my aging father. It is a project that I aim to continue for many years. I also have a couple of other projects that I am dabbling in that will come to light soon: one is a project simply for amusement and inspiration during the winter months, the second being an installation of found photographs (scanned and digitally altered) from the archive of family snaps left behind by my paternal grandmother.

What do you enjoy about being an artist in Iowa?
I was raised by parents who frequently refer to Iowa as “the best kept secret”. In many ways that sentiment serves as the core of how I have come to view Iowa. I love the space, solitude and independence that Iowa affords me. As an artist in Iowa, I am able to lead a rather quiet existence — one that allows me the time and space to reflect on my own experience and in turn to use those reflections as fodder for my studio practice. I love drives through rural Iowa and think nothing of spending an evening driving to see a lecture at the Des Moines Art Center, check out an exhibition at the Faulconer Gallery in Grinnell or at the Figge in Davenport, or attend a lecture at the University of Iowa (I just attended an engaging lecture by the author Leslie Jamison that has been lingering with me for a few weeks). I also find Iowa a very supportive state — Iowans are proud to support Iowans and I am continually humbled by the support I receive from my community.

What is one thing you would like to see change about the artistic field in Iowa?
I find that Iowans know very little about the current field of contemporary conceptual photography. I am here to dispel the myth that artistic photography from Iowa should focus on landscapes, rusted vintage trucks, retro signs or rustic barns. There is a breadth of contemporary photography out there that deserves to be noticed. I am currently exploring ways in which I can effectively introduce Iowans to contemporary photography from this region — my hope is to develop a studio that supports the needs of emerging photographers in the state as well as bring regional artists into Iowa through a small residency program. More on this in future months…

See more of Stephanie’s Work.

Meet Akwi and the rest of the Iowa Arts Council Fellows at one of our Meet The Artists Series events.

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