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Todd Stewart

Todd Stewart began his career as photographer working for advertising and design clients in Columbus, Ohio and Atlanta, Georgia. In 2004, he received a Master of Fine Arts degree from Indiana University. Since that time, he has been an Assistant Professor of Photography and Digital Imaging at the University of Oklahoma.

For many years Stewart’s concerns as an artist have centered on the relationships between history, myth, and culture. This work has included a growing exploration of the American Landscape and a continued examination of the question: does place hold memory?

Stewart is the author of two books

 Placing Memory: A Photographic Exploration of Japanese American Internment

and the forthcoming, Picher, Oklahoma: Catastrophe, Memory, Trauma

Stewart’s photographs have been exhibited widely throughout the United States, recognized by museum curators at the The Whitney Museum of American Art, The Museum of Photographic Arts, Santa Diego; and publication editors including those from Aperture and the New York Times Magazine.



Henri Peyre
Né en 1959
Beaux-Arts de Paris en peinture
webmaster de galerie-photo
ancien professeur de photographie
à l'Ecole des Beaux-Arts
de Nîmes

organise des stages photo



En français


An interview of Todd Stewart
Twentysix Gasoline Stations
d'Edward Ruscha


How can you present the book Twentysix Gasoline Stations, from Edward Ruscha, published in 1963, to a young photographer today who might overlook its significance?

The photograph lives in a completely different visual culture then it did just fifty years ago. We are inundated with images everyday, all fighting for our attention, all digested too quickly to leave any room for subtlety or complexity. To understand the significance of Ruscha’s Twentysix Gasoline Stations it is important to understand the context in which it was first published and how radically different it was from all that had come before.

I first became aware of the book in the late 1980’s. I had just discovered the images of Robert Adams and Lewis Baltz and was looking for a way to understand why their work was so compelling. I was a young photographer at the time, and for me their photographs were nothing like the images of landscapes I had seen or appreciated before. They were banal, deadpan views of subjects I had never really considered “worthy” of a photograph. Yet, somehow these photographs seemed important.

William Jenkins in the catalog to the 1975 exhibition New Topographics, had cited Ruscha’s books as being influential precursors to the work of Adams, Baltz, and others and when I first saw Twentysix Gasoline Stations I understood what he meant. What I appreciated most was how this severely simple book could be so critically dense.

What is the point of this book for you? Is Ruscha's approach still relevant for you?

I understand the significance of the book to both pop art and conceptual art, but for me, as someone obsessed with the photographic image, its importance lies elsewhere. As I stated earlier, this work was very different than other work I was familiar with at the time. Like many photographers of my generation, my early career was more informed by Ansel Adams rather than Robert Adams. This led to a belief that great work was characterized by formal elegance and demonstrations of technical virtuosity. Robert Adams, Baltz, and especially Ruscha changed this for me. Through their work I understood that photographs could be about ideas. Technical and formal considerations are important, but they are choices to be made in service to these ideas not as ends in themselves. Through their work I began to appreciate photographs that revealed their meaning slowly. I began to understand how an image radically severe in its simplicity could often communicate so much more than a conventionally beautiful photograph.

While yes, I believe this approach is still relevant; finding an audience in a visual culture centered on instant gratification is problematic.


Do you think that photography is essentially documentary?

A photograph is an extremely complex cultural object and its great power lies within its connections to both time and to the real - two very important signifiers of documents. But, for me photography is a highly adaptive language and its practice is as much literary as anything else. For these reasons it is a highly effective means for describing, interpreting, and understanding the world around us.


Do you think the book is the most appropriate presentation of photography?

I believe there are many effective ways to presents photographs, but the book is certainly one of the best – especially for someone such as myself who sees the practice as essentially literary.


Selecting photographs for their banality and lack of quality: this trend issue from pop art and resolutely anti painting largely revolutionized Art ... which confuses today commonly artistic values and social anti-values. Do you think a new approach, based on the density and quality of the work itself could now take place?

If I understand your question correctly as a matter of practice, (meaning can a new approach to image-making informed by Ruscha, but independent of his style now take place?) the answer is yes, absolutely. In fact, I believe some of the best of contemporary photography does just that - embracing a return to aesthetics while remaining firmly grounded in critical and conceptual inquiry.



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