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Telfair features photos from William Wegman’s long, varied career

  • William Wegman; Pat, 1997; Color Polaroid; 24 x 20 inches
  • The Line About, 2004; B&W Polaroid; 24 x 20 inches
  • William Wegman; Modern Era, 1988; Color Polaroid; 24 x 20 inches
  • Hopper Origami, 2014; Oil and Postcards on Wood Panels; three panels 72 x 48 inches
 

Telfair features photos from William Wegman’s long, varied career

09 May 2017

He may be internationally renowned for his photographs, but William Wegman was never interested in photography.

“I’m still not,” he says. “I went to art school because I love to draw and paint, and somewhere in the process, I moved to other media.

“It was the ‘60s, and I had a grant to work with computer sciences at the University of Illinois,” Wegman says. “I got involved in electronic arts and media. The odd thing is that I’m back painting again and doing things like I did before art school.”

An exhibition of his work, “William Wegman: Improved Photographs,” can be seen May 12 through Aug. 13 at Telfair Museums’ Jepson Center for the Arts.

Wegman remembers his first time with a camera.

“I wanted to document some of the performances I was doing and installations,” he says. “I remember borrowing a camera and having a student help me learn how to develop the photos.

“I decided to make things just for the camera. Having a picture, I could send it anywhere and get it noticed.

“I also started video at this time, which was relatively portable,” Wegman says. “I started to make videos with the first recording instruments and I made some short films.”

An internationally renowned artist, Wegman became a household name for photographs of his dogs, all Weimaraners. The first dog photograph was taken in 1970 of his dog Man Ray, whom the artist photographed for 12 years.

Weimaraners make excellent subjects for Wegman and he has several reasons why.

“The fact that they’re gray and they like me,” he says. “They look ethereal. They like doing it and I like working with them.”

At the time he first photographed Man Ray, Wegman was based in Los Angeles. He was a key figure in West Coast conceptual art and a pioneer in the developing medium of video art. Today, he lives and works in New York and Maine.

The exhibition includes a selection of Wegman’s early conceptual videos in black and white, and focuses on his early photographs. The collection includes drawings, paintings, altered photographs and large format Polaroid photos made from the 1970s to present day.

Wegman has created video and films for “Saturday Night Live,” Nickelodeon and “Sesame Street,” and a feature-length film, “The Hardly Boys in Hardly Gold.”

His commissions range from the Metropolitan Opera and Wallpaper Magazine to a New Yorker cover. Wegman has appeared on “The Tonight Show” with both Johnny Carson and Jay Leno, “The Colbert Report” and “The David Letterman Show.”

The art world is different from when Wegman began his career.

“The situation has changed so much now than back in my era,” he says. “I emerged in the 1960s and established art could be pushed against.

“I don’t know what it is today. There is more acceptance. The field is much wider,” Wegman says. “The thing is to not drift from yourself, but learn to reach out and communicate.”

As an author, Wegman has written several books for adults and more than a dozen books for children. His most recent book is “William Wegman: Paintings,” which was released a year ago. A new book featuring 50 years of his work will be published this year.

In conjunction with the exhibition, William Wegman Free Family Day will be from 1-4 p.m. Aug. 5 at the museum. He also will present a free lecture at 6 p.m. May 11 that is open to Telfair Museums members. Non-members are welcome to purchase a membership prior to the event online or at the door. 

Lately, Wegman has been working with postcards.

“People don’t use them anymore,” he says. “I’m sort of rescuing these wonderful bits of history. I’m reconstructing them.

“When I was a kid, I liked to look through pictures in encyclopedias and look at airplanes,” Wegman says. “I found images from history.”

In the near future, Wegman plans to make more videos.

“I closed that chapter once,” he says. “It’s something I will be returning to. It’s kind of scary putting yourself on TV.”

After five decades, Wegman remains well known and widely popular.

“It’s wonderful that I have an audience,” he says. “I meet kids who have seen my work growing up.

“One of the things I get is, ‘You are my mother’s favorite artist,’” Wegman says. “I say, ‘What about you?’ I’m really glad people like my work.”

IF YOU GO

What: “William Wegman: Improved Photographs”

When: May 12-Aug. 13; Free Family Day is 1-4 p.m. Aug. 5

Where: Jepson Center for the Arts, 207 W. York St.

Cost: $20 adults; $18 military and seniors 65 and older; $15 students 13-30; free for members and children 12 and younger

Info: telfair.org, 912-790-8800

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