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October 7, 2016

Artist in Residence Spotlight: Inspiration in the Unusual


barbara tozierThis post is a part of a series of posts from UMS Artists in Residence. Artist in Residence Barbara Tozier works in photography with forays into video and multimedia. Born in Ohio, she settled in Michigan in 1997 after an engineering career that took her to Pennsylvania and the Netherlands. She currently works and lives in Ann Arbor. She shares her sources of inspiration in the post below.


Photo Credit: Barbara Tozier, UMS 2016-17 Artist in Residence

At the skatepark. Photo Credit: Barbara Tozier, UMS 2016-17 Artist in Residence.

Inspiration comes from seeing people doing what they enjoy.

On the surface, the kickoff to the UMS Renegade series, Falling Up and Getting Down was a weird juxtaposition. While skateboarding and improvisational jazz are not usually considered analogous, they definitely are. Knowing your instrument. Knowing your tools. Knowing your capabilities, but not being limited by them. Willingness to experiment, to fall down, to play a wrong note… traditionally we’re expected to learn in private and only perform or share the “final” or “best” product of our learning. Yet improvisation is all about discovering what is “best” at the moment you’re doing the thing, and the joy of the experience. These shared traits made for a fascinating performance on a beautiful Sunday afternoon. This surprised me, as I’m not normally a fan of skating nor jazz.

It was also a perfect way for me to start this Residency. I applied because in my own work I explore genre-bending ideas, I experiment, and I like to think of new ways to approach the practice of photography. I expect that the upcoming performances in the Renegade series, such as Idiot-Syncrasy, The Encounter, and Music for 18 Musicians will also be positively surprising. I already know that these pieces speak to the notion that unusual work can be appreciated and celebrated, which is exciting to me as an artist. I’m proud that I can be a part of it and look forward to learning more.

I have a small problem, though. The plan for this post was to describe what inspires my art, and maybe could inspire you too. However, as a person without traditional art-school training (the wonderful WCC program in Photography is technical), I find it difficult to explain my work and why I make the pieces that I do. That said, I am willing to make the attempt to explain myself.

My art is about making things for me, and for exploring aspects of myself that I cannot uncover any other way. My art is about experimenting, failing, adapting, and learning. My art is about the joy of doing, exactly like the skaters enjoyed nailing those tricks.

When I’m asked “who’s your favorite photographer?” I usually respond with, “I don’t have one.” This tends to confuse people. I like looking at photographs for their aesthetic value, and as I’ve learned more about technique I can better appreciate the efforts of the photographer to make the image, but I’m not particularly interested in emulating any particular photographer. For me, inspiration comes from seeing something beautiful and wondering how I can express that beauty with photography. Inspiration comes from picking up a random bit of film and wondering what I can make with it. Inspiration comes from thinking about how to present photographs outside of a screen or a wall.

My inspiration comes from wanting to be part of the unusual, it comes from wanting to know more about how things work, it comes from within. Sometimes it comes from just sitting down and doing the work. Doing the work makes the improvisation possible.