Curator Joshua Chuang Out at the Troubled Center for Creative Photography

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Joshua Chuang, the highly regarded chief curator of the Center for Creative Photography, has resigned his post. According to Terry Etherton, owner of the Etherton Gallery and regular donor of the center, Chuang resigned because the university was not going to renew his contract.

Etherton was informed of Chuang’s departure from the office of Kimberly Andrews Espy, the AU’s senior vice president for research and discovery, who oversees the three campus museums.

“Dr. Espy called me yesterday (Wednesday November 18th),” Etherton said. “I told him it was a colossal mistake. This is going to do a lot of damage. It’s a big step backwards for the center Josh’s reputation in the photography world is really good.

Chuang was traveling in Europe and could not be reached for comment. He was in Paris last week to attend the Paris Photo International Exhibition when terrorists attacked the city and killed 130 people. The last days of the expo have been canceled; Chuang was not injured.

When asked on Friday morning if Chuang was still employed by the center, deputy director Denise Gose said, “I cannot comment on this.”

Chuang, a Dartmouth and Yale graduate, was hired with great fanfare not quite two years ago.

“Joshua brings a rare blend of imagination and rigor to his exhibitions, conferences and publications, and has a knack for sharing his knowledge in a very engaging way,” wrote CCP director Katharine Martinez at the time. “He will play a major role in shaping the future of the center as we acquire and promote photographic collections of extraordinary quality to stimulate the imagination, advance scholarship and encourage creativity.”

Martinez also declined to comment on Friday.

To come to the center, Chuang gave up a job as an associate curator of photography and digital media at Yale University Art Gallery. During his years at Yale, he organized, among other exhibitions, a major exhibition on photographer Robert Adams who traveled across North America and Europe.

When he arrived in Tucson with his family in April 2014, the center had been without a chief curator for five years, an incredibly long period in the life of a museum. His predecessor, Britt Salvesen, who had been both director and curator, left in 2009. Chuang began to organize an ambitious series of exhibitions.

Ironically, in a cover story in the Arizona Daily Star ‘s Caliente magazine on Thursday, November 19, writer Kethia Kong detailed the well-received exhibitions Chuang has held since his arrival.

“He has accomplished so much in such a short time,” said the center’s Rebecca Senf in Kong. “He is such an innovative, ambitious and creative thinker. Each of its exhibitions is so different from each other.

The Chuang CCP’s first show, in the fall of 2014, was an avant-garde and eclectic exhibition of the collection of contemporary photographs by UA dance teacher Doug Nielsen. The second was a fascinating look at the interdependence of astronomy and photography.

Senf collaborated with Chuang on the current show, “Lives of Pictures,” which celebrates the 40th anniversary of the CCP, a world-class photography museum whose holdings, 90,000 photos, include works by greats like Ansel Adams, Harry Callahan, Helen Levitt and Garry Winogrand.

“Josh had a really nice idea to ask former curators and directors to choose images,” Senf says. “In the exhibition you get a real sense of the collection. With all those voices contributing, you get a real chorus.

Chuang’s departure after such a short term is a disturbing repetition of the institution’s earlier problems. The center has been plagued for years by internal tensions and a revolving door of curators and directors. Bitter conflicts erupted over the administrative structure – the center fought for years to get out of control of the university library – and over aesthetic choices.

Traditionalists argued that all exhibits should be drawn from the museum’s own funds, while others, including former curator Trudy Wilner Stack, believed in-house exhibits should be balanced with exhibits of the work of living photographers.

Lately, debates have raged over whether the center should even continue to hold exhibitions in a time of meager budgets. Some argue that the center should instead devote its resources solely to taking care of the precious archives and maintaining its academic research arm. Already a few exhibitions are on the horizon.

“The Lives of Pictures”, originally scheduled until March, has now been extended until May 14. No other exhibition is listed for the moment.

The woes of the center have long been a topic of conversation in the photography world, and the news of Chuang’s hiring has bolstered his reputation. As Etherton noted in a Facebook post on Thursday, “His advocacy for the Center at the highest levels in our field has sparked a renewed interest and understanding for the Center and the precious archives in its care. ”

“Letting Josh get away was their biggest mistake,” Etherton says. “He was the feather of the center cap. He had turned around and righted the ship. They put it back five years.

Chuang’s resignation is effective January 15.


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