Hannah Frieser started her new job as executive director at the Center for Photography at Woodstock a few weeks back. She and her partner had found a cottage to rent in the hamlet after driving across country from the Los Angeles area, and several months residency working on a book project in Chapel Hill, NC.
Formerly a director at Light Works, a larger, slightly more established photography center in Syracuse, with ties to the university there, she’s been familiar with CPW for years, through its exhibits and currently-dormant publication, as well as a long acquaintance with the center’s former director, Ariel Shanberg.
She’s excited about her new life. Yet she’s also quick to note how, as a working artist all her life, she’s also looking to reconnect with her own photography and other projects as she settles in to Woodstock. And in doing so, fit into what Shanberg described to her, years back, as “a community of makers, and not takers.”
“I think more as an artist than as an administrator, and all that’s involved in art making is always on my mind,” Frieser says. “And yet I’ve also spent most of my working life as an administrator. I know what’s needed.”
She points out how CPW is thinking big as it approaches its 40th anniversary in 2017, and the auspiciousness of those years before such landmarks, “like 29, say, or 49.”
Frieser was born and raised in Stuttgart, Germany, to a German father and American mother. She began her schooling there but later got her BFA in photography at the University of Texas-Arlington, followed by an MFA at Texas Woman’s University, also in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Following her education years, she balanced art projects with first volunteer and then paid work with the Society of Photographic Education, for whom she eventually co-chaired some of their key conferences over a span of 12 years.
During that time, Frieser also started working as a reviewer and juror at some of the photography world’s key events, such as FotoFest, Rhubarb Rhubarb, Photolucida, and folioPORT. She served as a panelist for the New York State Council on the Arts for several years. Yet she also made art: series of classic silver gelatin prints exploring gender, the way we collect objects to match or make memories, maternity, and pure beauty; book projects playing on vulnerabilities, Alzheimer’s disease, how we miss loved ones; and installations ranging from explorations of skin, via images, and surface identities, via stories; or the Hispanic side of her family via a wall of printed-on tortillas.
Most recently, she and partner Charles Guice, a photo gallerist and dealer, have been developing an online initiative to promote dialogue about contemporary photography from global perspectives…meaning, Fresier adds, that they’re looking to introduce overseas talents to what’s usually seen, with a better sense of context beyond that of the contemporary art market.
It was with that last project that she was focused after leaving Light Works two years ago, taking the time to travel the nation, and a bit of the world, meeting artists and visiting arts institutions, until several issues conspired to make her look for permanent work again just as Shanberg was deciding to leave CPW and the organization’s board opened its search for a new executive director. “Keeping at one’s art is a challenge,” she said. “But taking on the Center for Photography at Woodstock is such a great opportunity.”
Frieser notes how similar the local institution is to what she spent nearly nine years with in Syracuse, from workspaces and exhibition programs to lecture and workshop series, as well as publications.
“I’ve been to Woodstock quite a bit,” she adds, noting work on CPW panels and check-ins on the Center’s exhibits, as well as several shows at now-closed Galerie BMG around the corner. “The place has a solid reputation and is a major force in the photo world everywhere. Plus, Woodstock and all its art organizations have a great legacy of collaboration. There’s a great sense of commitment to the arts.”
Frieser adds that she’s already started meeting other directors at those other organizations, and just that morning had hosted a gathering of the Hudson Valley Visual Arts Consortium, which has been building shared online collections with plans for something bigger, and bricks-and-mortar, in the coming years.
So what does CPW’s new director plan on doing as a new direction?
Frieser is quick to note, straight off, how fresh she is to the job still. And blush, slightly. But then she speaks about the importance of fundraising, and getting big projects underway, for that upcoming 40th anniversary.
“We want to make a splash,” she says, noting the possibility of getting CPW’s former photo quarterly up and running again, strengthening existing programs, and enhancing the Center’s role in the local community. “We want to work on our commitment to the Woodstock audience, but also our national and international audience.”
On that latter front, Frieser speaks about how CPW exhibits, designed to both celebrate all that photography is, as well as where it’s going, must speak to those who can’t always get to them physically to have a maximum impact. Which means better “virtual” exhibitions online.
Immediately, that means Frieser is herself putting together the Center’s next show, on book arts and photography to run February through March, as something “cozy and comfortable,” with armchairs for reading in and a look at both classic photo books and newer photo art books, as well as upping its next Photography Now exhibit scheduled to open April 16 for a run into late Spring/early summer.
“There’s a good staff here so we’re also getting our next summer’s lectures and workshops set,” she continues. “We’ve both a photo booth event that should be fun this weekend (see sidebar) and just received a rare National Endowment for the Arts grant to help with our residency program.”
And her settling into Woodstock?
“I love that you can walk to everything: your shopping, your restaurants, your galleries. If you’re looking for the ‘Woodstock experience’ you never have far to go,” she answers. “I’m also finding that everyone wants to come here; it’s such a special place in people’s hearts.”
Hannah Frieser pauses, smiles. “We have big dreams I plan to work on,” she adds.