October 16, 2017

My research is my creative work

Every other week, as part of its launch, the Arts Research Institute will feature a faculty member engaged in research and creative scholarship. This week, we highlight Sasha Waters Freyer, Chair of the Department of Photography and Film.

Sasha Waters Freyer is a nonfiction filmmaker whose work spans personal, experimental short films, essay films, and longer documentaries. Most of her shorter, experimental works, produced in 16mm film, are elusive in regards to story and subject matter. “[They] tend to be much more non-narrative and somewhat associative,” says Waters Freyer. “[They’re] more about producing an affective response in the viewer.”

Alternatively, her documentaries, often a mix of 16mm and HD, take on a different form. One example is Waters Freyer’s current work, a feature documentary on acclaimed American photographer Garry Winogrand, most known for capturing “the heartbreak, violence, hope, and turmoil” of mid-20th century America.

Titled All Things are Photographable, the film has garnered support from the National Endowment for the Arts, through its media arts grants program, and two artist residencies, each through Virginia Center for Creative Arts and The MacDowell Colony. The film also has been picked up by PBS’ American Masters.

Impetus for the film emerged out of her personal interest, but she intends to share with a broader audience her discoveries through years of archival research and interviews with photographers, curators, and critics who knew the influential Winogrand. Featuring details about his life and some of his never-before-seen works, Waters Freyer intends to illuminate in a world flooded with images “what photography is and…can do.”

Waters Freyer defines arts research as the production of new work in one’s discipline. As such, research portfolios at the School of the Arts take on a number of different forms. Despite this variance, she notes priorities that are more or less consistent among disciplines, which also parallel research priorities in other fields.

Originality is one. “Artists create something where nothing existed before,” says Water Freyer. “That’s fundamentally what the arts do.” Like other fields, creative practice generates new knowledge. Artists’ original contributions lead to advancements in their disciplines and beyond. Furthermore, changing technologies and aesthetic trends both inform and are informed by these types of developments.

Dissemination is another priority. Arts research doesn’t end with the production of new work—presentation is equally important. As Waters Freyer notes, “It’s also about disseminating work through local, regional, and national venues, and hopefully, through that process of dissemination, generating interest in the community, press, and so forth.”