Raised in the northern California arts community of the 1940s and 50s, Kurt Fishback observed many now-legendary figures up close — friends of the family included Ansel Adams, Wynn Bullock, and Edward Weston. After working as a sculptor for a time, he spent the 80s taking photographs of prominent male artists in their studios.
After becoming aware of the persistent gender achievement disparity in the arts world — and concluding that he was part of the problem — Kurt began a series of portraits to celebrate and empower women artists in their work spaces. He plans to create 70 more portraits this year.
Ianna Nova Frisby. Image courtesy of Kurt Fishback
Emily von Hoffmann: How did you become interested in taking portraits of artists? Who are some of the better-known male artists you photographed during your early career?
Kurt Fishback: In the 60’s I was a sculptor using clay mostly. I was also a street photographer. I studied and exhibited actively with Robert Arneson, William Wiley, David Gilhooly, Peter Vandenberge and the like until 1973 when my Dad, Glen Fishback, asked me to teach at his photography school.
In 1979 I opened a commercial photography studio and decided to begin making portraits of my friends and other artists of note. It began with Robert Arneson and many followed until the present day. Others include William Wiley, Viola Frey, Roy Deforest, Judy Chicago, Ansel Adams, Judy Dater, Chuck Close and Robert Mapplethorpe. The total number now is just under 300.
EvH: You wrote that your early work, taking portraits of (mostly male) accomplished artists who might be role models for others, was “following the level of gender acceptance and appreciation in a world that left women begging for equal time and eye for their work.” Can you explain how you came to personally understand the gender disparity in the field?
KF: Beginning in 1979 almost everything in art was run by men and most of the high profile artists were men. But, when a woman angrily asked me several years ago at a gallery talk I was giving why there were not more portraits of women artists in my show, instead of only hearing her anger I saw her as a messenger.
Then I began looking at my 35-year project differently, and in October of 2014 received a Leff/Davis grant through the Sacramento Region Community Foundation.
That began the project of photographing new women artists with 30 new portraits exhibited twice in 2015, first at Archival Gallery in Sacramento and second at Transmission Gallery in Oakland. I created a catalog for the second show that includes the 1st 30 portraits and 21 vintage portraits of women artists dating back to 1979 when the project began.
Here are just a few of these remarkable portraits. To read the interview in its entirely and to check out more photos click here.
Kim Scott. Image courtesy of Kurt Fishback
Nancy Becker. Image courtesy of Kurt Fishback
Wynn Bullock. Image courtesy of Kurt Fishback
Brooke Walker-Knoblich. Image courtesy of Kurt Fishback