Friday, January 29, 2016

Director Katharine Martinez Announces Retirement from Center for Creative Photography

Posted By on Fri, Jan 29, 2016 at 11:36 AM

Just two weeks after chief curator Josh Chuang’s resignation became effective on Jan. 15, the Center for Creative Photography’s director, Dr. Katharine Martinez, announced her retirement.

Her last official day is this Saturday, Jan. 30.

Dr. Kimberly Andrews Espy, UA senior vice president for research and discovery, announced the unexpected retirement Tuesday in a terse memo to CCP staff.

A search for a new director will not begin until later this year, Espy wrote. Meantime, Dr. James Burns, director of the University of Arizona Museum of Art, will be acting administrative director.

Curator Rebecca Senf has been promoted to chief curator, taking Chuang’s empty seat while doing double duty as the CCP curator at the Phoenix Art Museum. Senf will also serve on a newly created “senior management council,” along with conservator Jae Gutierrez, archivist Leslie Squyres, and associate director Denise Gose.

The world-renowned CCP is a treasure trove of some 90,000 photos and the archives of eminent photographers from Ansel Adams to W. Eugene Smith. Yet since the early 2000s, the center has cycled through a procession of directors and curators, enduring years at a time with both positions left open.

When Martinez took the job as director on July 12, 2010, the center had gone without a leader for a year. There was no chief curator either. Even so, Martinez, a veteran of 11 years as librarian of Harvard College’s Fine Arts Library, did not move immediately to fill the chief curatorial post. By the time she hired Chuang in 2014, the position had been vacant for five years.

Espy gave praise to Martinez’s five-and-a-half-year tenure, noting that under her watch the “Center’s archives have grown, the research fellowship program was expanded, two gatherings of the photographic community known as ‘Conversations’ were presented, and a full-time conservator was hired to establish a conservation department.”

Martinez counted Chuang’s hire in April 2014 as a feather in her cap. She lured him away from a post as associate curator of photography and digital media at the Yale University Art Gallery, where he had established a reputation for savvy exhibitions that traveled the U.S. and even Europe.

Once in Tucson, he quickly organized a series of well-regarded shows. Yet he and Martinez clashed, with his boss reportedly complaining that his plans for big-time exhibitions at the center were overly ambitious, according to sources who wished not to be identified. Martinez canceled a show and book project that Chuang had planned on the esteemed photographer Lee Friedlander.

Chuang had come to the University of Arizona with no real job protection, working on one-year contracts. (Martinez had the same arrangement.) After being told that his contract would not be renewed at the end of fiscal 2016, Chuang resigned from his position after a year and a half. 

The news of his resignation, which he submitted by letter in late November, spread rapidly through the photography world, damaging both the center’s reputation and its fragile comeback. Yet Chuang’s departure was only the most visible sign of turmoil at the center, which has struggled with staff turnover and fundraising. Martinez also alienated supporters when she dismantled an advisory board early in her tenure.

More recently, over the Christmas and New Year’s holidays, prime tourist season, the center had another public setback. A maintenance problem forced the closure of the galleries for weeks, and “Lives of Pictures,” the 40th anniversary show co-curated by Chuang and Senf, had to be dismantled. The Ansel Adams, Edward Westons and the rest of the exhibitions were taken down and packed up for safekeeping. The show did not re-open until mid-January.

The exhibition, intended as a festive celebration of the center’s endurance, was originally scheduled to come down in March. Now, with nothing to replace it, it is scheduled to continue through May 14. No further exhibitions are listed on the museum’s website.

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