Anne Wilkes Tucker has been the head curator of photography at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston since 1976. She is solely responsible for the photographic collection at the MFAH, as it was next to non-existent when she joined the museum in '76. In 2001, Time Magazine honored Tucker as "America's Best Curator."
I was honored that she offered me a bit of her time to answer a few questions.
Q: Do you have a favorite photographer? If so, who? And what attracts you to her or his work?
A: I have done more with Robert Frank’s work than any other photographer. But, I’ve also done years of research on the Photo League (New York, 1936-1951). The thread in the photographers to whom I am committee is their passion and sense of urgency in communicating their vision of the world or at least of the world as they experience it.
Q: At what point in your life or education did you realize photography was it for you?
A: I first was a photographer in college where I was majoring in art history. I later got a second undergraduate degree (an AAS degree – 2 year but done in 1 year) as a photographer before getting an MFA as a photo historian. That has been my focus since then. I’ve been a curator at the museum since 1976.
Q: What are some important questions you feel you should be left with after viewing a photograph or a body of work?
A: When I look at a photograph I ask, 'what does the photographer expect me to see' and 'what do they expect me to feel?' Also, are their decisions of craft appropriate to what they are seeking to convey?
Q: What do you look for when choosing a photo for MFAH?
A: Do I remember it days, even weeks, after I have seen it? Does it disturb or provoke or pleasure me? Are the ideas and images fresh? Is there a coherent body of work? Are there coherent bodies of work preceding this one?
Q: What projects are you working on at the moment, whether with or aside from MFAH?
A: The two most demanding projects are a history of conflict photography and a book on the museum’s collection of photography?
The last time I was in Houston, I attended an opening at Spacetaker (at Winter Street Studios) and an opening at a downtown shoe store that had been converted to a gallery for the evening. Houston seems to have an ever-growing variety of spaces being created and used to show photography.
Q: How would you describe the role of the gallery in Houston?
A: There are two non-profit galleries specifically for photography (outside the museums), which are Houston Center for Photography and the FotoFest gallery. There are several commercial galleries devoted to photography: Cleary Gallery and De Santos. Many of the art galleries also represent photographers. These galleries present contemporary photography and keep all of us informed about what is happening in various ways.
Q: Would you say there is a need for or oversaturation of gallery space in Houston?
In 2003, you were quoted by Texas Monthly:
"When I wrote The Woman's Eye in 1973, very few women photographers were accepted in the elite of the field. That is no longer true. Photography has also had many important women as photo historians and curators. Nancy Newhall, Alison Gernsheim, Giselle Freund, and Grace Mayer were some of the important early women historians. I knew Nancy Newhall and Grace Mayer and admired both very much."
Q: How do you see the role for women in photography today? Has it changed since 2003?
A: Well women are the senior curators at SFMoMA, National Gallery, Los Angeles Museum of Art, Center for Creative for Photography, and Houston MFAH. Three women curators are directing the program at NYC MoMA while the director of the photography department is on sabbatical. That is a big switch. Women are holding positions of major photo editors at magazines, directors of art galleries, etc.
Q: Is there a strong presence of women photographers, curators or photo historians in Houston? If so, are there any individuals or groups I should look into?
A: Bevin Berring is director of HCP. Wendy Watriss is co-director of FotoFest.
I really appreciate the Eye On Third Ward collaboration between MFAH and Yates High School. I lived in Third Ward for 10 years before returning to college and I am very interested in community involvement through the arts. Inspired by this project and projects like Project Row House, it is my dream to create a not-for-profit community dark room, studio and gallery that will offer exposure of and access to photography in an areas of Houston that do not have the resources to explore this art form.
Q: In your opinion, is there a needed space for this type of project in Houston? Do you know of any similar projects? Other than Eye On Third Ward, does MFAH do much work with community centers/not-for-profits to increase access to photography, specifically?
A: Besides what the above-mentioned galleries (profit and non-profit offer) The closest would be Project Row Houses which offers 3 month shows to artists. I don’t know if Michele Barnes still has her gallery. There is MECA for Latino artists. There is always a need for artists to have venues for their work. Diverse Works and Lawndale are others. Time and money are problems.