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The photography of Tema Stauffer: Connecting Appalachia to Upstate New York

Contributed • Nov 30, 2018 at 5:05 PM

For more than two years, Tema Stauffer captured images portraying the history of Hudson, New York. This year, she is sharing her finished project with the public in her solo exhibition at East Tennessee State University.

Since she was a child, Stauffer gravitated toward literature and fine arts. During her childhood, she was a prolific reader and enjoyed writing. She also took many kinds of art classes at the Kalamazoo Art Institute. A class she took there during high school, however, marked the beginning of her exposure to photography.

“Photography is a medium that combines elements of storytelling and visual art,” Stauffer said.

During her undergraduate years, Stauffer studied photography at Oberlin College. She later went on to obtain her master's degree in photography at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Since then, she has completed various photography projects and received recognition for her work, and now serves as an assistant professor of photography in ETSU’s Department of Art and Design.

While working at ETSU, Stauffer completed her most recent series, “UPSTATE.” In fall 2017, she received a small grant from the university’s Research Development Committee, which aided her in completing the final images for this project. During the spring semester, she won a major grant from the RDC in the amount of $10,000 to facilitate the presentation of large-scale framed photographs for her solo exhibition at the Reece Museum.

Stauffer focused on Hudson and its surroundings for the setting of her photographs because of the rich history of the region. The first city chartered in the United States in 1785, Hudson experienced industrial and agricultural growth throughout its history, as well as economic decline and recent revitalization. Hudson's experience, in many ways, is relevant to that of other post-industrial cities across the United States.

“The photographs show both urban and rural areas near the river,” Stauffer said. “The images also incorporate the river itself, which was important in why Hudson emerged as a port city.”

Like Hudson, the Appalachian region experienced growth in industry and agriculture through the years. Over time, economic decline washed over the region. With her solo exhibition, Stauffer hopes to provoke discussion by bridging a connection between Appalachia and the Hudson area.

“There are some significant connections between Upstate New York and the Appalachian region in terms of some of these economic changes as result of the decline of industries,” Stauffer said. “It’s also similar in regard to the presence of rivers and mountains – the Hudson River and Catskill Mountains in New York and the Tennessee River and Appalachian Mountains down here.”

Stauffer’s “UPSTATE” exhibition at the Reece Museum coincides with the release of her monograph by the same title by Daylight Books, which includes all 33 color photos in the series as well as a foreword by novelist Xhenet Aliu and an essay written by photo historian Dr. Alison Nordström.

The “UPSTATE” exhibit is free and open to the public and will remain on display through Dec. 14. Regular hours at the Reece Museum are Monday-Friday from 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m.

For more information, call the museum at 423-439-4392. For disability accommodations, call the ETSU Office of Disability Services at 423-439-8346.

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