Fine Art Photography Daily

CENTER’s 2012 Excellence in Teaching Award: Stephan Hillerbrand

“On our first day back to class, Stephan puts on an episode of the French Chef with Julia Child. We watch as she makes an awkward attempt to flip her potato pancake. She completely misses, scoops it back up and flips again with success. After a few minutes, Voilà: a golden brown pancake ready to enjoy, and therein lies Stephan’s lesson of the day. He links Julia Child’s experience in the kitchen, and her unyielding, unabashed confidence in the face of utter failure, to our own artistic practices. ‘Just scoop it back up into the pan, you’re alone in the kitchen.’ – Julia Child” –Teaching Award winner’s student Brittney Connelly, The University of Houston, Alumni 2012

Stephan Hillerbrand, an educator at the University of Texas, Houston, recently was awarded First Place for the 2012 CENTER Excellence in Teaching Award that honors a high school, college or postgraduate teacher’s dedication. Educators in all areas of photographic teaching are eligible, including fine art, documentary, history and criticism.

The 2012 Juror (last year’s recipient), Kerry Skarbakka states: Perhaps, the biggest complement I can give is that of emulation. Not only could I visualize myself as a student seeking out his classes, but also, as a newer educator myself, I saw in Stephan the type of educator that I strive to be. I was inspired by his ability to transcend the classroom and bring learning though a simple application procedure. I found myself engrossed in his submitted materials searching for clues that would inform my own teaching practice. The conceptual thought that he put into his documents provided me with a framework and an insight into his approach in the classroom. In a sense, I gleaned a better sense of what it means to be an educator. Always asking himself what is truly necessary for a student to succeed in today’s art world, I was excited by his methods of motivating his students and how that motivation played into their success. You could feel Stephan’s passion and relentless drive to provide his students with the right type of educational foundation for a future of professional art making. I believe this to be one of the most important factors in art education today.

photo courtesy of Jack Thompson

Stephen creates his personal work in conjunction with his wife under the name of Hillerbrand+Magsamen. This incredible duo have an number of exhibitions coming up: House:Hold  at the Blue Sky Gallery, Portland, Oregon January 3 – February 1, 2013, Stuffed  at Brand 10 Art Space and AndX Art Space, Fort Worth, Texas January 25 – March 2, 2013.

The collaborative artistic team of Hillerbrand+Magsamen draws upon the rich Fluxus practice of incorporating humor, performance, video and everyday objects. Expanding their personal family life into a contemporary art conversation about family dynamics, suburban life and American consumer excess. This new kind of “suburban fluxus” generates work that documents and re-contextualizes their objects and possessions of self, family and culture, the role of the camera in contemporary art and challenging presumptions of the everyday. We draw no line between the roles we assume in our lives and our art: we are the photographers and the photographed, and our examination of the idea of Family is dependent on the existence of our own. In the age of YouTube and American Idol, we have all become actors and performers. Reality becomes blurred: are we creating a documentary? A fiction film? A mad sociological experiment? Or are we just entertaining ourselves?

Hillerbrand+Magsamen have presented their videos in prestigious international film and media festivals including SCOPE Basel, WAND V Stuttgarter Filmwinter, Taiwan International Video Art Exhibition, New York Underground Film Festival, Ann Arbor Film Festival, Boston Underground Film Festival, LA Freewaves New Media Art Festival. Their cinematic based installations have been seen in Hong Gah Museum in Taiwan, the Hudson River Museum, Woodstock Center for Photography, Museum of Fine Art Houston, Light Factory Contemporary Museum of Photography and Film, and Houston Center for Photography. They have been awarded grants from Austin Film Society’s Texas Filmmakers’ Production Fund, Ohio Arts Council, Houston Arts Alliance and a Carol Crow Fellowship from the Houston Center for Photography. They live and work in Houston, TX with their two children Madeleine and Emmett.


“He looks like a terrorist” was the comment we heard about our son who was dressed up like a “ninja” for a play-date with friends. Surprised, shocked and curious, we began a new series of photographs titled “Masking” that questions perceptions and stereotypes in relation to cultural coverings. Living in a world of heightened anxiety with a fear that something could happen in places such as an airport, movie theater or a school, we have seen a response that includes a conversation about values, cultural backgrounds and political views. In the series, Masking, which will premier at Brand 10 Art Space and AndX Art Space this January, we have been taking pictures of our son, Emmett, in masks purchased from stores ranging from Academy Sports to Wal-Mart.

How we see our 6-year old son wearing a Ninja mask during make-believe playtime in middle class America is perceived differently than from others in another culture outside of the USA. From Mexican wrestling, Lucha Libre, to being covered in your driver’s license photograph for religious reasons, to masked teenagers in a violent Middle East riot, the covering of ones face or masking elicits responses in each and every one of us. These bigger then life, 30×45″ prints confront the viewer and their own secret perceptions.

House/hold, 2010-11 

“The most extraordinary thing in the world is an ordinary man and an ordinary woman and their ordinary children.” — G.K. Chesterton

Hillerbrand+Magsamen’s work reinterprets the people, activities and objects of their everyday life as they navigate perceptions of identity, heroism and family within a uniquely American subjectivity. In the photographic series House/hold, the artists take a heroic look at their ordinary day-to-day lives through self-portraits of themselves and children. The titles come from Shakespeare and mythology such as Ophelia, Hercules and Diana.

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