The Bevin Bering Dubrowski Mixtape
One of the reasons that I created the Mixtape series is to get to know the movers and shakers who surround photographers in a more meaningful way. Often at a portfolio review event, the reviewers feel intimidating or in rarefied air, and I hope these Mixtapes reflect that they are simply dedicated individuals, with families, busy lives, often are photographers themselves, and are much more complex that just the one role they bring to a photo event. And in my opinion, that’s what gives their feedback richness, as they are using their deep wells of knowledge and perspective to help photographers move their careers forward.
Bevin Bering Dubrowski is one of those movers and shakers with a deep well of experience. She is a presence at numerous review events, often accompanied by her colleague Frasier King, but is also busy in Houston directing The Houston Center of Photography. I had the great pleasure of reviewing with Bevin some years ago and I was impressed by her laser focus, intelligence, and out-of-the-box thinking. She brings those same qualities, plus a myriad of others, to her job in Houston and because of it, HCP is one of the preeminent photo centers in the country. A visionary, a leader, a fundraiser, and a champion of all things photography, Bevin is providing opportunities that help shape the careers of multitudes of photographers.
Founded in 1981, HCP facilities include three galleries, a 1500 sq. ft. Learning Center offering over 275 classes each year in addition to nine digital workstations and peripherals for digital imaging, scanning and printing, and it creates the photo magazine, SPOT. It also includes the John Cleary Library (housing over 3,000 volumes of photography-related books and journals) and a film/video screening area. HCP also strives to inspire new generations of photographers through its Collaborations outreach program, which since 2002 has brought together high school students from diverse ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds to create work in collaboration and curate an exhibition. PictureThis is an additional educational outreach program run by HCP, helping pediatric patients from the Children’s Hospital at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center and Texas Children’s Hospital to create work about living with cancer and present it to the community.
Photographer Peter Brown, a founding member and current HCP advisory council member said, “We have shown work from some of the greatest photographers of the 20th century, and we have shown the work of many emerging photographers who have gone on to great artistic success. And we have had show after show of cutting edge work that has helped to define the state of photography, both regionally and nationally. We teach, we put out a great magazine called SPOT, we show work at HCP and elsewhere, and we are still a center for the photographic life in Houston.”
You can become a member of this terrific organization and receive a subscription to SPOT magazine; invitations to HCP exhibition openings, special events, and members-only tours; discount and early registration on HCP workshops; opportunity for members-only master classes and portfolio reviews; discounts at peer institutions as part of the Connections program; 36% off the newsstand rate of Aperture magazine; access to HCP’s John Cleary research library; email updates; eligibility to apply for HCP’s Juried Membership Exhibition and Juried Fellowship competition; access to HCP’s Digital Darkroom. Go here for more information.
And now, the Bevin Bering Dubrowski Mixtape!
Tell us about your growing up and what brought you to photography.
I grew up in Houston—I’m actually a sixth generation Houstonian and my father worked for our family hardware store. The Store was a big shaper in my childhood—and where I had my early introduction to business and to shaping spaces and responding to an audience.
When big box stores began to pop up in Houston, my family realized that customer service and a fine-tuned eye as a merchandiser/buyer could create a special experience that a big box could never replicate. Lots of other departments where added, and the hardware store became a department store.
I would watch the main buyer of the gift store, and it was there that I had my first introduction to curating. No, these were not photographs or fine art that he was working with, but Charles Claxton would select and organize and sequence decorative items in a way that made objects come to life and speak to each other.
I always made stuff as a kid, and starting making pictures with my dad’s 35mm Minolta when was around twelve or so. I took my first photography class in high school—the program was and still is led by a remarkably gifted photographer and educator named David Veselka. His courses were a defining moment, and at age sixteen I began to dream and work towards a career that would involve photography and art. At eighteen I interned at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and at that point decided to major in Art History when I went off to Emory. I focused on contemporary art and photography and minored in studio art, where I made photographs and put together exhibitions with peers and began to write about art. I studied under James Meyer and Nancy Marshall and had another pivotal moment when I interned at The Drawing Center and realized how quickly meaningful projects could come together in a mid-sized arts organization—and also how many of the people who made the organization tick were also practicing artists.
What is your title and job description and tell us about a typical day?
My job title is Executive Director of Houston Center for Photography, and no day is typical. I must say I love that….I always have a working list of “gotta do” and “ongoing projects” and each day has its own priorities. I try to wake up each day a bit before my daughter to get a few things ticking and to write down any thoughts about a project. I’ll often email with staff and board on matters that float back and forth between us and sort through questions and projects that are running through my mind: “What’s the latest on the talks with the guest juror or curator? What’s the final quote on the next issue of Spot magazine? Did we hear back from an artist on a program we’re floating? What is the current status on the annual fund? Is that grant ready for me to do a final edit? Have the latest images come in from an artist? Who is the best person to respond to an interview request? What is class enrollment looking like? Are bios for the auction catalog compiled? Do you need help with the most current invite design? How can we adjust the budget to make room for a special project? Is this website mock-up the final winner?” It’s an ongoing dialogue that involves a million details.
HCP has an amazing staff and board that work really well as a team. My main job is to create a culture within that group that is open, creative, and paying attention to what is happening in photography—particularly what is being made, what trends we are seeing, what we can do to push photographic education, and how we can respond to all this in the programs and publications we create.
What are some of your proudest achievements?
I have to say that my proudest achievement is my daughter—and Aline, I gotta call you out here. I just heard a second hand shout out about your fantastic son, a super talented DJ. Might this be where the mixtape stems from?
Within HCP, my proudest achievement is creating a culture within an organization that is a great place to work, learn, and exhibit. It’s pretty simple….HCP is a fantastic organization. It has been for a long time, but I think that the current group has built upon its 32 year history and is known as a place that is welcoming and accepting. We treat our members, and students, and exhibiting artists with a lot of respect, and, in return, they give that respect back. There is a lot of laughter within HCP’s walls, and also great dialogue and a culture of sharing and giving. In the past four years since I’ve been here, I’ve also worked really hard to double our operating budget and to build a healthy cash reserve. That allows us to take on bigger projects of national and international importance and it also allows us to serve a wider group in the Houston community. Our Learning Center serves over 2,000 students a year and the programs that we’ve built within Texas Children’s Hospital that bring young patients and working artists together are gaining more and more recognition as model for arts and health programs. Also, our onsite audience count has doubled and an estimated 250,000 people view our exhibitions each year. That makes me proud.
What do you look for when attending a portfolio review?
I look for a good conversation. I clearly don’t have all the answers that a photographer is looking for, so my first goal is to find out what questions they are seeking to be answered. Sometimes it’s a simple, “So, what can you do for me?” Those conversations don’t have a very long life. Sometimes I see amazing bodies of work that are ready to be published and exhibited, and sometimes I can make that happen within HCP’s walls and pages in short order. Other times I can’t do anything right away, but a partnership comes about years later, or we stay connected, and I help them connect with someone that can make the goal come about.
So, in a portfolio review, of course I am looking for work that we can exhibit and publish, but more than that, I’m looking for an open dialogue on photography, on creating, and on the work that the photographer has brought to the table.
I’ve been on both sides of the table….I showed my own portfolio during the FotoFest 2008 Meeting Place. I try to be the reviewer that gave me the most to think about—and who brought to the table a dialogue that helped me ask smart questions and discover wise answers.
Any advice for photographers coming to a review event?
Einstein said, “If A is a success in life, then A equals x plus y plus z. Work is x; y is play; and z is keeping your mouth shut.”
Be prepared and professional, but be open-minded and ready for a bit of fun. And keeping your mouth shut allows for the photographer to take in the advice and thoughts that they are seeking.
Be prepared—try to show your portfolio to an experienced reviewer in advance of the big event. They will help you edit and sequence and reach the conclusions that you would have reached by day 3 in a 4 day review. Get your artist statement tight. Have your elevator speech prepped, and then, remember tact—that is keeping your mouth shut. A lot of reviewers have great advice, so you’ll want to give them the opportunity to share. On the other hand….take everything with a grain of salt. Be respectful, but if you don’t agree with someone’s advice or opinion, that is perfectly fine. Sometimes reviewers say bizarre things…it’s just a fact. However, if numerous reviewers are saying things along the same line, you may want to really think about that.
What is something unexpected that we don’t know about you?
I hold the record on Lake McQueeney, TX for the most times going over a ski jump without landing it. It took me 12 attempts. I finally got there. My entire right leg was bruised heel to hip and I was fourteen. But, I eventually stood up on water with two sticks under my legs and let a boat pull me while I steered those sticks up over a ramp, locking knees, staring at trees, and trying to freeze. Knees, Trees, Freeze. That’s the advice for going over a ski jump.
And because this is a Mixtape, what is your favorite song, band, and do you dance?
I love to dance, and I crave dancing to great live music. When I lived in Austin and was focused primarily on making photographs and lots of fun, my roommate and I lived at the very end of Red River Street. We could walk up that street any night of the week and hear great live music. And we would rock out…and in Atlanta as well, the live music was fantastic. My favorite place to dance in Texas is Gruene Hall, the oldest continually running dance hall in Texas, which has been running since 1878. I’ve seen Lyle Lovett, Jerry Jeff Walker, Charlie Robison, Asleep at the Wheel, Joe Ely, Robert Earl Keen, Willie Nelson and a host of other great musicians perform there—it’s in a small town and the experience always makes me think for a bit that life is incredibly simple.
I can also be a really big ham, because if you can’t dance well, you might as well dance big. Over Thanksgiving I pulled out a dramatic pre-dinner dance to Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” that was playing from a CD that my mom bought off late night TV. As a child of the eighties, I do love some metal every once in a while. I’ve currently tagged Vampire Weekend, Mumford and Sons, Fun., Johnny Cash, Shakira, Kenny Chesney, Lady Gaga, Edie Brickell and Steve Martin, and Lyle Lovett in my car as favorites—so I am listening to them a lot and loving them. Music is like food—if you’re only liking one thing, you’re not tasting enough flavors.
I also highly recommend that you check out Liah Alonso – she’s a self described Mexi-Jewish Gypsy and an incredible singer songwriter. She’s also a dear friend who recently serenaded my one-year-old daughter, Edie, with “You Are My Sunshine.” It was a truly memorable music moment.
And now, I’m handing over the turntables to Bevin:
For my mix tape take-over, I’d like to present you with a mix of HCP projects. We do a lot, so rather than focus on just one, I’m presenting you with some images that are on my mind—I’ve looked at all of these over the past week in regards to something we’re working on. So, here we go….
Just announced today! Elisabeth Biondi has declared Keliy Anderson-Staley as the Carol Crow Memorial Fellowship winner and Robin Meyers as the Houston Center for Photography Fellowship winner. Each of these photographers will be awarded $3,000 as well as a solo-exhibition at HCP. Congratulations Keliy and Robin!
It was particularly exciting to hear Elisabeth’s choices because Keliy is a new resident in Houston and has become a fast friend. Her work is honest and straight forward and beautifully crafted. She’s also a relatively new mom, and I’m hoping that we can finally work in a play date for our kids amongst exhibition planning.
Robin Meyers was recently awarded a Juror Commendation in the HCP 31st Annual Juried Membership Exhibition this past summer. It will be great to show a wider body of her work to HCP’s audience.
In 1988 I was 8 years old. A few years earlier, Carl Sagan published Cosmos and a copy ended up in my family’s household. The dust jacket was long gone by the time I pulled it from its place on the shelf, leaving behind a dust outline from its undisturbed time there. The seemingly giant black book sat heavy on my tiny pale legs day after day as I looked and attempted to make sense of the endless information. My world seemed to simultaneously expand and shrink. This was the catalyst for my relentless investigations of the unknown and fueled a need to make connections between our scientific understanding of the world and the human experience of it. The Macrocosm can be terrifying, if not downright panic-inducing. The whole vast ocean, though beautiful, is far too much to hold. When the focus is taken down a notch to delve into the tiny fragments that make up this world, when everyday drums are scaled down to the beat of a coffee drip or a Junebug landing on a window, connections begin to open up. This work combines my interest in the aesthetics of space exploration with phenomena of the visible world, while exploring the limits of perceptio
The same back-to-back honors happened a few years back when Bryan Schutmaat was awarded an honor in the member’s exhibition and was then selected as a Carol Crow Fellow. He just finished up his MFA at University of Hartford, recently won the Aperture Prize, and has a book coming out this next year. It’s been awesome to see his successes follow one upon the other, and we’re excited to have him back in Texas. Bryan is giving this image to HCP’s auction this February, and I am incredibly grateful, as I am to all the artists who donate to HCP, for his generosity.
Bob Gomel recently spoke at HCP about his 50+ year career as a photographer, many years of that spent at LIFE. He also led a master class for twelve lucky students. He’s giving both of these images to the HCP Auction. Thank you Bob—
I’m also including an image by Renate Aller and another by Manjari Sharma. I’ve admired both of their work for quite a while, and it’s an honor to include their photographs in the HCP auction and the upcoming exhibition which opens January 17th, 2014.
Thank you Bevin, for all you do for photography and photographers! Can’t wait to catch up with you on the dance floor! Happy Holidays to you, your staff, and to all the members of HCP!