September 06, 2011
Photo: California State Prison at Avenal, by Stephen Tourlentes
Photographer and Knox College graduate Stephen Tourlentes is one of a select group of artists whose work is featured in a show, "Night Vision," at the Metropolitan Museum in New York.
The exhibit comprises 40 photographs from the 1890s to the present, and features works by legendary photographers such as Edward Steichen, Gyula Halasz Brassai and Andre Kertesz.
A professor at the Massachusetts College of Art in Boston, Tourlentes has worked extensively in night photography of correctional facilities nationwide.
"The exhibition looks at the history of night photography, so this image of the California State Prison at Avenal was nice fit," Tourlentes says. Taken in 1997 from a street outside the prison, the photograph "has the feeling of a neighborhood past its prime, with the other-worldly glow of the new prison built outside of town in the background," Tourlentes says.
"The picture only works at night, because the prison disappears in the distance during the day," he says. The photograph is one of several of Tourlentes's works in the Metropolitan Museum's permanent collection.
A Galesburg native, Tourlentes majored in art at Knox. Studying art, "I had a lot of fun making every mistake in the book," Tourlentes says. "The atmosphere in the art department really allowed me permission to explore photography."
A 1982 Knox graduate, Tourlentes also worked at a student photographer for the College's Public Relations Office. "I went to lots of lectures and events and got paid to take pictures. That funded my habit of buying film and paper, and having the keys to the campus darkroom didn't hurt."
"My parents were very involved in the arts while I was growing up. My father [Dr. Thomas Tourlentes] always took pictures and set up a small darkroom in our house when I was a teenager," Tourlentes said in an on-line interview. His mother Mona Tourlentes, is a pianist and retired music faculty member at Carl Sandburg College in Galesburg.
While at Knox, Tourlentes and several classmates formed a band, Common Denominator, which continued playing for a few years after the group moved to Boston. "Playing music was a form of artistic expression and a collaborative endeavor for us," Tourlentes says.
"As a group we enjoyed the creative outlet and learned a lot about each other in the process. Playing music in a group gave me a certain curiosity through sound that connects to my images, and I have used musical terms to describe aspects of my photo work -- photography and music all felt connected."
Tourlentes has received a John Simon Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship, a Polaroid Corporation Grant, Massachusetts Cultural Council Grants, and MacDowell Colony Fellowships. He was a finalist for the 2010 Foster Prize. In addition to the Metropolitan Museum, Tourlentes's photographs are in the permanent collections of the Princeton University Art Museum and The Art Institute of Chicago. Stephen and his brother Ted Tourlentes '80, had a joint exhibit at Knox College in 2005.
"Night Vision" is on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York through September 18.