Tag Archives: photographer

Art Rage

February 23, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Editor’s note: Cassils is a gender non-conforming trans-masculine visual artist. Cassils uses plural gender-neutral pronouns (they, them, their) and asks that journalists do likewise when referring to them. This plurality reflects through language the position Cassils occupies as an artist. For more about gender non-conforming issues, go to: glad.org/reference/transgender 

Powerful art does not need to be explained, though for the uninitiated, sometimes it helps.

Canadian-born, Los Angeles-based multimedia artist Cassils thrives on the power of art. The artist (who prefers to be referred to in plural, gender-neutral pronouns) launched their latest exhibit, Cassils: The Phantom Revenant—now on display at the Bemis Center— Feb. 2 with a thrilling live performance called Becoming An Image.

Cassils’ performance involved the transgender, body-building artist attacking a 2,000-pound block of clay using only their body, in complete darkness, with the occasional flash of a camera that illuminated both artist and object, burning the images into viewers retinas.

It was a blend of performance, photography, and sculpture. “I use all parts of my body—my fists, my knees, my elbows,” Cassils says. “I beat this clay to the best of my ability, blind, until I’m basically compromising my ability to hit it properly.”

At the performance, the only sounds were those of Cassils’ labored breathing, as the artist kicked, punched, and even jumped on the earthy clay, accompanied by the click of the camera as the photographer blindly tried to capture the “full-blown attack.”

Becoming An Image was originally conceived of and executed for ONE National Gay and Lesbian Archives, the oldest existing LGBT organization in the United States, which also happens to house one of the largest repositories of LGBT materials in the world.

“I was asked to make a piece in relationship to the missing gender-queer and trans representation in that archive, because like many archives in museums, it’s filled with the work of, in this case, dead, gay white guys. So rather than making an artwork that spoke to the one or two subjectivities that perhaps matched this description in the archives, I decided to make a piece about the troubling mechanisms of what makes it into the historical canon and what doesn’t.”

Cassils’ Powers That Be installation—on display through April 29—presents a six-channel video that is a simulation of violence, a staged fight that could be taking place between two, three, four, or five people. But in this fight, Cassils plays the role of both victim and perpetrator. “If you have two people doing stage combat, it looks really realistic, but if you take one person out, and the other person’s doing it well, it really looks as if they’re fighting a ghost, or a force.”

Cassils says “Any work is about responding to the socio-political circumstances that we’re living in …  Art doesn’t change things like laws do, but it generates discussion.”

This article was printed in the March/April 2017 edition of Encounter.

Curatorial Precision

March 1, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The hot trend of one-room living is often driven by necessity and the need to make the most of smallish spaces. The phenomenon is especially prominent in such sky-high housing markets as New York, L.A., and San Francisco. John Prouty had no such constraints when planning his sprawling 4,000 square foot space, but he still employed a keen touch when it came to curatorial precision.“My new rule for the year is that for every one new thing I bring in,” says Prouty, “two old things need to go.” It’s a doubly vital part of his thinking, considering that his home features thousands of works of art, books, and other elements of décor, yet  it bears no hint of appearing in any way cluttered.

One of the keys to Prouty’s sleight-of-hand feat is that each area of his one-room dwelling is set up to define its own distinct space within a space. The home is delineated into about a dozen distinct zones with identities and functions of their own. The result is a pronounced sense of “roomness”. It is the opposite of what might be expected of an otherwise wide-open expanse beneath 19-foot ceilings. The floor plan is interrupted only by a slightly elevated but still open bedroom nook.

“I use every square inch of my space every single day,” he adds. “Not a lot of people can say that about their homes.”

Prouty and his brother, Jim, own the three contiguous buildings that they merged into one along South 25th Street in the heart of historic South Omaha. Now dubbed Prouty Place, the structures—one of them 120 years old—are almost entirely a family affair. Jim’s daughters, Jami and Juli, own the Salon at Prouty Place. Next door is home to the family’s 110-year-old business, Wessco Graphics. Prouty lives on the second floor, and the basement is rented to a Pentecostal Church whose congregation is largely Guatemalan.

20140108_bs_9974Prouty is also a sculptor, photographer, and mixed media artist who maintains his studio as part of the site’s street-level art venue called The Gallery at Prouty Place.

The project began seven years ago when hundreds of dumpsters were filled with the flotsam and jetsam of the former occupant, a uniform business. One year of what Prouty calls “deconstruction” yielded to a full year of construction before he moved in five years ago.

No detail was too small to escape Prouty’s systematic method when it came to the art and science of one-room living. The design process for the floating kitchen islands, for example, was governed by what the homeowner calls a “double-butted” approach. And he’s not talking here about how the kitchen’s plumbing was joined.

“My brother and I stood in while kitchen measurements were done,” he says, “and the idea was that people had to be able to easily pass between us as we stood back to back at the opposing counters preparing food or mixing drinks. Our butts were a bit smaller back then,” he quips, “but it still works just fine.”

Another striking feature of the home is the very intentional use of black paint on the walls. “People think I’m crazy,” Prouty says, “but I’ve done this in each of my last five homes. That dark background creates the illusion that the art literally floats” in a field of nothingness. The effect is particularly pronounced at night when the man who describes himself as a compulsive entertainer hosts everything from intimate soirées to fundraising events attended by a cast of thousands—make that more like 200-plus.

His global village art and artifact collection—including a staggering 93 of his own works—has been accumulated during world travels that have had him flashing a visa in 83 different countries. Acquisitions have been made everywhere from the mountaintops of Peru to the sidewalks of Paris. Also included are a number of works by local artists, perhaps most notably Terry Rosenberg. One of his six Rosenbergs was executed on an M’s Pub napkin. Prouty himself was the subject in another.

The artist’s collecting philosophy is a simple one. “Do I like it? Yes or no. Can I afford it? Yes or no,” he says. “That’s all there is to it. I never regret buying anything, and I never go back to look at something a second time. Never.”

Community involvement has always been a part of Prouty family life, says the man who serves on the City of Omaha Public Art Commission and also volunteers at Omaha South High School. His counseling role at the school has included several group art projects, and the Westside High School graduate is now proud to count himself as an honorary South High student.

“Integrating into the neighborhood is important to us,” says Prouty, who is also a member of the South Omaha Business Association. Brother Jim, who is learning Spanish, works with the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

“Downtown was more of a café society vibe,” Prouty says of his previous home, “but South Omaha is much more natural and organic. This is still a very urban, colorful, and bustling neighborhood— just like Downtown—but it is much more family oriented here. And much, much quieter.”

That prevailing mood of serenity sets the tone for Prouty’s contemplative, almost Zen-like approach to making his space work.

“It’s all in the editing process,” he adds. “Hey, you magazine guys must know that better than I do. It’s all about the editing.”

Ekapon Tanthana

April 25, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

When worldly local photographer Ekapon Tanthana isn’t at a glamorous photo shoot or rubbing elbows with the fashion elite, he drills teeth. Mild-mannered dentist by day. Fashion photographer by night.

There is a method to his madness. Meticulous about his craft, he plans every detail of each shoot, carefully sketching out the images he wants to capture. His work has a signature look. It is, at times, dramatic with flights of whimsy. Always tongue-in-cheek, he likes to push boundaries. With everything from nude models to bondage themes, it becomes clear after seeing his work that he is not your typical photographer. He’s an artist.b

Tanthana did fashion photography for the first Omaha Fashion Show in 2006, which won him the Omaha Visual Arts Award. He has worked in L.A. and New York but prefers Omaha. He is enamored with the Old Market and marvels at the explosion of creative energy on the local scene in recent years. He’s excited to be in the thick of it: creative people coming together to create art for art’s sake.

“Great thing about Omaha is everyone’s friendly in the community and helps each other out,” Tanthana says. He has befriended all the local photographers in town. They help each other out by sharing equipment and contacts.ekaponfinal

He chooses his work with great care and has to really be inspired by a project to pursue it. His eyes light up as he describes bringing his vision to light, that aha! moment when a vision is captured. “There’s that moment when everyone in the room just feels it,” he says. “I want my work to look like a still from a movie, to tell a story.”

Locally, Tanthana has shown his work at the Professional Darkroom Gallery, Jackson Street Artworks, and Nomad. He’s also had his art featured in local magazines, publications in his native Thailand, as well as Omaha Fashion Week. He’s even been invited to be a guest speaker on his art at Creighton University and BW Thai.

Tanthana first discovered his passion for film at age 12, while attending boarding school in England. He has gone on to do artistic and fashion photography, most of which was shot locally on a shoestring budget. He worked with supermodel Samantha Gradoville at a shoot at the former French Café in the Old Market. He works with Rhodora, a local makeup artist who trained with Chanel and is a guest makeup artist for the brand. He has also worked with Payton Holbrook, a local hair stylist who has since moved to New York and does editorials and New York Fashion Week hair.F

Tanthana says that juggling full-time dentistry with his numerous creative projects takes planning but is well worth the effort. Seeing his vision come to life is gratifying.

“I think of these images. They just come to me. Then I have to capture them,” he explains. “To me, being a success is someone being influenced by you, as you have been influenced by others.”

He says he couldn’t do photography full-time because he is so particular about his work. True to his art, he is ruled by inspiration—not always an option for a working photographer. He also adds that it can take time to fully dream up the visual designs he later creates.Elisafly

Like his photography, Tanthana takes pride in his dental work. He shows off pictures of some of his patient transformations. One photo titled Meth Mouth is the before picture of a patient’s rotting teeth. The after picture is a stunning Hollywood smile. Beyond creating a beautiful, healthy smile for patients, Tanthana is touched by making a real difference in someone’s life.

Whether planning a shoot or crafting a smile, Tanthana leaves his distinct trademark of perfection.

Jen Edney

October 25, 2012 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Jen Edney’s motto, “Have Camera, Will Travel,” has led her to such places as Fiji, Suriname, Australia, and Cape Town. She estimates that 10 months of the year is spent traveling with her lens focused on the people of the world.

“My camera and my subject have served as my compass,” explains Edney, “leading me around the world, observing and documenting incredible people with even more incredible stories.” And though she has been to over 30 countries in the past three years, her favorite spot on earth is a little closer to home: her grandmother’s cabin on a lake in Minnesota. “It’s the one place in my life I can truly relax and enjoy time with my family,” she owns.

BAR RACING - 2012

Edney working on a shoot. Photo by Jon Nash Photography.

Edney grew up in Omaha, the daughter of John and Pat Edney and sister to two brothers, Chris and Matt, also her twin. She attended Marian High School and then pursued a degree in Graphic Design and Visual Journalism at Creighton University. Her introduction to photography came at her father’s side on a family trip. He taught her exposure and the rule of thirds—eschewing the urge to center your subject—amidst Ireland’s verdant rolling hills and ancient stone walls.

After an internship with renowned nature photographer Tom Mangelsen (also from Omaha) in Jackson Hole, Wyo., Edney attended the Brooks Institute of Photography in Ventura, Calif. She worked at the Ventura County Star while in school. It was an assignment for the newspaper that ironically led to her current career as a freelance photojournalist. Edney was photographing a 16-year-old who set out to be the youngest person to sail around the world. The assignment turned into a school project, which prompted Edney’s instructor to urge her to leave school to focus on the story. Thus, her life as a freelancer began.

She recalls her dad’s advice to “never leave home without duct tape, a knife, or a flashlight,” when she heads out to parts unknown, unfazed by how often his advice has served her well. After all, Edney is not in a climate-controlled portrait studio, photographing high school seniors in their band and cheerleading uniforms. More often than not, she is aboard a sailing vessel capturing captain and crew struggling with masts or treading against the current in an effort to get a water-level shot of a boat in action.

Team JP Morgan BAR racing during the America's Cup World Series in San Francisco, California, 2012. Photo by Jen Edney.

Team JP Morgan BAR racing during the America’s Cup Series, 2012. Photo by Jen Edney.

Recently, Edney was in Newport, R.I., shooting the America’s Cup Series Event. She had the notion of photographing a boat from a fish’s point of view and convinced the skipper of Energy Team France to sail over her while she captured an AC45’s underside on film. “No problem! We sail over you!” skipper Loick Peyron gamely agreed. It was the first time Edney had butterflies before a shoot.

“Keep calm and carry on? No thanks, I’d rather raise hell and change the world,” asserts Edney. It’s this throw-caution-to-the-wind attitude that has earned Edney the nickname “Shark Bait,” and allowed her to build a body of work that has graced the pages of the LA Times, Coastal Living, and YACHT Magazine, as well as the small screen on ESPN, ABC’s Primetime, and CBS Sports.

“I don’t consider it a good day at the office unless I get wet, dirty, or almost run over by a boat!”