MFA Photo Exchange Students show two Russian Photographers in front of San Jose City Hall.

Photo Exchange Program Yields “Yekaterinburg and San Jose Through the Eyes of One Another”

MFA Photo Exchange Students show two Russian Photographers in front of San Jose City Hall.

Jennifer Easton, public arts manager from the San Jose Public Arts Program, guides MFA grad students and two Russian photographers at San Jose City Hall (Photo by Robin Lasser).

By Amanda Holst, Public Affairs Assistant

When they received a call last October from the U.S. Consul General in Yekaterinburg, Russia, asking SJSU to take part in an international photo exchange program, professors Brian Taylor and Robin Lasser knew they had a great opportunity on their hands.

Photography chair Art Taylor explained why this particular exchange was different than most.

“Yekaterinburg and San Jose are sister cities,” Taylor said. “There have been other cultural exchanges where one city would send an artist here and we would send an artist there. But never have there been two photographers as part of an exchange. It’s definitely a first.”

Representing the United States, Lasser, Taylor, and SJSU alumna Adrienne Pao visited Yekaterinburg in May 2011. The Americans toured the Urals region of Russia and photographed Lasser and Pao’s Russian-style “dress tent” now on display in Yekaterinburg’s Natural History Museum, in various locations around the city.  Lasser and Pao have created an entire series of dress tents they describe as “wearable architecture” that is “installed and worn in the landscape in order to be photographed.”

Local Interpretations, Russian Impressions

Last week, two Russian photographers from Yekaterinburg, Sophia Nasyrova and Denis Tarasov, visited San Jose. Eight SJSU photo grad students in the Master of Fine Arts photography program worked alongside the Russian photographers as they traveled all over Northern California, giving their local interpretations in exchange for Russian impressions.

Sites included the Di Rosa Gatehouse Gallery in Napa, the Apple headquarters in Cupertino, downtown San Jose, Moffett Field, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk and Mare Island, a former Naval base in Vallejo that represents a shared common victory for the United States and Russia during the second World War.

“In shaping this international exchange and as the project lead, I tried to think of the long standing and historical relationship we’ve had with Russia,” Lasser said. “Places we visited explored not only the past relationships of military, church and state, but also and art and technology.”

The cultural experience in San Jose broke into philosophical discussions each night at dinner, where the photo grad students and Russian photographers shared historical and artistic perspectives. The Russian photographers brought a slideshow of the history of Russian photography as well as contemporary work.

Sister Cities

San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed presented the two Russian photographers with plaques signed by all counsel members. Commendations were also given to credit their work and to commemorate the sister city relationship.

The photographs from this exchange will be exhibited on the Mayor’s Floor at City Hall this August. Simultaneously, the work will be displayed in Russia at the Metenkhov House Photo Museum. According to Lasser, a book on the project will be published in Moscow.

The SJSU  School of Art and Design offers two graduate degrees, the Master of Fine Arts (MFA) and Master of Arts (MA) programs. An undergraduate degree in photojournalism is offered by the School of Journalism and Mass Communications.