As a young girl when Joann Brennan started snapping photos and learning how to use her dad’s new 35mm camera, she couldn’t have imagined her photographs one day collected and exhibited at one of the nation’s top art museums.
While honing her skill with the camera, Brennan was drawn to nature and landscapes. Some of her inspirations for studying human interactions with wildness and zoological specimens evolved from reading Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring on the environmental impact of pesticides. The book helped to spark the environmental movement in the 1960s.
Brennan has transitioned from film and the darkroom to creating images digitally, though her preferred equipment is still the large-format 4×5 camera atop a tripod.
That equipment can slow her down, and she acknowledged that it made her stand out a bit in in the creation of her long-term photographic project, Managing Eden, but she used that to her advantage. Through this project she has photographed hunting, reintroduction projects, habitat manipulation, contraceptive testing designed to manage wildlife populations, river restoration, the development of devices to deter or attract predators, raptor banding, genetic testing, and zoological collections. While photographing hunters, critics accused her of being pro-hunting as a negative thing while others applauded her support of hunting culture.
The images sparked interpretations that revealed personal biases. The hunters she photographed were intrigued with the “old-fashioned” 4×5 camera she used. Questions about camera equipment became an opportunity to build a relationship with her subjects and making the photographs became a collaborative effort.
Brennan knows that working as an artist has boundaries that require her to plan ahead and to be prepared for the unexpected. “Boundaries are good. Problem-solving within boundaries creates the conditions in which innovation can flourish.”
New work ahead
Brennan has agreed to serve as CU South Denver’s associate vice chancellor for academic affairs, reporting to the provost. She will provide oversight and leadership for the academic programming at CU South Denver and ensure delivery of high-quality academic programs there. Her immediate focus will be encouraging program development for Spring 2015 from all four CU campuses.
Brennan will also continue serving in her current roles at CAM and, of course, she will continue taking pictures.