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#RITPhoto Professor Denis Defibaugh wins NSF grant

JustinBarrett
Photo by Justin Barrett

Denis Defibaugh was awarded a national science foundation grant for his proposal entitled, Rockwell Kent and Early 1930’s Greenland: A Comparative View of Genealogical, Environmental, Social and Cultural Change in Contemporary Greenland

Denis will leave for Greenland April 2016 and he will return to the School of Photographic Arts and Sciences August 2017. Denis is the first member of the School of Photographic Arts and Sciences or the College of Imaging Arts and Sciences to have received a NSF grant. His award is nearly $650,000. He applied three times beginning in 2012

His proposal has three basic themes which include traveling to Greenland to photograph in areas that Rockwell Kent photographed in the 1930’s. His work will further investigate with assistance from two anthropological social science collaborators, and a Greenlandic historian the cultural changes of Greenland. Interviews with elders, students, and residence will provide their view of Greenlandic changes over the past 80 years since Kent produced his rare historic lantern slides that featured the communities of Illorsuit, Sisimiut, Nuuk, and Uummannaq.

 

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Denis will also lead four workshops in four communities in Greenland to Inuit students ages 12-16. Theses interactive photography experiences and workshop opportunities for underrepresented Greenland communities provides a forum to advocate discovery and learning. Inuit students will have an opportunity to photograph their communities to provide their view of the world. This empowering opportunity will provide formal photography and editing skills for the students building on Denis skills as a long time photo educator.
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Denis became interested in the paintings of Rockwell Kent and his lantern slides. His proposal included a critical review of the historic and aesthetic value of Kent’s photographs in relation to his peers, ethnographic traditions, and of contemporary arctic documentary photographs. A forum for the original dissemination of Kent’s rarely seen lantern slides and Defibaugh’s photographs will be created through collaborative exhibitions, publications and a website

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While in Greenland, Denis will create a Blog and website to share his progress and will also share his work on Instagram®  @defden

There will also be a book published on the work at some future date.

Excerpts from the NFS Proposal
This collaborative project will be a historical and contemporary analysis of cultural and human-environment change based on Rockwell Kent’s early 1930’s photographs, art, and literature that he produced while he lived in west-central Greenland. This photography driven investigation with an anthropological social science component will focus on Kent’s rare historic lantern slides of communities Illorsuit, Sisimiut, Nuuk, and Uummannaq. In keeping with Arctic Social Sciences Program initiatives this project intends to provide a comparative study, partnerships between researchers, and to develop educational and interactive collaboration with community residents. There is an urgent need to produce a record of ethnic and regional identities in relation to environmental, cultural, and social change. In documenting these aspects PI Denis Defibaugh, RIT photography professor, in collaboration with Co-PI Susan Vaneck, Visiting Professor Department of Cultural and Social History Ilisimatusarfik/University of Greenland, will produce a visual ethnographic study with still photographs and video incorporated with oral histories. The research will provide insight to the challenges and improvements of modernity for Inuit families and the effects of rapid social and cultural change. Kinship and family histories that relate to Kent’s time in Greenland will be researched. The project will also further the development of community-based participatory research methodologies in Greenland and will have a crucial student research training and capacity-building aspect in the form of collaboration with Ilisimatusarfik/University of Greenland.

Intellectual Merit
The proposal is of historic and aesthetic value to increase awareness of Kent’s Greenland photographs. Rarely has a comparative study of historic documentation and contemporary photography been combined with analysis of social and scientific research to broaden understanding of the past in comparison to contemporary cultural change. A critical review of the historic and aesthetic value of Kent’s photographs in relation to his peers, ethnographic traditions, and of contemporary arctic documentary photographic works will be analyzed. A forum for the original dissemination of Kent’s rarely seen lantern slides and Defibaugh’s photographs will be created through collaborative exhibitions, publications and a website. Producing historical and contemporary photographic, ethnographic, social science, and interactive cultural experience will establish a distinctive scholarly synthesis. This research will provide a unique visual anthropology based on exchange with indigenous communities of local knowledge, advancing theory, memory and anticipation. PI Defibaugh has experience with numerous photo documentary projects. His exhibition Family Ties do not Die has exhibited nationwide in over a dozen museums and cultural centers, and was accompanied by his acclaimed book The Day of the Dead (TCU Press). Susan Vanek has extensive experience in anthropological research in Greenland and Alaska. She is completing major NSF research on a Doctorial Dissertation Improvement Grant titled The Cost of Independence: National Identity and Economic Autonomy in Greenland at SUNY Binghamton and University of Greenland.

 Broader Impact
The PI’s will create lectures and interactive photography experiences along with workshop opportunities for underrepresented Greenland communities to advocate discovery and learning. Inuit students will have an opportunity to photograph their communities to provide their view of the world. This empowering opportunity provides formal photography and editing skills for the students. The knowledge sharing and accumulation through this participatory process and interactive involvement in the project provides important self-documentary records of these communities as a whole. The Sisimiut Museum, Children’s Home Uummannaq, University of Greenland and Katuaq Cultural Center will facilitate community workshops and exhibitions. Defibaugh’s photographs and video interviews along with narrative text, prints of Kent’s lantern slides, and student images will be exhibited in Greenlandic communities and in North America and Europe. A catalogue of photographs, comparative research, and analytical social science and anthropological essays will be produced to accompany the exhibitions beyond 2015. The collection of the photographs, videos and digital files will be archived and accessible at RIT’s Wallace Memorial Libraries database.