Briefly describe the work you do.
I am a fine art photographer. My work is mostly urban landscapes. I don’t shoot the pure landscapes of classical photography, but the minimalist attitude of lines, abstract shapes, contrasts and emptiness that I see as I look through my viewfinder.
Tell us about your background and how that has had an influence on your work and on you as an artist.
My background is in television. I have a MFA in visual arts from Rutgers University’s Mason Gross School of the Arts. I have a BA in media arts from New Jersey City University. I also took several courses in photography in college and did some post graduate work at University of the Arts. For 30 years I worked as a cinematographer for the local public TV affiliate in New Jersey. The job allowed me to travel the region. Having grown up in the northeast, it is the basis of the photographs I take, so on many occasions I would see something while on the job and come back later with my still camera and spend time there. In 2011 the state decided to let WNET in New York take over the operations. I was one of many who were let go. I applied to the MFA program at Rutgers and was accepted at Mason Gross. It was there that I was able to immerse myself in my art for the first time in years.
The concept of the artist studio has a broad range of meanings in contemporary practice. Artists may spend much of their time in the actual studio, or they may spend very little time in it. Tell us about your individual studio practice and how it differs from or is the same as traditional notions of “being in the studio.”
I gave up my darkroom space when my wife and I moved. Though I had planned to build another darkroom in our new home, it never materialized. I had started to learn digital photography so a darkroom wasn’t really important. A computer set up in the spare bedroom became my studio as such, but it wasn’t until I enrolled at Mason Gross that I had a true studio space. Everything in one place instead of scattered throughout the house.
After I graduated, I realized I had too much to bring home. After a short time in storage I found a studio space in downtown Trenton. I find that I don’t spend much time there. I shoot on location. I have a computer at home and sometimes process files there. I have access to a high-end printer for my large photographs. I use my studio to prepare work for exhibitions, have studio visits, and to look at finished work and other projects that I am have. Sometimes I just want the solitude of just being around my work. How that differs from or relates to other studio practices or experiences is not something I can speak to.
What roles do you find yourself playing that you may not have envisioned yourself in when you first started making art?
I never thought I would find myself in the place that I am now. I had an amazing experience at Mason Gross. As a graduate student, I was offered a part-time teaching position. In my second year I shared teaching responsibilities with Latoya Ruby Frazier, the Assistant Curator for the Mason Gross Galleries, so she could fulfill her obligations with the Whitney Biennial. She also invited me to co-curate a photography show at Mason Gross that she was putting together. That led to me being offered the job of Gallery Manager. Latoya was leaving and had recommended me to take over. I am also a freelance writer for a local weekly business, arts, and cultural weekly.
Never in my wildest dreams did I ever image being blessed with these opportunities.
When do you find is the best time to make art? Do you set aside a specific time everyday or do you have to work whenever time allows?
The best time is when I make time. I had learned how to do that during the years I worked TV.
How has your work changed in the past five years? How is it the same?
I think the biggest change happened when I began working in color. When I started at Mason Gross, I intended to work with film. I realized it was becoming too cumbersome and time consuming. With the help of Gary Schneider, a professor at Mason Gross, I fully immersed myself in the digital technology. He also helped me amplify my voice.
How have people such as family, friends, writers, philosophers, other artists or even pop icons had an impact on the work you do?
To have family support is vital. My wife has been a constant source of support since we’ve been together. She invites her family and friends to my exhibits and they have been supportive as well. She helps to edit my writings so that I don’t get too far into the weeds. There have always been people along the way who have been supportive or encouraging. My friend for more than 30 years, Mel Leipzig, a painter and professor, had encouraged me for most of that time to get a masters degree. I never thought I would actually do it since I already had a job. He has also told curators and gallery directors about my work, which has led to my inclusion in several exhibits. Then there is the R&B artist Jill Scott. I’ve never met her, but I am a big fan of her music. I have a series of works that I’ve titled “Light of The Sun On My Back” after her song of the same name. It is a series of self-portraits, all in shadow in different landscapes. The song is just one line repeated over by Jill in a syncopated rhythm as the band vamps behind her.
Have you ever been pulled in the direction of a pursuit other than being an artist? What are your other interests?
I am sure we all have been pulled in different directions. For more than 30 years I was working in a different profession. For several years I did not even make any art.
Aubrey J. Kauffman is a photographer living and working in New Jersey. He received his BA in Media Arts from New Jersey City University and his MFA in Visual Arts from Rutgers University’s Mason Gross School of the Arts. He has taught photography at Mason Gross, Middlesex County College, Mercer County Community College and Community College of Philadelphia.
He served as president of the Trenton Artists’ Workshop Association for ten years. While president of TAWA, he created and curated “Trenton Takes: 24 Hours in the City,” a photo-documentary project that featured the work of 29 photographers who spent one 24 hour period photographing life in the city of Trenton. The ensuing exhibit with a catalogue was edited by Mr. Kauffman.
He was the curator of “Landscapes: Social Political Traditional” for Rider University and was Co-Curator for “On Photography: Culture, History and the Narrative” with LaToya Ruby Frazier at Mason Gross Galleries.
His photography has been included in group exhibitions at The Newark Museum, Newark, NJ; Rider University, Lawrenceville, NJ; Southern Light Gallery in Amarillo, Texas; The Biggs Museum of American Art in Dover DE and The Morris Museum, Morristown, NJ.
He has exhibited in solo shows at The New Jeresey State Museum, Trenton, NJ; Enfoco at 7th and 2ND Street Gallery, New York, NYn ans Southern Light Gallery in Amarillo, Texas.
He was awarded the Brovero Photography Prize by Mason Gross and his work was named “Best in Collection” by Alpha Art Gallery in New Brunswick, NJ.
His work is represented in the permanent collections of Rider University in Lawrenceville, NJ and Johnson & Johnson’s Corporate Headquarters in New Brunswick, NJ.
At present he is the Gallery Manager for Mason Gross Galleries at Mason Gross School of the Arts in New Brunswick, NJ and a contributing writer on photography for US 1 in Princeton, NJ.
All images copyright of the artist and used with their permission.