Photography Professor Janet Pritchard Wins Prestigious Guggenheim Award

Janet Pritchard in the field in northern England, working on a project about Hadrian's Wall, which was built by the Romans as the northwest frontier of their empire. (Judith Thorpe Photo)
Janet Pritchard in the field in northern England, working on a project about Hadrian's Wall, which was built by the Romans as the northwest frontier of their empire. (Judith Thorpe Photo)

Janet L. Pritchard, a professor of photography in the Department of Art and Art History whose work as a landscape photographer is exhibited in galleries and museums across the United States and in the United Kingdom, has received a 2019 Guggenheim Fellowship.

Guggenheim Fellowships are awarded by the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation to artists who have demonstrated exceptional capacity for significant exhibition or performance of their work or who have productive scholarship or exceptional creative ability and a significant record of publication as writers, scholars, and scientists.

Pritchard’s photography is part of prestigious permanent collections in venues including the American Antiquarian Society, George Eastman House, National Trust for Historic Preservation, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Polaroid Corp., Rhode Island School of Design Museum of Art, Roman Vindolanda Museum in Northumberland, U.K., and Yellowstone National Park Museum.

“Receiving a Guggenheim Fellowship is, of course, an honor,” Pritchard says. “External validation is always nice, but it doesn’t change the work one’s done. It may help make the work one wants to do possible in a different way. Over the course of my career, I have received a number of fellowships, awards, and other recognition. Each one has helped me build the body of work this award recognizes.”

The Guggenheim Fellowship will help support her current project, More than a River: the Connecticut River Watershed, which involves photographing the Connecticut River landscape as a complex set of interconnected systems where present bumps up against past in telling ways. She relies on history and science for greater understanding. Although she expects the project to continue for a number of years, she says the fellowship will allow her to gain greater understanding of ecological concerns throughout the watershed.

View samples of Pritchard’s work from her Connecticut River project:

“My Guggenheim year will allow me time to dig more deeply into the research and field work necessary to identify a few significant topics from which to weave the larger story I have to tell,” she says. “I’m interested in the regional history of precision manufacturing and tobacco farming, as well as more recent stories about environmental stewardship, organic agriculture, and craft spirits. While working I ask myself such fundamental questions as: How does the land/riverscape impact the lives of people who call it home? Conversely I also ask: How do those lives impact the land/riverscapes as natural systems? Then I seek sites where traces of these stories emerge, and point my camera at interesting facts while striving to make visually compelling photographs.”

Before pursuing a career in photography, Pritchard worked as an outdoor education instructor and spent her youth traveling between the Northeast and Rocky Mountain West. She describes herself as geographically bilingual, and her early experiences led to an awareness of deep regional differences within the United States. She devised a methodology described as historical empathy, which relies on archival materials to guide her depictions of complex landscapes as expressions of time and place, while she works at the intersection of nature and culture.

Her earlier work includes Dwelling: Expressions of Time, which evokes layers of time, human and geologic, found in the landscape of southern New England, and More than Scenery: Yellowstone, an American Love Story, which views the world’s first national park through the lenses of nature, culture, and history. The Yellowstone project is currently scheduled for publication in fall 2020 by George F. Thompson Publishing in association with the American Land Publishing Project.

Janet Pritchard, professor of photography in the Department of Art and Art History, in her office. (Judith Thorpe Photo)
Janet Pritchard, professor of photography in the Department of Art and Art History, in her office. (Judith Thorpe Photo)

“I am fortunate to work in a supportive community at UConn,” Pritchard says. “The School of Fine Arts has been a wonderful home base, while reaching out to the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center, the Honors Program, and the Humanities Institute, as well as faculty and staff across campus, has greatly enriched my work. Many people have assisted me, including those who took the time to engage my work intellectually, wrote a letter of support, or shared their expertise. My students challenge me to show them why art matters. My family asks me to live differently. All of them have helped to move my projects forward.”

Prior to arriving at UConn, Pritchard taught at Tyler School of Art, School of the Art Institute of Chicago, University of Colorado (Boulder & Denver), and University of New Mexico. She received her BA in art history, classics, and philosophy from the University of Colorado, and her MA and MFA from the University of New Mexico.

Previous UConn faculty who received Guggenheim Fellowships include Jonathan Bobaljik, professor of linguistics (2016); Bahram Javidi, Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor of Engineering (2008); Marilyn Nelson (2001), professor emerita of English; Deborah Dancy, professor emerita of art (1997); Richard D. Brown, professor emeritus of history (1988);  and Milton Stern, professor of emeritus of English (1971).

Three alumni from the School of Fine Arts also have received Guggenheim Fellowships: renowned fine art and editorial photographer Mary Kocol ’84 (SFA) in 1993, conceptual landscape artist Matthew Jensen ’08 MFA in 2016, and painter Deborah Zlotsky ’89 MFA, who was also named as a 2019 recipient.