William Van Beckum

William Van Beckum
Visiting Lecturer in Art

Installation view, Q20: Wellesley Faculty Artists, Davis Museum at Wellesley College, Wellesley, MA.

Artist’s Statement

My studio practice is centered around the consideration of landscape photography as both a fine art and a social practice. I often borrow photographs from social media or historically significant landscape photographers to create new compositions that reference the varying roles that photography has occupied in the past three centuries. Through a variety of physical and social interventions, I leverage the accessibility of landscape photography as a genre to reframe and implicate the human role in environmental destruction.

In Moon and Half Dome after Ansel Adams hundreds of iPhone and iPad screens are pressed onto sheets of silver gelatin paper to recreate the iconic landscape view originally created by Adams in 1960. The confluence of old and new technologies provides an opportunity to consider the various roles that photography has served in the past century, with the smartphone referencing typical capture and display methods of today, and the silver gelatin paper referencing nostalgia for past processes. The multi-panel composition shares the aesthetic beauty of Adam’s original piece, but upon closer inspection is blurry, fragmented, and poorly aligned, offering an opportunity to question the relevance of beautiful landscape images in an age where humans are actively destroying the natural world.

Bears Ears is an audience-activated experience in which museum visitors are invited to participate in an act of protest against the Trump administration’s removal of protections for Bears Ears National Monument. The monument is an important Native American site in Southeastern Utah with immense spiritual, historical, and environmental significance. Thousands of unique photographs of the monument, borrowed from social media sites and contact printed on silver gelatin paper from iPhone screens, are available to be purchased and pinned over text of president Trump’s executive order, slowly obscuring this environmentally devastating document from view.

Landscape images taken by tourists often serve as visual proof of an experience but serve little function beyond this social practice. Bears Ears allows a second life for these images and introduces a conversation about conservation, activism, consumption, and photography as both fine art and social practice. By interacting with this piece, museum visitors are able to connect with photography as more than a purely aesthetic experience. Proceeds are donated to Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition to support the protection of this monument, and at the end of the exhibition the prints are mailed as postcards to contributors giving them a one-of-a-kind collectable art object and reminding them of their participation in saving Bears Ears.

2017 MFA, School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts University, Boston
2011 BA, Visual Media Arts, Emerson College, Boston

William Van BeckumMoon and Half Dome after Ansel Adams, 2020, iPhone/iPad on silver gelatin print, Courtesy of the artist.

William Van Beckum, Bears Ears, 2020, iPhone on silver gelatin prints, wood, newsprint on Homasote, Courtesy of the artist. 

William Van Beckum, Bears Ears, 2020, iPhone on silver gelatin prints, wood, newsprint on Homasote, Courtesy of the artist. 

William Van Beckum, Bears Ears, 2020, iPhone on silver gelatin prints, wood, newsprint on Homasote, Courtesy of the artist.