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Hampshire College Professor of Literary Journalism Michael Lesy was selected as keynote speaker for the 2014 Society for Photographic Education (SPE) Midwest regional conference.
“Yesterday Today: Photography and the Archive” was the theme of the October 16-18 SPE regional conference, which was held at the University of Wisconsin–Madison Campus. The SPE cites as its mission providing and fostering “an understanding of photography as a means of diverse creative expression, cultural insight, and experimental practice.”
For Professor Lesy, the occasion also offered a return to the scene of the crimes, and disasters, of his cult classic Wisconsin Death Trip.
Published in 1973, Wisconsin Death Trip remains in print. Lesy has published a dozen books since, picking up honors along the way such as being the first Simon Fellow recognized by the United Artists Foundation in 2007 and, most recently, a Guggenheim Fellowship. His books have been made into operas, plays, dance performances, and films. But his first book retains a lasting fascination, with its vivid depiction of both the uniqueness and the startling ordinariness of crime, disease, mental illness, and death.
Its images are from a collection of 19th-century photographs taken in Black River Falls, Wisconsin. As a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin, Lesy discovered those photographs in a Wisconsin Historical Society archive overseen by a man named Paul Vanderbilt.
While in Wisconsin, Lesy also participated in a panel discussion on “Paul Vanderbilt’s Intuitive Iconography.” And he gave a talk, as guest speaker for the Alec Soth and Brad Zeller University of Wisconsin Arts Institute’s interdisciplinary arts residency, about his work.
Doug Moe: The man who launched a legend
Paul Vanderbilt's Intuitive Iconography