Michael Lesy Gives Keynote Speech at SPE Regional Conference

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.


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Paul Vanderbilt's Intuitive Iconography


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