HCP Fellowships: Turning Money Into Art

by Nels P. Highberg

The Houston Center for Photography began its annual Photography Fellowship Program in 1983. For the first two years, awards were given to help photographers complete an ongoing documentary project. In 1985, jurors – prominent members of Houston’s photographic community – increased the scope of the program to awards photographers involved in any photographic work in progress. A year after receiving the award, recipients exhibit their completed work at HCP. Since its inception, the program has given awards to twenty-six photographers.

After receiving the fellowship, many recipients continued their education earning advanced degrees in art. Margaret Moore (1984) earned an MFA from Arizona State University and Dornith Doherty (1985) earned hers from the Yale University School of Art. Currently, Monica Chau (1989) studies for an MFA at the California Institute of the Arts, the same school where Paula Goldman (1985) earned her MFA. Carol Vuchetich (1987) graduated from the University of Houston with an MFA in photography, while Liz Ward (1988) earned an MFA in painting there. Also at UH, Roel Castillo (1986) earned a BFA in photography and is not enrolled in the MFA program, and David A. Portz (1986) earned an MA in English literature and creative writing. Elizabeth M. Grant (1987) is currently studying for a BFA at the College of Santa Fe.

Many fellowship recipients have used their photographic skills to teach. In the Houston area, Amy Blakemore (1989) teaches at the Glassell School of Art, while Vuchetich is a member of the adjunct faculty there. Bill Frazier (1986) is a member of the faculty at San Jacinto Junior College. Margo Reece (1990) teaches at the University of Houston. Outside of Texas, Goldman teaches at the University of California at Riverside, while Doherty teaches at the Herron School of Art at Indiana University - Purdue University at Indianapolis.

Other winners still follow careers involving photography. Sonia G. Yi (1990) is a staff photographer at the Conroe Courier Gulf Coast. Ben DeSoto (1989) continues to work at the Houston Chronicle, where he has won awards from the Houston Press Club and the Intern American Press Association. Paul Vincent (1988) is a medical and public relations photographer for Texas Children’s Hospital and St. Luke’s Episcopal Hospital.

Other fellows continue to expand their careers. Stephen Peterson (1985) is the director of financial aid at Texas A&M University at Galveston. Portz practices law with the firm of Ray & Sudan in Houston. Scottie Stapleton (1990) attends law school in Houston, and Jill Goodman (1987) attends law school in Chicago. R. Lynn Foster (1989) owns his own company where he is a broker selling used industrial equipment. Now living in Victoria, Texas, Frank Isaac (1986) is the director of education at the ABC Merit Shop Training Program, a nonprofit educational trust that provides training for the petrochemical industry. Most of these former fellows still practice photography and exhibit their work.

After reviewing an HCP Fellowship, many recipients continued winning awards, such as Frazier and Ward who have won Mid-America Arts Alliance / National Endowment for the Arts Photography Fellowship Awards.

Some former fellows have begun completely new series of work. Goldman’s “Laughing” series began with her interest in how emotional states are represented in our culture. Chai’s installation Lofan/Shikseh is a collaboration with Daniel Mirer that chronicles their parents’ mutual disapproval of their relationship. In her “Invisible People” series, Vuchetich photographs those who are aging and are sometimes forgotten.

HCP created this fellowship program to help photographers find much needed funds to complete their work. Isaac said: “The HCP Fellowship was very important to me; I was very fortunate to be a recipient. It came at a critical time.” Pending funding, the program will continue, and more photographers will be able to complete projects they believe in.

HCP Fellows: 1983: Naomi Bullock, Martin Harris, Pamela Morris. 1984: Peter McClennan, Margaret Moore, Debra Telatovich. 1985: Dornith Doherty, Paula Goldman, Stephen Peterson. 1986: Roel Castillo, Bill Frazier, Frank Isaac, David A. Portz. 1987: Elizabeth M. Grant, Jill Goodman, Carol Vuchetich. 1988: R. Lynn Foster, Paul Vincent Kuntz, Liz Ward. 1989: Amy Blakemore, Monica Chau, Ben DeSoto, Elbert D. Howze. 1990: Margo Reece, Scottie Stapleton, Sonia G. Yi.

Nels P. Highberg studies literature and creative writing at the University of Houston and works at the HCP as the curatorial artist.