In Focus

'Malia Waiting' (1995)

You can watch Jeffrey Hurwitz’s daughter, Malia, grow up in his photographs.

That was partly the intent. “It’s like any other parent who wants to document the growth of [his] child,” says Hurwitz, who has been taking pictures of Malia since she first drew breath in 1989.

But the Malia photos are hardly snapshot-album material. From the way she glances obliquely at the camera to the subtle dark-gold highlights of their surface, they are mysterious, even unsettling statements about both subject and artist.

Hurwitz has been the College’s photographer-in-residence since 1987, and there are six of his works on display in the current faculty art show, which is in Payne Gallery on the Hurd campus through Sunday, April 14.

Self-portrait of the artistThey are paradoxical: enigmatic, shadowy, yet at peace, too, in their acceptance of the way a child’s experiences are “adventures that imprint themselves as memory,” Hurwitz says.

A native Philadelphian, Hurwitz has been a self-taught photographer since the age of 14, when a neighbor put in a darkroom: “the most magical place I’d ever seen.” Photography became an interest he could share with his father, also a shutterbug. “We learned by filling trash cans with ruined film and photo paper,” he says.

He entered college with an interest in science and a practical major (pre-med) but found the pull of art irresistible. When he graduated from Temple University with an art education degree in 1976, he planned to work for a year before going on to advanced study in sculpture.

It took six years, including courses at the Parsons School of Design in New York and the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, until he accepted the idea of photography as a life’s work. Perhaps it helped that he married Susan Oyama, also a photographer.

To learn the photo business and to support his own work, he put in time as an assistant to a corporate photographer, dealing with clients, travel itineraries, and equipment. He was a photo editor for Philadelphia magazine, a consultant to museums—even, briefly, a performance artist.

In the 14 years since he came to Moravian, Hurwitz has established himself as an artist-photographer, showing his work regularly in museums and galleries. His commissions include conservation work for the photo collections of the City of Philadelphia and the Franklin Institute Science Museum and a series of artists’ portraits for the Pew Foundation, which allows him to interact with artists, musicians, filmmakers, and writers.

His work is in the permanent collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and numerous private collections. Among his grants and awards has been a 2001 Pennsylvania Council on the Arts fellowship.

Nonetheless, when he showed work last fall at the Woodmere Art Museum, there he was on an “Emerging Artist Series.”

“I’ve been an emerging artist for 20 years,” he sighs.

At Moravian, Hurwitz manages the art department’s entire photography area, from classes to darkroom facilities. (“You’d be surprised how many people ask if I take the yearbook pictures,” he says of being “photographer-in-residence.”) Teaching, he believes, complements his work as an artist. “When you talk about photography, you address issues of content as well as technical matters—and the content of photography is the world.”

The process behind his gelatin silver prints is long, complex, and fraught with peril. The photographs are bathed in chemicals, fixatives, and toners; a few minutes too long (or not enough) at any point in the process can relegate the photo to the wastebasket. “I know painters that can knock out paintings faster than I can knock out one of my prints,” he says.

But he does not forget that all the lab work is the means to an end: the quest for expression. Of his long collaboration with Malia, he says: “She understands that I take what I do very seriously, but she knows her feelings, her thoughts, her ideas will be taken seriously, too.”

Now that Malia is entering her teens, he considers her, more than ever, as more than a subject. “She’s 12 years old,” he says with a grin. “Think she’s gonna take direction?”

Photos courtesy of Jeffrey Hurwitz

April 9, 2002

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In Focus
Profile of photographer-in-residence Jeffrey Hurwitz.
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Datebook
Calendar of campus events.
Gaudeamus
Faculty/staff achievements.
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