The graduate program in photography at the University of New Mexico's College of Fine Arts has been recognized as one of the top five programs in the nation for more than 20 years. Once again, for 2016, U.S. News & World Report's annual ranking of Best Grad Schools, puts UNM's program tied for fifth place with New York's School for Visual Arts. One of the driving forces behind the program is Professor Jim Stone, recognized recently with a lifetime achievement award by the Society for Photographic Education as the recipient of the 2016 Honored Educator Award.
Stone has been teaching for 45 years and is well known around campus and beyond as "the guy with the white beard." Described as an "anything but typical" professor who "exudes coolness," Stone describes himself as a photographer, teacher, and author, who began taking black and white pictures as a hobbyist while studying at MIT in the 1960's. Stone, then an engineering student, took a darkroom refresher course while working for Lockheed in California for a semester. It was there he first heard of legendary photographer Minor White, then the photography teacher at M.I.T. The next semester, Stone says he took his bag of exposed Tri-X 35mm to White himself.
There is no scientific or commercial component to the photography program at UNM. It's described as an interdisciplinary approach to photography that includes video, film, sound, performance and installation. "I try to make it clear to our students that they are in charge," Stone says about the most important message he tries to get across."The work must first have personal meaning and integrity; the motivation to continue must come from inside. And I make it clear that it's their job to make me care about the work."
Stone's photographs have been exhibited and published internationally. His works are in the permanent collections of more than 30 major museums including the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Museum of Modern Art, and Boston's Museum of Fine Arts. He has authored six technical books that are used as textbooks in hundreds of universities, as well as three artist's monographs.
He likes photographing people and a lot of his early work was black and white. As for gear, Stone says he likes to keep it simple. "For nearly 20 years I used one camera, one lens, and one kind of film." Well, he's traded the Polaroid film and 90mm wide-field lens for a full frame digital camera and a 24mm tilt/shift lens. But he still crops to a 4x5 aspect ratio. "My photographs appear as specific slices of public activity," Stone said of his work, "but pose questions about our nature as social beings." Most of all, Stone says he still has fun when he picks up a camera.
(All images used with permission of Jim Stone]