Through the Eyes of an Alum: Steve Weir’s Photographic Exploration of CalArts

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Photographer Steve Weir (Design BFA 73, Art MFA 79) recently published New Views of CalArts – A Fiftieth Anniversary Field Guide, a book featuring recent photographs of CalArts’ campus. Weir’s journey back to CalArts began with a simple question: What would the campus look like now, 50 years after his time as a student?

This latest publication serves as a follow-up to his 2019 book, A View of CalArts, featuring a collection of photographs taken during his student years. Reflecting on his earlier experience, Weir notes, “Then, I was an explorer roaming around the new building, photographing the spaces, hallways, staircases, and people. Today, I felt like an archaeologist looking at what has changed, been added, or vanished.”

Over email, Weir gave 24700 insight into the inspiration behind the project, his experience of revisiting CalArts after decades, and the introspective nature of creating a book that serves as both a documentation of change and a reflection on personal artistic growth:

24700: What inspired you to go back to CalArts and take new photographs?

Weir: While working with my photographs for the A View of CalArts book, I started thinking of what it would be like now, 50 years later. In 2020, I became a member of the CalArts Alumnx Council. This reconnection got me more interested in doing a new project and book. While attending the 50th Anniversary and alumnx reunion last April, I planned to take some photographs of the campus as a start. During the three-day weekend event, I walked over 30 miles and made over 350 photographs. In between events and meeting up with old friends, I just kept exploring. This time, I was using my iPhone instead of my Leica camera.

24700: I feel like when we go back to old places, it helps us see how far we’ve come, or how much we’ve changed … Did making this book help you reflect on yourself as an artist?

Weir: When I was walking around the campus last April, I would flash back and forth between what the spaces are like now in 2023 and when I was a student there in the early 1970s. I was able to find my way around campus with little difficulty. Although I was in the same space, I was “seeing” more than I had before.

Putting the book together, David Wing, a CalArts grad from 1971, provided assistance and support. We first met at Villa Cabrini, the interim CalArts campus 1970-71. He was finishing his MFA in photography. I was starting my BFA. I helped him with the printing of his book, The Los Angeles Pictorial Encyclopedia, Volume One Automobile Transportation. It was the first book printed on the CalArts press. While working together on the book, some of our conversations included how our art had grown and changed during those 50-plus years.

Black and white view of C1 staircase
C1 Stairs: second floor from New Views of CalArts. | Courtesy of the artist.

24700: Along those lines, if you could go back in time and talk to yourself as a student, what would you say?

Weir: Make more photographs of the places and people around you. Take more chances and be open to defining what your work should be about. Although I did explore many opportunities of being an undergraduate and graduate student at the start of CalArts, I should have also worked more with faculty outside of my photography major area of study like John Baldessari, Michael Asher, or Ed Emshwiller.

24700: What is your favorite part of campus?

Weir: The Main Gallery is one space I always enjoyed. A space that everyone shared. There were many visual and performing events, speakers, and parties. I had an exhibit of photographs that filled the mezzanine for my MFA scholarship review. I covered the walls with several projects I had worked on during my first year in the MFA program. I received a full scholarship for my second year. The Main Gallery was often empty. Walking through it, I could feel what had passed and the future possibilities. Like friendly ghosts and prophets. Although I did not have that same feeling now with the physical changes to the space, I still put photographs of the Main Gallery as bookends for the beginning and end of my book.

New Views of CalArts (2024) and A View of CalArts (2019) are both available for purchase on Weir’s website. A portion of sales of both books will be donated to the R. John Bache Memorial Scholarship fund at CalArts, which is designed to support students with a focus on photography, but who also have talent, passion, and a demonstrated need for support.

Learn more about John Bache and the R. John Bache Memorial Scholarship.

Read more about the making of A View of CalArts.

CalArts Wild Beast | Image by California Institute of the Arts
PUBLISHED BY Elizabeth McRae

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24700 is CalArts‘ online space dedicated to sharing news and work of the larger CalArts community from around the world. The news site captures stories of the exploration of new forms and expressions in the arts by our students, faculty, staff, and alumni.

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