The McEwen Photographic Studio
The McEwen Photographic Studio (1993 - 1995)
Chambers initiated and implemented this photographic studio for the National Gallery of Zimbabwe (Harare, Zimbabwe, Africa), and its namesake is a tribute to Frank McEwen [*], the Gallery's first Director, and in recognition of his Workshop School activities for African artists during the 1950s and 1960s. His (McEwen's) insight to nurture (then) exceptional talent through a rediscovered medium ... sculpting in stone ... is now reflected through international recognition of this contemporary art form. The introduction of the medium of photography into the Gallery's Art School (sponsored by BAT Ltd.) nurtured ... over a three-year period (1993-1995) ... the exceptional talent by African artists (school leavers) to grasp the medium and possibly, again, have a significant impact for the visual arts of Zimbabwe at the international level. The students' photographs were exhibited as Moments In Time (1993), Moments In Time II (1994) and Moments In Time III (1995) at the National Gallery of Zimbabwe. Chambers received a letter from McEwen stating his appreciation of his namesake being used for the studio. Edward Gibson Lanpher, U.S. Ambassador to Zimbabwe officially opened Moments In Time and Moments In Time II, and David Bellama, Country Director, Zimbabwe, United States Peace Corps officially opened Moments In Time III. Kodak Zimbabwe was the generous sponsor of the studio providing film, chemicals and paper. Examples from the exhibitions follow.
News coverage: Photography added to curriculum, The Herald, Harare, Zimbabwe, May 17, 1993: "A U.S. Peace Corps Volunteer, Mr. Tom R. Chambers, has introduced photography as part of the 1993 curriculum for the BAT (Art) Workshop School. The workshop is an affiliate of the National Gallery of Zimbabwe. Mr. Chambers said that this is the first time the medium of photography has been introduced into the Workshop School curriculum as a serious tool for self-expression. He said that the fine arts/documentary photography program was named The McEwen Photographic Studio after the first director of the National Gallery and in recognition of his workshop activities for artists during the 1950s and 1960s. Mr. Chambers is currently teaching twelve second-year A-level art students at the workshop."
Newsletter: Moments In Time, National Gallery of Zimbabwe, Harare, Zimbabwe, September 7, 1993: "This photographic exhibition is the first to be held by students of the BAT Workshop School. The McEwen Photographic Studio was recently formed by Mr. Tom R. Chambers, a U.S. Peace Corps Volunteer, who is at present assisting in the compilation of our Permanent Collection Catalogue. Through generous sponsorship, Mr. Chambers, a professional photographer, was enabled to hold classes in photography at the BAT Workshop premises. Photography is a fine art which, to date has not had much encouragement or promotion in Zimbabwe. We are confident that this fine exhibition will be the beginning of a new era in the field of visual arts. The exhibition is by courtesy of the United States Peace Corps and BAT Zimbabwe."
Art review: Glimpse of daily realities, The Herald, Harare, Zimbabwe, September 28, 1993: "A photographic exhibition by BAT art students at the National Gallery of Zimbabwe. The black-and-white photographic exhibition on the upper deck of the National Gallery offers us a glimpse of the daily realities of city and suburban life. The display was organized and curated by Tom R. Chambers, a U.S. Peace Corps Volunteer and multi-media artist who is currently on attachment to the conservation department of the National Gallery. This social documentary exhibition is a result of an eight-month photography course designed by Mr. Chambers for the BAT advanced-level art students. According to Chambers, the medium of photography is an important tool for self-expression and critical social inquiry within the visual arts of Zimbabwe. Unlike many other art forms, the photographs on display reach a wider audience through cognition and familiarity. The works project an academic fine arts dimension, and the social content is nothing short of captivating. Contrasts between extreme poverty and ostentatious wealth are depicted in the pictures with subtle implications. Some architectural shots reveal the struggle between metropolic and nature, while others simply capture the socio-economic pace of Harare. Images of hope and aspiration in the high-density suburbs are juxtaposed with depression and a stoic acceptance of the plights. Technically, the students show a flair for conceptual composition, selection, mood, tonal progression and transcription. Given that photographic literacy, beyond the narrative, still requires greater appreciation in Zimbabwe, this educational display should go a long way in redressing the status of photography as an art form." (Tony Mhonda, Art Critic)
News coverage: Timeless Moment, Art and About, Horizon Magazine, Harare, Zimbabwe, September, 1993: "Community photography with a fine arts slant is the subject of an exhibition, Moments In Time, at the National Gallery in Harare this month. Ten A-level students of the BAT Workshop School have spent the past eight months working with U.S. Peace Corps Volunteer, Tom R. Chambers. Chambers introduced The McEwen Photographic Studio into the workshop program in honor of the late Frank McEwen, first director of the National Gallery and founder of the original workshop school."
Art review: Artful eyes behind a camera: how BATmen and women see Zimbabwe, The Northern News, Harare, Zimbabwe, December 1993-January 1994: "As exhibitions at the National Gallery of Zimbabwe go, this one was quiet and unassuming, a collection of fifty small black-and-white photographs by senior students in the BAT Art Workshop. But Moments In Time represents respectable breakthroughs on several fronts. The exhibition showcases the products of the first photography course in the BAT curriculum. The McEwen Photographic Studio, named in homage to Frank McEwen, the first director of the National Gallery, offers a rare opportunity for black African art students to explore an expensive, technical medium of artistic expression. And if instructor, Tom R. Chambers, has his way, the new program will become a permanent part of the BAT curriculum. Displayed first at the National Gallery in September, the photos were selected by Chambers, A U.S. Peace Corps Volunteer, for their artistic and documentary qualities. Chambers said in an interview that the fact that all of the students are artists gave them an advantage in using the medium creatively, and because of that, they generated wonderful fine arts images based on composition, shape and form. The students were weaker, however, in photojournalism. This was the first time they went out to document Zimbabwean society. There's a timidity there. You have to learn to be aggressive, polite of course, but aggressive in order to capture the good and the bad. The eight-month course started with several weeks of classroom study of camera techniques, composition and the use of light and shadow. Following this introduction, the students then went out as a team to shoot the environs (subjects, objects and situations) all the while becoming conscious of the mind's eye. And later, they began shooting on their own. Chambers launched the course because he thinks that it is an underutilized medium in Zimbabwe's visual arts. He said that he had to start from scratch. With entrees from the wife of the American Ambassador, June Kronholz, he canvassed five Zimbabwe corporations for grants to buy cameras and equipment. He persuaded Kodak Zimbabwe Ltd., the biggest donor to the project, to give film, paper and chemicals. Chambers is trying to find fellowships in the United States for some of the students who want to continue their photographic studies."
News coverage: Moments In Time, Kodak Region Review (News from around the European, African and Middle Eastern Region), April, 1994: "Kodak (Zimbabwe) Limited were the biggest donors to an exhibition called Moments In Time held in the National Gallery of Zimbabwe late last year. They will be sponsoring the exhibition again this year. The exhibition comprised a collection of fifty black-and-white photographs taken by senior students in the BAT Art Workshop. The exhibition showcases the products of the first photographic course in the BAT curriculum. Instructor, Tom R. Chambers believes that photography is an underutilized medium in Zimbabwe's visual arts, and through his professional and personal network, he hopes to find several American venues for exhibiting Moments In Time."
Art review: Workshop features art images captured through the camera lens, The Sunday Mail, Harare, Zimbabwe, September 11, 1994: "A child sprawled on a pavement looking haggard with feet resting on a post; the shadow of a man on a scaffold structure; a woman donating coins to beggars under a bridge and other subjects, form part of the images captured through the camera lens being exhibited at the National Gallery. Dubbed Moments In Time II, this photographic exhibition marks the second year of The McEwen Photographic Studio at the BAT Art Workshop and features the work of ten second-year art students and a third-year art student who was studio assistant. According to Tom R. Chambers, a visual artist, documentary photographer and the instructor for the studio, the exhibition stresses camera/darkroom technique and composition (light-play, shadow-play, juxtaposition, perspective, angularity, foreground-background interest, movement and timing). The pictures reveal the wide spectrum of talent that exists in this medium with some really outstanding and imaginative work while the other photographs were average. I found particularly captivating Charles Kamangawana's human form photographed on a building structure all in shadow to depict an abstract image that is omnipresent. He explores this subject further by capturing just the leg of a man stepping on a scaffolding structure high above the ground. The picture was taken from a top-down perspective to create anxiety and anticipation. Given Sitandi creates an illusion by picturing a straight-forward documentary image through backlighting and shadow-play of human forms taken behind a curtain. Also interesting is his picture of a young girl child taken from above with the child's eyes looking forlornly into the camera while standing on a dusty road with no shoes on. The same feeling of compassion for the underprivileged is brought out by Givemore Huvasa's image of another child lying resignedly on a street pavement with feet resting on a post. Lighting is cleverly used to enhance the power of this picture. Russell Chawatama rotates his camera lens and juxtaposes a curtain versus a window to abstract the image of an otherwise straight-forward picture to evoke different interpretations and feelings from his image. In this exhibition, Chambers said that documentary/fine arts images convey personal experiences of the serious photographer and offer a unique vision of the world through a combination of camera technique and the mind's eye." (Pikirayi Deketeke, Art Critic)