Professor Spotlight: Gary Blackburn

Tucked away on the second floor of the Hardman Art Building is the darkroom that photography students use to create unique prints for pinhole and black and white photography. 

Professor Gary Blackburn knows how to guide and push his photography and sculpture students to help grow their creativity and technique.   

Professor Blackburn sits down with the Cluster.

Cluster: First things first. Where did you grow up?

Gary Blackburn: I grew up in south Texas.

C: That sounds nice. When did your interest in photography start?

GB: My interest in photography began in high school. I was more interested in how you could communicate with an image and in college, when I learned how to develop and control the process, I thought, “This is cool.”

C: Speaking of college, what did you major in at school?

GB: I got my bachelor’s at Corpus Christi State University where I majored in art and I earned my master’s in fine arts at Stephen F. Austin State University.

C: With all that school, you clearly have a passion for art. What is your favorite thing about photography?

GB: I enjoy working in black and white, and landscapes in black and white are my favorite. After a while you start to find what’s successful for you in a proof sheet and for me it was always landscapes.

C: So how did a Texas boy end up at Mercer?

GB: I was just getting out of graduate school and my wife and I looked up every college west of the Mississippi River with photography/sculpture programs and sent them a letter of interest. I ended up with a job in sculpture photography in Montgomery. Eventually a job opened up at Mercer and I took it in the fall of 1987. 

C: So I guess you were destined to be east of the Mississippi. What has been your favorite part of teaching?

GB: I would have to say interacting with college-age people. I like seeing students grow from freshmen to seniors, and seeing the growth is like being a part of it.  

C: So outside of teaching, are you involved in the art world?

GB: In the art world, having work shown is the same as having papers published. I have had museum shows, regional shows and a number of national competitive exhibitions. 

C: With all these shows, have you had time to work on anything new?

GB: Lately I’ve been working on a piece that includes formal architecture elements held together with organic limbs. It’s a contrast of architecture and nature. I also worked on a piece outside a public library. It is a structure over 12 feet tall with abstract pieces made from scrap metal.

C: Obviously you have worked hard. Have you thought about what you will do when you retire? 

GB: I will continue to make art and do a lot of fishing. Probably travel more and do the things I want to do but never have time to. 

C: That sounds really nice, but for now you are still going strong as a professor. Why should students take a photography class?

GB: Students should take some type of visual course because as we get further into the digital age, we are getting more and more removed from original materials. It’s critical for everyone to work hands on.