Just two weeks after Chief Curator Josh Chuang’s resignation took effect on January 15, Center for Creative Photography director Dr Katharine Martinez announced his retirement.
His last official day is this Saturday, January 30.
Dr Kimberly Andrews Espy, AU Senior Vice President for Research and Discovery, announced the unexpected retirement on Tuesday in a terse note to CCP staff.
The search for a new director won’t begin until later this year, Espy wrote. In the meantime, Dr. James Burns, director of the University of Arizona Art Museum, will be the interim executive director.
Curator Rebecca Senf has been promoted to chief curator, filling the empty Chuang seat while doubling down as CCP curator at the Phoenix Art Museum. Senf will also be part of a newly created “senior management board”, along with curator Jae Gutierrez, archivist Leslie Squyres and associate director Denise Gose.
The world-renowned CCP is a treasure trove of some 90,000 photos and archives of eminent photographers from Ansel Adams to W. Eugene Smith. Yet since the early 2000s, the center has traveled a retinue of directors and curators, enduring years at a time with both positions left open.
When Martinez took over as director on July 12, 2010, the center had been without a leader for a year. There was also no chief curator. Even so, Martinez, an 11-year veteran of the Harvard College Fine Arts Library librarian, did not immediately move to take on the position of chief curator. By the time she hired Chuang in 2014, the position had been vacant for five years.
Espy praised Martinez’s five-and-a-half-year tenure, noting that under his watch, the Centre’s “archives have grown, the fellowship program has been expanded, two gatherings of the photographic community known as names of “Conversations” were introduced, and a full-time conservator was hired to establish a curatorial service.
Martinez counted Chuang’s hiring in April 2014 like a feather in his hat. She hijacked him from a position as associate curator of photography and digital media at Yale University Art Gallery, where he had built a reputation for artful exhibitions that have traveled throughout the United States and even Europe.
Once in Tucson, he quickly put on a series of popular shows. Still, he and Martinez clashed, with his boss complaining that his plans for high-profile exhibitions at the center were too ambitious, according to sources who wished not to be identified. Martinez canceled a show and book project Chuang had planned on famous photographer Lee Friedlander.
Chuang had come to the University of Arizona with no real job protection, working on one-year contracts. (Martinez had the same arrangement.) After learning that his contract would not be renewed at the end of fiscal 2016, Chuang resigned from his post after a year and a half.
News of his resignation, which he sent by mail at the end of November, quickly spread throughout the world of photography, damaging both the reputation of the center and its fragile return. Yet Chuang’s departure was only the most visible sign of the turmoil at the center, which has struggled with staff turnover and fundraising. Martinez also alienated her supporters when she dismantled an advisory board early in her tenure.
More recently, during the Christmas and New Year holidays, high tourist season, the center suffered another public setback. A maintenance issue forced the galleries to close for weeks, and “Lives of Pictures,” the 40th anniversary exhibition co-hosted by Chuang and Senf, had to be dismantled. The Ansel Adams, Edward Westons and the rest of the exhibits were taken apart and packed for preservation. The show only reopened in mid-January.
The exhibition, conceived as a festive celebration of the centre’s endurance, was originally scheduled to take place in March. Now, with nothing to replace it, it is expected to run until May 14. No other exhibits are listed on the museum’s website.