LeAnne Martin
Christians in the Arts

Monday, October 15, 2007

Roger Varland: Looking at the Ways We are Connected

Roger Varland is Associate Professor of History and Art at Spring Arbor University in Spring Arbor, Michigan, where he teaches courses in photography, art history, and the school’s CORE program. Two years in Kenya and a semester in China have shaped his photography and classroom perspective. He and his wife Deborah, also on the faculty, have taken students on fifteen cross-cultural study tours to countries including Kenya, Uganda, Egypt, Costa Rica, and Gautemala.

When not photographing other cultures, Mr. Varland explores the American cultural landscape as a student of the New Topographers. Like them, he captures unsentimental images of the landscape and everyday moments filled with meaning. His photograph “Night Money” won the Exceptional Merit Award at the 2007 Statewide Fine Arts Competition at the Ella Sharp Museum in Jackson, Michigan.

Mr. Varland’s photographs have been featured in juried exhibitions such as “The Faces of Christ” gallery on the Christians in the Visual Arts (CIVA) website at
www.civa.org. Here are a few links to his work:


LeAnne: In February of this year, you won the Exceptional Merit Award at the Ella Sharp Museum 2007 Statewide Fine Arts Competition for your photograph "Night Money." Congratulations! Tell me about the piece and about the night you shot it.

It's a dusk shot of an ATM presented head-on with about 40 feet of space on each side. The sky is a graduated blue and signs glow in the distance. The light over the ATM is a combination of green and yellow due to the different types of sources. There was nothing remarkable about the night. I just wanted to shoot it at dusk and my timing was on.

LM: “Night Money” builds on your MFA thesis work at Eastern Michigan University. Your master's show, "Ubiquitous Nodes," is a collection of "landscapes documenting the endpoints of social networks." Tell me more about it and about what draws you to ATMs, dead-end road signs, and more.

The network idea grew out of looking at all the ways we are connected, the systems that we all participate in. Most of these have hubs and nodes that appear seemingly everywhere, hence "ubiquitous". I am also fascinated by typology studies, what I smugly refer to as "same thing only different". This led to shooting all the post offices in our county, then all the pay phones along a 15-mile stretch of Michigan Avenue, then the dead-end signs, and finally the ATMs. By the time I got to the dead-end signs, it became obvious that the central interest of the project was the spaces around the hubs and nodes, not the objects themselves. I am still adding to each of these categories, but am not sure what will be the next node.

More with Roger on Thursday.

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