With a unique vision and years of experience working with nonprofit arts organizations, new Houston Center for Photography executive director Sarah Sudhoff brings a different perspective to the Museum District's only institution dedicated to photography. And she's ready to shake things up.
"Houston, even though it's one of the largest cities in the country, I think we're quite conservative when it comes to the type of photography we show," she says, "and I'm adamant about changing that."
"If we can't show work here that's politically charged or creates tension in the viewer, then who else is going to show it?"
"I feel the nonprofit model is where artists should be experimenting and pushing the boundaries of their own art and audience expectations. If we can't show work here that's politically charged or creates tension in the viewer, then who else is going to show it? I want to encourage artists to take a risk with us in terms of content and presentation that they might not otherwise be able to with a profit space."
Previously a photo editor for Time Magazine, Sudhoff shifted her focus to fine art photography in 2004 when she entered graduate school at Parsons the New School for Design. In addition to founding, operating and supporting photography-focused organizations, she is also an award-winning photographer who has exhibited her work in galleries and museums around the world.
The San Antonio Express News notes that, in her work, "Sudhoff has dealt with taboo subjects such as sex, illness and death in unflinching — and often surprisingly poetic — images, among them semi-nude self-portraits shot in a doctor's exam room ('Repository'), medical waste ('Single Use Only') and the stains on bedding, carpet and upholstery that mark the passing of a life ('At the Hour of Death')."
She continued that tradition last year with a provocative show that centered on her inability to produce enough milk to breastfeed her infant son.
Before signing on at HCP, Sudhoff, 37, served as director of Photohive, a San Antonio-based non-profit organization she founded in 2013 that enables students from across the country to propose, curate and participate in solo and group exhibitions.
Although Sudhoff admits she was hesitant to apply for the position at HCP — "I couldn't imagine why everyone in the United States wouldn't be applying for this job," she says — she's "beyond thrilled" to have been chosen as the new executive director. A supporter of HCP for more than 10 years, Sudhoff says she looks at the visual arts organization "as an artist and as an executive director."
"Whether I was teaching, visiting as an artist, contacting them because I was running a nonprofit in Austin," referring to the Austin Center for Photography, which she founded in 2008, "I've been involved with HCP in many different capacities for quite a while."
"I've always been impressed with Houston's offerings of photo-related programming and HCP's contribution to this discourse," she adds. "My goal is to continue to exhibit great work, develop more inclusive programing, extend our audience reach and bring in contemporary, engaging and dynamic exhibitions and artists."
Sudhoff is currently working on plans for a number of projects, including a new lecture series using primarily regional photographers and increased programming — artist lectures and panel discussions that relate to the subjects of each exhibition — between openings and closings.
"I really love it when people come back to me months later and say 'Oh, I'm still thinking about that exhibition or artist talk.' "
She's also wants to develop a partnership with Slideluck Potshow, an innovative New York City-based nonprofit which holds events around the world that combine art slideshows and potluck dinners, usually with a jury panel to judge the works presented.
Recognizing the difference in reactions between a traditionally "beautiful" photograph and one with "multiple layers," Sudhoff wants to highlight works which elicit strong emotions.
She hopes the works presented in HCP exhibitions and lectures are thought-provoking and start new, unexplored dialogues among patrons. "I want to expand on HCP's mission to not only increase society's understanding and appreciation of photography but also present photography that is relatable and approachable for our audience," she says.
"I really love it when people come back to me months later and say 'Oh, I'm still thinking about that exhibition or artist talk.' Most of all, I want our programming to resonate with people."