The Center for Creative Photography and the Poetry Center at the University of Arizona are delighted to collaborate to exhibit a captivating project by B.A. Van Sise in a celebration of the bicentennial of Walt Whitman’s birth. Van Sise is a New York–based photographer with a lifelong love of poetry and a family lineage that traces back to seminal American poet Walt Whitman. Van Sise has undertaken an expansive and inventive poetry portraiture project. Beginning in 2015, he embarked on a quest to make portraits of American poets that reflect the diversity and vitality of today’s poetry scene. Each portrait is a creative endeavor in which the poet becomes more an actor than a model, performing a concept Van Sise has created based upon one of the author’s poems. These narratives sometimes relate closely to the text (which is presented alongside the photograph), while at other times the connection is more abstract. The resulting “portraits” are at once a likeness of the poet, an evocation of the poem, and a presentation of a visual narrative fashioned by the photographer.
The exhibition features one video portrait (of acclaimed poet Sharon Olds) and about 80 photographs showcasing the breadth of American poetry today, including a who’s who of Pulitzer Prize winners, Poet Laureates, and Chancellors of the Academy of American Poetry. In the Center’s Heritage Gallery, adjacent to A Portrait of Poetry, related materials from the Center’s collection are shown to complement Van Sise’s ambitious project.