Eric Gottesman

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Eric Gottesman
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Born (1976-08-14) August 14, 1976 (age 47)
CitizenshipUnited States of America
  • BA
  • Master of Fine Arts
  • Law
Alma mater
  • Duke University
  • Bard College
  • Photographer
  • Writer
  • Video creator
  • Teacher
Years active1999-present
MovementContemporary art, Video art
AwardsGuggenheim Fellowship for Creative Arts, International Center of Photography Infinity Award, Creative Capital Artist Grant

Eric Gottesman is an American photographer, writer, video creator, and teacher. His process of creating socially engaged art is using art as a vehicle to explore aesthetic, social and political culture..[1]


Gottesman received an undergraduate education at Duke University, where he studied history, literature, and political science. After graduating from Duke with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1998, Gottesman studied law and politics and worked for a time in the office of the Chief Justice of the United States of America.[2] He later attended graduate school at Bard College and graduated with a Master of Fine Arts degree in 2007.[3]


Since 1999, Gottesman has been working in and around the Middle East and Africa as an artist, activist, and teacher. Gottesman uses photography – its technical skills, communicative capacity, and history – to collaborate with people and communities. His process of using local image-making techniques to produce photos challenges preexisting images of certain topics as well as the concept of singular photographic authorship.[4] Over 10 years ago, Gottesman founded the art collective Sudden Flowers[5] with a group of children whose parents died of AIDS in a neighborhood of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Sudden Flowers produces photographs, videos, installations, and performances in their own community. Gottesman's collaborative photography project on the impact of AIDS has been supported by arts organizations, NGOs, foundations, and UN agencies. His work has been featured in books and exhibited internationally. In 2012, Gottesman was an Artist in Residence in the Department of Art and the History of Art at Amherst College. From 2013-2014, he taught at George Washington University and the Corcoran College of Arts and Design's graduate program. Gottesman then taught at Colby College as a Faculty Fellow in the art department from 2014-2015, before acting as a Visiting Associate Professor in the Film/Photo/Video Program at Hampshire College from 2015-2017. He is currently an Assistant Professor of Art at Purchase College and a mentor in the Arab Documentary Photography Project[6] in Beirut, Lebanon.[7]


Central to his practice is collaboration. Gottesman uses photography, writing and film as vehicles to engage others in conversation and critical thought about the social structures that surround them, and him. He works slowly, often spending a long time in a community, and exhibits work locally first, to an audience determined by the co-creators of the work.[8] Gottesman is interested in how photography functions within the social sphere as the repository for individual and collective memory and as factual and fictional documents.[9]


In 2014, Gottesman published his celebrated first monograph, Sudden Flowers,[10] and co-founded For Freedoms with artist and project partner Hank Willis Thomas.[11] In 2017, he was an artist-in-residence at the Museum of Modern Art and at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Cleveland, Ohio. His work is featured in various collections, including the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.[12]

For Freedoms (2016 - present)

For Freedoms is an artist-led organization that models and increases creative civic engagement, discourse and direct action. The organization works with artists and other organizations to center the voices of artists in public discourse, expand what participation in a democracy looks like, and reshape conversations about politics. In 2017, Gottesman was given the Infinity Award, the leading distinction for achievement in photography and the visual arts.[13] Gottesman and Hank Willis Thomas were recognized for cofounding For Freedoms, the first artist-led Super Political Action Committee (PAC)[14] to use art to spur political engagement. They invited artists to partner with them in creating advertisements, exhibits, and other works to spark discussions around democratic values and freedoms. Gottesman and Thomas explained “We created the first artist-run super PAC because we believe it’s time for artists to become more involved in the political process.”[13] For Freedoms has grown in recognition since the election - the Museum of Modern Art, in New York City, hosted For Freedoms as an artist residency at its Queens site, MoMA PS1, which ran during the first 100 days of the new presidential administration. The residency began with the display of a billboard that For Freedoms created and posted in Mississippi.[15]

Sudden Flowers (1999 - 2014)

Since 1999, Gottesman’s ongoing collaboration with Sudden Flowers, a collective of children living in Addis Ababa, has produced a body of work of profound depth and poetic lightness. In reimagining the harsh realities the children experienced on the streets and in their homes in the wake of their parents’ deaths – including the trauma of grief, physical abuse and AIDS-related stigma – the young collective and Gottesman probed the possibilities of image making as a tool for self-expression, healing and teaching others. The Polaroid camera and peel-away negatives provided tools for recreating and alleviating the children’s deeply painful injuries.[16] Working together, Sudden Flowers and Gottesman ultimately discovered that photography could be a medium to express their resilience and hunger for life. Over the 15-year span of the work, Sudden Flowers and Gottesman produced exhibitions, short films and installations in Africa, the United States and Europe. Now, in Sudden Flowers, the work of the entire project comes together for the first time in a book.[17]

The Oromaye Project (2011 - present)

The Oromaye Project created space for civic dialogue through the collective visual adaptation of a controversial Amharic novel, Baalu Girma’s Oromay, and a transnational participatory public photography project.[18] Using the novel as a literary and artistic tool, Gottesman engaged people in Ethiopia and Eritrea—where Girma lived, wrote, and was last seen—in public readings of his novel and in making photographs that addressed his legacy and the state of public expression and civic dialogue in contemporary East Africa. The participant-produced work was exhibited in Eritrea and Ethiopia. Gottesman also collected and exhibited video documentation of the process.[19][20]

Pictures Woke the People Up (2007 - 2013)

In 1969, American photographer Wendy Ewald traveled to the Innu reserve, Sheshatshiu, in Canada to work with children who were adapting to the forced settlement of their community several years earlier. Together with Ewald, the children used Polaroid cameras to create a portrait of their changing community.[21] Concerned by the continuing challenges faced by the Innu, Ewald and Gottesman returned to Sheshatshiu in 2007 with Ewald’s pictures to engage in conversation about the issues still facing the community and embark on a series of new projects.[22]

With the help of community members, Gottesman and Ewald found as many photographs and films as possible and loaded the images onto the Innu Online Picture Archive, a Facebook group created for people to share and communicate about photographs of Innu people.[23]

Colonial Effects (2006 - present)

In 2006, Gottesman received an invitation from the Open Society Foundation to lead a workshop at Makan Gallery in Jordan.[24] He met Ahmed Taher al Sefferini, the sixty-five year old purveyor and founder of a photography studio in Zarqa. In his studio, and throughout Jordan, Gottesman photographed with ideas in mind about the construction of nationalism, often thinking of Ahmed and the many others who came to Jordan as refugees.[25]

In the media



  1. "Eric Gottesman Awarded Prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship". Retrieved 2020-09-25.
  2. Iduma, Emmanuel (Conversations with Photographers: Eric Gottesman, Retrieved September 22, 2020
  3. "ericogttenmse". Retrieved 2020-09-25.
  4. "Eric Gottesman | deCordova". Retrieved 2020-09-22.
  5. LensCulture, Eric Gottesman |. "Sudden Flowers - Photographs by Eric Gottesman". LensCulture. Retrieved 2020-09-22.
  6. "Arab Documentary Photography Program". Magnum Foundation. Retrieved 2020-09-22.
  7. "Arab Documentary Photography Program". Magnum Foundation. Retrieved 2020-09-25.
  8. LensCulture, Eric Gottesman |. "Eric Gottesman". LensCulture.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link) CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  9. "Eric Gottesman – Light Work". Retrieved 2020-09-25.
  10. "Yard Sign Activation by For Freedoms ", Flux Projects, Retrieved September 22, 2020
  11. "For Freedoms". Retrieved 2020-09-25.
  12. "Eric Gottesman - 2018/2019 Visiting Artist and Practitioner Series | Department of Art | UMass Amherst". Retrieved 2020-09-25.
  13. 13.0 13.1 Courtmanche, John "Eric Gottesman's Political-Art Campaign 'For Freedoms' Earns ICP Infinity Award, Residency at MoMA/PS1", Retrieved September 22, 2020
  14. Registering as a Super PAC. Federal Election Comissiom, Retrieved September 22, 2020
  15. Vartanian, Hrag, "Mississippi Governor Decries Billboard by Artist-Led Super PAC", Retrieved September 22, 2020
  16. Sudden Flowers. Lens Culture, Retrieved September 22, 2020
  17. Sudden Flowers - Eric Gottesman. Fishbar, Retrieved September 22, 2020
  18. The Oromaye Project. Creative Capital, Retrieved September 22, 2020
  19. "The Oromaye Project". Creative Capital. Retrieved 2020-09-25.
  20. "Gottesman wins Creative Capital grant | Art Department". Colby College. Retrieved 2020-09-25.
  21. Scott, Andrea K."What Resulted When a Photographer Gave Rural Children Cameras" The New Yorker, Retrieved September 22, 2020
  22. Pictures Woke the People Up: Project Description., Retrieved September 22, 2020
  23. Pictures Woke the People Up: Project Description., Retrieved September 22, 2020
  24. Makan Art Space, Retrieved September 22, 2020
  25. "ericgottesman". Retrieved 2020-09-25.

External links

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