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On the Backstretch with Award-Winning Photographer Dona Ann McAdams

by John R. Killacky, Executive Director

Gallery Exhibit: November 2, 2012 through January 26, 2013
Artist Reception: Friday, November 2 from 5:30 to 8 pm

Now in my third season heading the Flynn, I’ve learned there are many renowned artists living quietly in Vermont. We just closed a wonderful exhibition of Bolton-resident Alison Bechdel’s artwork. Last spring, she was once again in the national spotlight for her new graphic memoir, Are You My Mother? A Comic Drama with major features in the New Yorker, TIME, and the New York Times.

photo: Heather Coots

This Friday, we open A View From The Backstretch—a very interesting collaborative exhibition created by Obie and Bessie-winning Vermont photographer Dona Ann McAdams and horse grooms, hot walkers, and exercise riders from Saratoga Race Course. The exhibit travels to the Amy E. Tarrant Gallery from the Vermont Folklife Center in Middlebury, and was produced by and premiered at the National Museum of Racing in Saratoga Springs, New York.

photo: Dona Ann McAdams

I first knew of McAdams in the mid-‘80s when she was the house photographer for PS 122, New York’s influential downtown avant-garde performance venue. It was there that multimedia performance artists spewed rage, in their strident nakedness, against the unrelenting carnage from the AIDS pandemic. Their work was seized by the religious right and political conservatives and used as kindling in the maelstrom of the 1990s Culture Wars.

McAdams was there on the floor, night after night, intently documenting these artists. She caught the glorious fury of the NEA Four: Karen Finley, Tim Miller, Holly Hughes, and John Fleck. She photographed Diamanda Galás and Ron Athey covered in blood, David Wojnarowicz raging before dying, Eric Bogosian and Blue Man Group’s first performances, as well as elders Philip Glass, John Cage, Allen Ginsberg, and Meredith Monk. Her work captured the zeitgeist of this volatile moment in art history, and these photographs are iconic.

photo: Dona Ann McAdams

While she was doing this work in downtown Manhattan, McAdams built a parallel practice running participatory programs for Appalachian farmers, people with mental illness, the homeless, and school children, teaching them to use cameras to document their own lives.

In the late ‘90s, McAdams and her husband, novelist Brad Kessler, moved to Sandgate, Vermont to raise goats and produce cheese. It is here that she first went across Lake Champlain to visit Saratoga Race Course and fell in love with equines and those that care for them. McAdams became fascinated with those who work on the backstretch—the area in a racetrack where horses are stabled and the training and daily work of maintaining the horses occurs.

photo: Siggy Wallace

As she had done in other locales, she worked over extended periods of time with backstretch workers, teaching photography techniques so that they could share their realities and create masterful images. The results of these collaborative efforts are extraordinarily compelling, revealing both the unrelenting labor and profound bounds between the horses and caretakers. Nothing is romanticized, so much is revealed.

I hope you’ll join me this Friday, November 2 from 5:30 to 8 pm to meet Dona Ann McAdams and experience A View From The Backstretch.

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Flynn Center for the Performing Arts

Flynn Center for the Performing Arts
153 Main Street, Burlington, Vermont 05401
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