Q&A with Lisa Hostetler - Part I

Submitted by Rachel Pikus,

This month, Lisa Hostetler, PhD, joined the Eastman House staff as Curator-in-Charge of the Department of Photography. We recently spoke with Hostetler about the current state of photography, her interests in the medium, and her plans for working with the Eastman House collection.

GEH: What made you decide that joining us at George Eastman House was the right decision for you?
Lisa Hostetler: The opportunity to shape the future development of one of the world’s best photography collections was a key factor. The depth and variety of Eastman House’s holdings is impressive, and its legacy of important exhibitions— such as New Topographics—has made the institution an important player in the history of photography.

I want to build on this excellent foundation while working to raise the institution’s profile both nationally and internationally. In order to do this, I will focus on building a dynamic program that activates the collection, brings it up-to-date, and presents it in compelling ways. At the same time, I plan to support the development of new ideas and new voices in the field through temporary exhibitions and publications.

For me, the prospect of doing both historical and contemporary projects was especially appealing, as I’ve always been fascinated with all eras of photography’s history.

GEH: What do you think the role of photography collections and museums is today, given the medium’s ubiquity in our culture?
LH: Photography museums have an important role to play as our culture becomes increasingly saturated with photographic images. In this environment, visual literacy is essential, and good photographs hone our ability to see clearly and understand the world’s complexity. Photographers spend their lives thinking about seeing and com- municating their ideas, and we have a lot to learn from them. By preserving and exhibiting their work, photography museums allow audiences to benefit from their experience. In addition, sometimes a photograph’s scale and physical presence are as telling as its imagery, and museum collections are vital for preserving access to the insights original objects offer.

GEH: How does that affect what we should collect and exhibit?
LH: These factors directly inform collection and exhibition activities. We need to maintain our connection to photography’s history—where it’s been both materially and conceptually— in order to truly understand and appreciate its current situation. I hope to pursue acquisitions and exhibitions that have meaning in the present, but that are informed by an understanding of the past and open to future possibilities.

Read Part II of this Q&A!