Sills, Vaughn 1946-

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SILLS, Vaughn 1946-

PERSONAL: Born 1946, in Arvida, Quebec, Canada. Education: American University, B.A., 1968; attended Colby College, 1965-66; attended School of Boston Museum of Fine Arts, 1976-77, 1979; Rhode Island School of Design, M.F.A., 1982.

ADDRESSES: Office—Simmons College, Department of Art and Music, 300 the Fenway, Boston, MA 02115. E-mail—[email protected]

CAREER: Photographer and educator. Simmons College, Boston, MA, assistant professor of photography, 1987—. Back Porch Dance Company, Cambridge, MA, collaborator in Cambridge Women and Work project.

MEMBER: New England Women in Photography (member of steering committee; co-chair of national conference).

AWARDS, HONORS: Grants from Massachusetts Cultural Council, Polaroid Corporation, and New England Foundation for the Arts; Artists Fellowship Program fellowship.

WRITINGS:

One Family, foreword by Robert Coles, poems by Tina Toole Truelove, University of Georgia Press (Athens, GA), 2001.

SIDELIGHTS: Vaughn Sills has been teaching photography at Boston's Simmons College since 1987. Her courses are in basic photography, documentary photography, advanced photography, alternative processes in photography, and photography and writing. Sills's own work is exhibited in Boston, Massachusetts, at the Trustman Gallery at Simmons, the Bromfield Gallery, and Harvard University's Carpenter Center; in New York City at the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Equitable Center, and the O. K. Harris Gallery; and in Atlanta, Georgia, at the Atlanta Gallery of Photography.

Originally from Canada, Sills was visiting friends in Georgia in 1979 on the day she loaded her camera equipment and tape recorder into her car and set out to find a family to photograph. She found the Toole family living in Bogart, Georgia, in one of the frame houses that line a country road near town. She parked her truck, walked up to the house, and began a twenty-year relationship with the Tooles, headed by Joel and Lois, at that time parents of seven living children. The family—which numbered thirty-five, including three great-grandchildren, when the project was completed in 1999—is typical of the many families who still lived impoverished existences in the U.S. South at that time. Sills documented four generations of the family and collected 143 of her Polaroid photographs, mostly black and white, and published them as One Family. A Petersen's Photographic reviewer said the portraits "capture" the family's "essence and humanity." The foreword to the book was written by Robert Coles, a Pulitzer Prize–winning professor of psychiatry and medical humanities at Harvard University. The ten poems by Joel and Lois's daughter Tina Toole Truelove that are included in One Family were called "touchingly simple" by Library Journal's Joan Levin. There is also one poem by Joe, the youngest of the seven siblings. Elsa Dorfman, who reviewed One Family for Women's Review of Books, said that "the subjects of Tina's poems are lost love, disappointment, satisfaction, hope. They give a hint of Nashville R&B to the book, and I wondered how they would work set to country music."

Dorfman wrote that Sills "is a thoughtful portrait photographer. The many wonderful portraits in the book emphasize the hospitality of the Tooles and their acceptance of her. In some images, they seem amused or perhaps bemused by her. Rarely do they seem to forget she is there. The connection between the photographer and subject is palpable, an essential ingredient in portraiture. The composition is straightforward and classical." Sills also taped interviews with family members over the years, which interviews "function like a chorus," said Dorfman, "drawing us into the images and making us look hard."

The Polaroid Corporation, which was a partial sponsor of Sills's project, set up an online virtual gallery of twelve of the photographs. Sills used Polaroid Type 665 film, a positive and negative black-and-white film. On the Web site, it is noted that Sills says that "family members were really participating in the making of the pictures. The photography was not something being done to them. They became more engaged in the process. And because I could give them the positives of the instant film, it became more fun for them, and they were able to create their own family albums and proudly hang portraits on the walls of their modest homes." The book was released to coincide with an exhibition tour that began at the Watkins Gallery of American University in Washington, D.C., where Sills received her B.A. in 1968, and included a stop at the Sakai City Museum in Sakai, Japan.

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

Library Journal, May 15, 2001, Joan Levin, review of One Family, p. 118.

Petersen's Photographic, June, 2001, review of OneFamily, p. 23.

Women's Review of Books, May, 2001, Elsa Dorfman, "Family Album," review of One Family, pp. 10-11.

ONLINE

Polaroid Corporation Web site,http://www.polaroid.com/ (December 31, 2001).*