CWU photography master’s student wins national innovation award

  • April 10, 2024
  • Rune Torgersen

Charlie Tadlock’s fascination with the open road came to him in his search for his artistic voice in photography on the highways of Montana.

Now, that fascination has earned him the Society for Photographic Education’s (SPE) Award for Innovative Imaging, an annual prize given to six photography students from across the U.S. whose work exhibits a forward-thinking approach to the field.

Tadlock’s mid-term exhibition, “Vast and Solitary Lands,” caught the judges’ attention with its focus on exploring the familiar highway landscape through the lens of non-traditional photographic techniques.

“I fell in love with the road in the final semester of my undergrad,” Tadlock said. “At that point, I was thinking about nostalgic landscapes, and the feeling of being nostalgic for a past that never really existed. I traveled all over Montana for that body of work, and in the process, found that nostalgia on the road itself.”

cwu-charlie-tadlock-award-body1.jpgAs a third-year Master of Fine Arts (MFA) student at Central Washington University, Tadlock has been able to hone his craft through experimentation, research, and — most importantly — play.

“It really lets you play around in your first year, and I explored a lot of different ways of thinking about my work and where I wanted to go with it,” he said. “I started going down the classic tropes of talking about my family and my home and my heart and such, but it just didn’t work for me. That summer, I doubled down on what I like doing, and took my photography back to the highway.”

Tadlock’s work combines digital photography and analog printing methods for a true cross-generational examination of our relationship to the materials we use, as well as the relationship between reality and image. He pairs instant Polaroid photographs with more traditional high-resolution digital images in his exhibition, contrasting the two mediums while reconciling their visions of the highway landscape.

“I wanted to really bring a focus to the materiality of the medium,” Tadlock said. “The way I went about that was to take this ‘perfect’ digital image taken on a high-end camera and printed on a high-end digital printer, and then throw a Polaroid I took with my phone on top of it.”

As part of his degree, Tadlock teaches beginning photography in addition to his own studies. He chose Central’s program because it would present him with an opportunity to be in front of other students.

“Part of the reason I chose Central was the three years of teaching experience I get as part of my program,” Tadlock said. “I have my own classes, so I’m coming in way ahead of other grads in the job market, because I’ve already worked in my field for three years.”

Associate Professor of Art and Design Marcus DeSieno, who has served as Tadlock’s mentor in the program, said the progress he has seen in Tadlock’s work has been nothing short of incredible.

cwu-charlie-tadlock-award-body2.jpg“Charlie’s growth has been absolutely phenomenal to see,” DeSieno said. “He’s an exceptionally bright mind and hard-working student, and he’s really hit the ground running here.”

As part of the award, Tadlock’s five submitted pieces were on display at the March 21-23 SPE conference in St. Louis. The conference serves as both an opportunity to recognize emerging talent in the field, and as an important networking opportunity for participants.

The SPE is one of the world’s largest forums for fostering the understanding of photography, and serves as a hub for its members to share insights and art in the common pursuit of excellence in creative expression.

DeSieno said that winning the award provides an excellent springboard into a photography career.

“Charlie’s work is going to be on full display in front of this huge group of potential mentors and connections,” he said. “That spotlight, along with the award itself, are going to give him a great leg up as he enters the workforce and looks for teaching jobs around the country.”

Tadlock’s work will be on display in CWU’s Sarah Spurgeon Gallery from May 14 to June 1, as part of his MFA thesis exhibition.

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Rune Torgersen

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