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Art professor hopes to inspire thoughts, not controversy

October 2, 2011
MSU Department of Art and Art History professor Danny Guthrie poses in front one of his photographs which hangs on the wall of his bedroom. Justin Wan/The State News
MSU Department of Art and Art History professor Danny Guthrie poses in front one of his photographs which hangs on the wall of his bedroom. Justin Wan/The State News —
Photo by Justin Wan | The State News

Studio art senior Andrew Phillips secretly was eager when the art professor he had heard takes nude photographs with his students stood in front of him on the first day of his studio art class.

“The rumors of him spread are very notorious,” he said. “My friends and I thought, ‘Finally we have (Danny) Guthrie as a teacher.’”

Associate professor of photography Danny Guthrie began creating nude images of himself and current students, former students, colleagues and friends in early 2008. He has photographed more than 70 volunteers in various poses exploring the boundaries of human sexuality.

Guthrie said the photographs are based on famous works of art throughout history and represent how individuals interact.

“(The photographs are) about my loss of youth and impending doom,” he said. “Once you give up when you get older, you don’t live in a sexual arena anymore.”

After a faculty show first displaying his pictures was held three years ago, Guthrie said university officials told him he no longer could produce such pictures — he would be allowed the freedom to take nude pictures of himself or pictures of his students but not nude pictures with the students.

Because he is retiring at the end of this year, Guthrie said he felt the need to seize his opportunity to work with students and decided to continue his work creating collaborative nude photographs.

“I want (viewers) to be compelled by the image and to care if they can get past any initial shock value,” he said.

To create his art, Guthrie said he approaches students he feels would be open to the project. He then emails images he would like to recreate for the student to view, and the student describes what poses he or she is comfortable with.

Reactions to Guthrie’s photography differ. Guthrie recalled one students’ anonymous comment declaring he or she would not enroll in a photography class for fear of having Guthrie as a professor. He said he isn’t surprised by the negative feedback but sometimes is hurt by the harsh level of the comments.

“I want people to think, but I don’t want them to get angry,” he said. “I don’t want to make my students uncomfortable.”

Although associate professor of advertising, public relations and retailing Henry Brimmer, who is familiar with Guthrie’s work, understands Guthrie’s aim for the expression of human sexuality, he also understands the questioning reactions among his fellow faculty members.

“You can’t create art that includes the nude and not have some type of controversy,” he said. “And if then you are photographing yourself with students, that raises a bigger eyebrow.”

But Brimmer feels it is too easy to jump into the controversy of the professor’s work.

“I think (Guthrie) is too serious and dedicated to be doing it in a sensationalist way,” he said.

Many of the nude images Guthrie has created are posted on the MSU Department of Art and Art History website.

Phillips said this website is the only insight some incoming students have of the art department, and Guthrie’s photographs might have different effects on different viewers.

“I can see that scaring a lot of people or others may think they’re pushing something here – that it’s very avant-garde,” he said. “It’s testing people’s limits.”

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