Documenting the City, One Frame at a Time

Written by Laura Paskin
February 27, 2013

From zero to fifty in five years, the number of majors in the photography program at Seattle University grows every year under the direction of Professor Claire Garoutte.

Garoutte, who came to photography after meeting a Mauritanian photojournalist in college, published her first book, Matter of Trust, in 1996. She was working as the house photographer for glass artist Dale Chihuly when her passion for art and culture led her to Cuba. There she documented Afro-Cuban rituals and later published a second book, Crossing the Water: A Path to the Afro-Cuban Spirit World.

After an 8-year stint as education director at Photographic Center Northwest, she joined the faculty in the College of Arts and Sciences. Hired to develop a BFA in photography, Garoutte brings the same passion to her teaching as she does to her art. Today, her students eagerly follow in her footsteps.

Little Saigon, a neighborhood adjacent to campus, has been the economic and social center for Seattle’s Vietnamese population since the early 1980s. Last fall, the annual photo competition “EXPOSED: Little Saigon” offered cash prizes for winners in four categories:  culture, spaces and places, food, and the marketplace. Four students joined Garoutte for two days, reviewed each other’s work, and then made their submissions.

When the awards were announced in December, junior Bridget Baker took prizes in the marketplace category, the Voters’ Choice Award, and an Artistic Excellence Award. First year student Taylor Spencer received awards in the food and marketplace categories as well as an Artistic Excellence Award. In addition, photographs by juniors Svetlana Blinderman and Felix Hidajat were chosen by jury to be included in the December exhibition.

Baker enjoys exploring and documenting her first impressions: “I focus on alignment, symmetry, and color, but straight forward with a twist.

Urban street photography is where Spencer excels: “I like crowds, and Little Saigon is filled with people shopping. The markets are exciting.”

“It was a good experience to engage with people I didn’t know and take their photos,” Hidajat said. “It was different to get involved in that community and not think of them as strangers.”

For Blinderman, the experience built on her interests in architecture and history: “It’s important to document life in cities, capturing culture, people, and place in a thriving community. Cities change quickly.”

The students enjoyed a reception for the artists in Seattle’s International District. In February, the exhibit moved to the Seattle Center for the Tet in Seattle Festival, celebrating the Vietnamese New Year.

The College of Arts and Sciences offers 42 undergraduate majors, 37 minors, and 7 master's degrees, including an MFA in Arts Leadership.