Mum: Nancy Newberry



Judy Deaton, Curator

Today the homecoming mum ritual has expanded to include elaborate local customs that vary from school to school. Award-winning fine art photographer, Nancy Newberry captures this phenomenon in the context of current teenage cultural traditions and rites of passage attached to the uniquely Texas custom of the homecoming mum. Native Texan, Newberry’s focus on the ritual may at first appear lighthearted but themes of self-representation and the dynamics of current teenage social landscape are apparent through her process and unexpected juxtapositions of the subjects photographed in their own private world.  Newberry’s masterful photographic skills combined with a unique sensitivity to the subject have gained much deserved international attention.

Nancy Newberry, Artist Statement
Customs are vital in defining all cultures. “Mum” is survey of my own back yard exploring themes of self-representation and strange rituals of the everyday.
Artificial, shiny and virtually unknown outside of Texas, the Homecoming Mum is an elaborate corsage, exchanged between friends and admirers. They are ritually worn and subsequently immortalized, tacked to bedroom walls as trophies.  At a time when many American high schoolers seem purposefully disengaged from the world around them, the Mum constitutes both a unique act of cultural immersion and a specific brand of folk art.
Shot slowly and inspired by an interpretation of my memories, I have limited the settings of the photographs to in and around the subject’s homes. In this very personal space, I pair spontaneous and carefully arranged moments to construct and control chaos;  my interest is in the struggle between self and culture, the real and the perceived.  With the extravagance of adornment and insignia the work continues to explore ceremony and commonplace.
Human existence is a creative act; the mystery is in how we are driven to innovate and engage the unspoken narrative of ourselves.

Nancy Newberry, a fine art and documentary photography, was selected for the FotoFest International 2012 Biennial Discoveries of the Meeting Place exhibition in Houston and was nominated for the 2012 Baum Award for Emerging American Photographers, the John Gutmann Photography Fellowship, the 2011 Michael P. Smith Fund and was a 2009 recipient of The PhotoNOLA Review Prize.  Her work is included in the Collector’s Guide to New Art Photography published by Humble Arts Foundation, and American Photography 25 and 27, New York. She has received many honors and awards for her work from both publications and institutions including: Photo District News; The Photo Review; International Photography Awards; The Julia Margaret Cameron Award; Communication Arts; The International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences, The Webby Award; Hey, Hot Shot; Photolucida, Critical Mass; American Photography; and The Robert Cornelius Portrait Award. Newberry’s photographs are in public and private collections, including The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas.  Her photographs have been exhibited throughout The United States, Europe and China and are regularly published in magazines around the world.