Photographic Exhibit Focuses on Fresh Perspectives

2 MFA Students Use Different Approaches to Find Art in Everyday Life

Aug. 27, 2008

Two UT Dallas master’s of fine arts (MFA) candidates works are currently on exhibition at the Visual Arts Building. Jana Miller’s A Visual Biography: Jo Harvey Sullivan and Manuel Pecina’s The Arena both use the artistic medium of photography to capture their artistic visions of everyday life, but thanks to a major divergence in the chosen subject matters and treatments, the outcomes are drastically different.

The exhibitions run through Saturday, Sept. 13. Admission is free; gallery hours are Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. , and Saturday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. A reception is scheduled for Saturday, Aug. 29, from 6:30 to 9 p.m. The Visual Arts Building is located near Rutford Drive on the UT Dallas campus; enter at 800 W. Campbell and University Parkway.

MFA Candidate Jana Kay Miller

Miller moved at age 12 to Kaufman, where her grandmother Jo Harvey Sullivan lives. She was raised in the small Texas town, current population 7,000, located 30 miles southeast of Dallas.

Although she left Kaufman to get a college education, the city and its people have not left her. She pays homage to them in her final digital photography exhibit as a masters-level student at UT Dallas.

Miller’s final show, A Visual Biography: Jo Harvey Sullivan, is a glimpse into what life is like for her grandmother in Kaufman, a place Miller calls “a small town with character and history.” She says the town has influenced her life and work in the visual arts.

“My entire final show at UT Dallas is based on my grandmother, Jo Harvey Sullivan, who spent the majority of her life living in Kaufman,” said Miller. “My grandmother is 81 years old and works every day. She is a vibrant person, and I want people to experience her energy through my work. The scenes are composed to show her active lifestyle, but at the pace of the small town life.”

Miller received her bachelor’s degree in graphic design from Dallas Baptist University in 2006, and then came to The University of Texas at Dallas to further her education in the visual arts.

“In her earlier work, Jana pulls on her experience as a Texan from a rural area to describe everyday activities on a farm – foreign to the rest of us who haven’t had that experience. She has a wonderful way of tapping all that experience in a way that is very contemporary,” said Marilyn Waligore, associate professor of photography at UT Dallas. “For the MFA show, she was able to continue her interest in sequential imagery in a different way. Using the familiarity of a family member but avoiding sentimentality, Jana explores issues such as aging in contemporary society and stereotypes of women.”

“I am so gratified to have completed requirements for my master’s degree, and for my grandmother to have been a part of that journey,” said Miller. “She has always motivated me to do my best. She is an example I hope to live up to.”

Being a part of the artistic process was a departure for Sullivan, who works in the office of the Oak Grove Water System, performing billing and other tasks.

“It was like nothing I’ve ever done before,” said Sullivan.

Acting as an observer rather than a director, Miller set her camera up away from Sullivan and began shooting photographs of her completing daily tasks. Each scene originally had 75 to 100 photographs taken of it over a span of around 30 minutes, depending on the task at hand. Later, Miller selected shots that best composed the piece.

Sullivan plans to attend her granddaughter’s Artist Reception, and has even offered to make a special dessert for the guests.

MFA Candidate Manuel Pecina

Pecina likes to blur the lines between art and life. His latest collection of work as a UT Dallas student uses digital imagery to capture some of life’s more common archetypes.

“The pieces display people doing everyday things – nothing and something – maintaining the social hierarchy, or not,” said Pecina.

Pecina credits his high school teachers for encouraging him to become an artist, in particular his algebra and science literature teachers at Garland High School.

He came to UT Dallas to continue his arts education because of developments in Web technology within the new and emerging media of mass communication and social networking systems.

“Manuel went from an artist full of ideas and potential to a focused and determined artist, someone well aware of how he works and what he wants to say. It was a pleasure to be a part of his process and development,” said Thomas Riccio, professor of performance and aesthetic studies, also Pecina’s graduate advisor. “Manuel’s approach to the MFA exhibition was disciplined and systematic. As a student and artist, he strives for perfection and refinement.”

Pecina’s plans for the future include two projects. One involves a 21st century interpretation of ancient stone-relief Meso-American deities. The other, Time Frame: a New Media Video Art Installation, will take place Sept. 25-27 on social networking site Seesmic.

For information about the many musical, arts, theatre, dance and other performances and exhibitions held throughout the year at UT Dallas, visit or call 972-UTD-ARTS (972-883-2787). Persons with disabilities needing special accommodations may call 972-883-2982, Texas Relay Operator: 1-800-RELAYVV.

Media Contacts: Karah Hosek, UT Dallas, 972-883-4329, [email protected]
or the Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, 972-883-2155

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Above: Jana Kay Miller’s show is a glimpse into what life is like for her grandmother in Kaufman, Texas, a place Miller calls “a small town with character and history.”

Below: Manuel Pecina's work uses digital imagery to capture some of life’s more common archetypes.

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April 20, 2018