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Charles Traub

Charles Traub

Acclaimed photographer | NY School of Visual Arts | Class of 1967

There are Illini legacies. And then there's Charles Traub’s family tree, with its orange and blue branches. 

“It should be noted that a good deal of the family attended the University of Illinois: my brother, my mother as well as my father, my paternal aunt and uncle and my paternal cousin and even my grandmother,” says the founder and chair of the MFA Photography, Video and Related Media Department at the School of Visual Arts in New York.

“The University and in particular, the Krannert Art Museum and its art department, were part of my heritage — my father loved both. We visited the campus as children many times. My father left an important photographic legacy with me that has stayed with me all my life.

“When I was a child, we frequently went on long auto trips to visit my father’s mother in central Illinois. I would grouse about how ugly the central plain looked as compared to my beautiful Kentucky with its rolling hills, where I was born and raised. He’d say: ‘You just can’t see it; the beauty is in the horizon, in the place distant where the earth meets the sky.’ 

“Many years later, when I attended the University and after my father had died, leaving me his Leica, I decided to take a photographic elective to learn about my camera. It was my last semester of my senior year in 1967. I had never taken an art course before.

"I went to the Krannert Art building to register and noticed hanging above the stairway transom to the photo department, a long, narrow black-and-white photograph of the central Illinois landscape and its horizon. 

“Such an image I had never seen before. It was by Art Sinsabaugh, a remarkable and celebrated photographer. He would be my first photography teacher. What serendipity! 

“The image was the quintessential statement of the vision my father had tried to implant in my head. I finally understood what he had loved about his native landscape, what really looking was about. I experienced the power of photography for the first time. That single picture connected everything in my heritage to my future as a photographer. 

“My whole life now is involved in making art, trying to define the possibilities of photographic vision and helping students to engage it as meaningfully as I had. For me, photography is our most powerful matrix for understanding our culture and civilization.”