On April 14, the Division of University Advancement welcomed Rowan alumnus Shaun Pierson, a photographer who received his B.A. in radio, television and film (RTF) in 2019. Pierson is currently an MFA candidate at the Yale School of Art and used photography as a means of expression to escape his turbulent childhood.
For Pierson to understand the painful reality that was his childhood, he recreated memories with immediate family members as subjects in locations from his youth. This special project resulted in his first photo series: the autobiographical fantasy “Alvine Road.” Pierson’s work has been shown at the Midwest Center for Photography, the Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art, the Foley Gallery in New York City and was recently featured in Vogue Italia and i-D Vice.
Not only has Pierson had the opportunity to showcase his work in several galleries and other media, but he was also recently named by Feature Shoot as one of 13 top emerging photographers selected from around the world, with his work to be shown in London as part of this accomplishment.
Before Pierson came to Rowan in 2015, he cut off all contact with his mother, who suffered from addiction. He and his sister had been living with their grandparents, and Pierson wanted nothing more than to leave his life behind. However, he would soon discover how everything comes full circle when he returned to what he had abandoned for his work.
“I came to Rowan in 2015 to study RTF because I always had this idea that I wanted to be a film director growing up,” Pierson said. “I always had this really deep love of film, and it just made sense for me to go to college for film.”
When Pierson joined the RTF program, he began to find his rhythm and get comfortable with what he was learning. The summer before his junior year of college, he experienced mental blocks and was not feeling the best that he could physically. To find a way out of this creative rut, he decided to enroll in a photography course at the beginning of his junior year with Danna Singer, a professor in the art department at Rowan.
“When I say I’ve never had something make as much sense to me as photography did almost immediately, I completely mean it,” Pierson said. “The sheer quality of the work that we were looking at the time was completely mind-blowing to me.”
Pierson showed a few works of art created by those who have helped to shape his style and language still today, from Gregory Crewdson to Jen Davis, Sally Mann and Andrei Tarkovsky. It was seeing these artists’ pieces and films that helped Pierson realize his photography needed to be about more than just completing a class assignment.
“At first, I was really just trying to make these really beautiful pictures because I’ve always been a really visual person,” Pierson said.
During his senior year, Pierson was taking an advanced photography class, and was tasked with creating a body of work as a final project. He decided to use what he already had — pictures he previously took of his family — as inspiration for what would become “Alvine Road.”
“I really started to reflect on why I was taking these pictures, and I really started to think about why I was using my family,” Pierson said. “I soon came to the realization that I wasn’t just using them as stand-ins; I was genuinely trying to say something about them and about myself.”
“Alvine Road” features personal photos Pierson took of his own family, from his grandparents to his mother and sister. It is a work of photography that cannot be done justice through description, but only through seeing it on his personal website, https://www.shaunpierson.com/.
“With photography in particular, I like that I’m able to have control over everything,” Pierson said. “I like that I have sole ownership of this thing, and that it’s so personal to me, and that I can choose to do something — or choose not to do something — and not have anyone else to second guess me or be in my ear.”
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