Davenport museum adds UI alum’s work to permanent collection

Aaron Lurth graduated from the University of Iowa in 2012 with an MFA in Photography and Graphic Design. A decade later, he’s being added to the Figge Art Museum in Davenport for one of his photography series.


Contributed photo of Aaron Lurth

Ariana Lessard, Arts Editor

The Figge Art Museum Acquisition voted unanimously to add two photos from Aaron Lurth’s latest series, “My Paper Tiger: Carl,” to their permanent collection in Davenport, Iowa.

Lurth is a University of Iowa alumnus with an MFA in Photography and Graphic Design who graduated in 2012.

The “My Paper Tiger: Carl” series examines Lurth’s relationship with anxiety through the funny but provocative photos of a man covered in hair. The hair-covered man is at several different events throughout the photos, looking both silly and awkward in every setting.

Lurth said he had always thought of himself as a photographer and not an artist.  But that changed in his first semester at the UI when he took a photography class.

“I was introduced to a photographer, Gregory Crewdson, and Gregory Crewdson really opened my eyes to a different way of working, and he’s been a huge kind of influence in my life ever since then,” Lurth said.

Despite the UI’s role in transforming Lurth’s view of photography, he had a passion for it dating back to high school. He was fortunate enough to have a photography teacher who he credited with introducing him to the form.

Lurth said he felt as though he had been “randomly helped along the way,” and now, as a professor at Luther College, the same college he attended as an undergraduate, he aspires to do the same for his students.

“My greatest honor probably happened a couple of years ago … when someone who graduated probably five years ago came back, and just said how much their class had meant to them and that it had influenced them,” he explained. “That is really the only real reason why we teach, right? To help people and to influence people.”

A big milestone for Lurth came his senior year of high school, when he was offered a position to photograph the world’s largest air show as a Canon-sponsored photographer — a gig that endured for ten years.

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“That was like an awesome, awesome experience, and it got me shooting with a lot of other professionals. It also got me to meet a lot of other people in the world. Lots of celebrities, lots of astronauts and pilots and stuff were there that I got to know which is pretty cool,” Lurth said.

From there, he began his education at Luther College, where he studied abroad on the island of Malta for a semester. There, he talked his way into being the first photographer allowed to document the refugee camps on the islands. The series ended up getting used by the Red Cross to raise more money to help fund the refugee camps.

That series also allowed him to get me into graduate school at the UI, which he describes as his “big break-in [to the industry] moment.”

He then taught a few other classes and double-majored in photography and graphic design for his MFA. Before returning to Luther College after graduation to take on the dual role of teaching and being the Director of Visual Media, he oversaw the marketing photos and video of Luther College until four years ago, when he transitioned to teaching full time.

Lurth explained that while he still often does freelance graphic design work, his love for graphic design was ignited by the UI as well.

“I’m really interested in the way that people communicate, and I saw photography and graphic design almost as like the two branches of the same kind of way of communication, which is the visual style of communication,” Lurth said.

Despite Lurth’s background as a travel photographer and documentary filmmaker, he explained that his passion has always been trying to capture strange and oftentimes funny moments from the world around us.

“What I like about that kind of photography is this ability to kind of act like a mirror. So I like the fact that you’re able to find quirky or mundane moments, and then force people to look at them again,” Lurth said, “I really like trying to find humor in everyday life.