ROE R. Cross Distinguished Professor
2004 - Larry Schwarm
Professor of Art Larry Schwarm began teaching at Emporia State University in 1988, retiring in 2013. In between, he built a legacy of award-winning photography and taught ESU students his trade.
Earth, wind, and fire. Camera, film, and students.
Schwarm’s favorite photographic subjects consist of fire and acts of nature. His 2003 photo book, On Fire, won the First Book Prize in Photography from the Center of Documentary Studies and Honickman Foundation and was the topic of NPR’s Weekend Edition Sunday.
Schwarm is a fire-chaser of sorts, tracking down the fields where man or nature has started the grassland renewal process.
“The experience of these fires is really so exhilarating,” Schwarm told Larry Hatteberg for a television episode of Hatteberg’s People. “It’s really impossible to describe. To take one photograph and try to capture it is so difficult. Almost impossible to do.”
When a F5 tornado destroyed his hometown of Greensburg, Kan., he chronicled the horror in stunning photos.
Growing up on a farm outside tiny Greensburg, helped inspire and prepare him for his work.
“The isolation encouraged me to be inventive and the subtle landscape taught me to be observant,” he said.
His works have been included in exhibitions around the country including the Chicago Art Institute and the Smithsonian. He has art in permanent collections in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Philadelphia and has won numerous fellowships and awards. One of his paintings appeared in a scene from the 1999 movie Double Jeopardy starring Tommy Lee Jones and Ashley Judd.
While he has a passion for art in general, photography is his true calling.
“I have always been fascinated by the way things look and photography both helps me keep those memories and to share the way that I see them.”
Schwarm shares his talent with students, too.
“Teaching the technical aspects of art is fairly easy, but the conceptual is much more difficult and students must find their own way. I rarely tell them what to do and mostly try to nudge them to discover their own directions. The beauty of photography is that it makes seeing the world more intense.
“I do not try to get students to make the same kind of images that I make, but to understand how to see and to use photography to express their personal vision. At the very least I hope that my students have learned to see the world around them with heightened clarity. I hope that they better understand the visual language to art and have a passion to produce it.”
All in all, Schwarm found the earth, wind, fire, camera, film, and students to be a matchless combination.
“Interacting with students and faculty offers me the amazing opportunity to teach, talk about, and do the very thing that I love most in the world. To have a job that requires me to do what I would choose to do anyway is a perfect situation.”