Constructing Status and Reputation: Celebrated Leaders By Their Own Design

Tuesday, 12 July 2016: 15:00
Location: Seminar 31 (Juridicum)
Oral Presentation
Tracy Xavia KARNER, University of Houston, USA
In this paper, I will explore the construction of celebrity status by charting the path of two photojournalists who decided to create an international photography festival in Houston Texas with little more than an idea.  Today, Fotofest is one of the largest photography festivals in the world, the oldest in the United States and will host its sixteenth biennial in spring 2016.  Founders Fred Baldwin and Wendy Watriss incorporated Fotofest in 1983 and now it is recognized as one of the most important photography events in the world.  In 2014, over 275,000 people attended the six week biennial, coming from 43 countries.  More than a thousand (1,159) artists participated, coming from 40 countries and 37 US states, and exhibited in 130 art and civic spaces throughout the greater Houston area.  Additionally, 200 photography events were held that included talks, performances, art events and more—all together contributing an estimated $1.5 million in revenue to Houston businesses.  Beginning with a vision, their network of other internationally known photojournalists and awards for their own photographic work, Watriss and Baldwin set about creating a biennial that has elevated them to celebrity status in the photography world.  Data come from ten years of participant observation, archival research and interviews.  Findings include identifying the components of their celebrity, the various strategic partnerships they engendered, and how they symbolically linked their own success to the Fotofest brand. Tracing the processes of celebrity formation in occupational groups or specific communities, like the photography world, can add greatly to our general understanding of status and reputation construction.