Image of the artist

Kenneth Josephson
Photo © John Goodman 2015


Chicago-based artist Kenneth Josephson (American, b. 1932) pioneered the practice of “set-up” photography, a technique in which the photographer manipulates their subject matter rather than simply documenting what they see. This process of making rather than taking pictures—as coined by the artist—focuses on the construction of images and offers a playful commentary on photographic truth and illusion.

Born and raised in Detroit, Josephson took an interest in photography at a young age. Josephson hoped to pursue a fine arts degree in photography; most schools in the 1940s and 1950s, however, offered only commercial photography programs, so he enrolled at the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) and earned an applied sciences certificate in photography. Soon after, he was drafted into the army, where he printed photographs used for intelligence and mapmaking. After being discharged, Josephson returned to an expanded photography program at RIT and studied under Beaumont Newhall and Minor White. Earning his BFA in 1957, Josephson moved to Chicago to work as a photographer at the Chrysler Corporation, where he realized that he would benefit from more schooling and applied to the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT). There he studied under photographers Aaron Siskind and Harry Callahan, two artists who would have a profound impact on his artistic development. After graduating from IIT in 1960, Josephson became the first full-time photography instructor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and is credited with founding the school’s photography department. His sweeping influence can be seen in many works by younger generations of conceptual artists.

Josephson is the recipient of a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation fellowship (1972) and two National Endowment for the Arts fellowships (1975 and 1979). His work is in many institutional collections including the Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; The Art Institute of Chicago; the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago; the National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC; Bibliotéque National, Paris; and Foograficka Maseet, Stockholm. He lives in Chicago where he continues to create.