‘Design teachers saved me’

An image from Olausen’s Mother series titled “The Joy of Cooking.”

An image from Olausen’s Mother series titled “The Joy of Cooking.”

Internationally renowned photojournalist Judy Olausen (B.A. ’67) entered the University of Minnesota intending to study architecture. But a full class and a twist of fate led her to enroll in a photojournalism course taught by R. Smith Schuneman. It was a decision that would change her life.

Today, Olausen credits U of M College of Design faculty for teaching her the importance of design and helping her incorporate design-thinking into her work.

In the following interview, Olausen discusses her experiences at the college, her work as a photojournalist, and her exhibition.

How did your experiences at the College of Design impact your career?
I have always said that the design teachers saved me. I was a young, unsophisticated kid, and the only thing I had going for me was a burning curiosity plus some luck because I landed amongst the most remarkable, sophisticated, kind teachers at the University. Those design teachers took me under their wing, woke me up, and gave me an extraordinary education that became the foundation of what was to come.

What led you to document your mother and her experiences?
The Mother series is a very serious message about the cultural silencing of women and mothers during the 1950s and early 1960s. I wanted to present a history lesson to the next generation of young women and show them what they narrowly escaped. Thus the scenes presented in these photographs represent a decade characterized by a surreal synthesis of the silly, the grotesque, and the innocent, and captures the often contradictory roles of the American housewife.

Eventually, the series became the book Mother and, upon its release, it broke sales records at The New York Times. My mother—sole model for the book—and I went on a 45-city book tour.

Why did you decide to dedicate this exhibition to the College of Design?
The education I received there was a magical gift that I can never repay. It laid the foundation for my professional and personal life. I am forever grateful!

What advice do you have for recent graduates trying to define their careers?
I say the same thing graduates may have heard before, but it needs repeating: Listen to your own inner voice, your own intuition. Find something you are passionate about, that gives you joy. Because every day it will be something that you run toward, not away from.

For the full interview, see the original story at the U of M College of Design.

“Mother” is on display now through Sept. 1 at Norway House.

University of Minnesota, Twin Cities