Getty Center, J. Paul Getty Trust

Why Give Time to the Arts? 6 Questions for Getty Volunteer Stephen Thorne

Because art inspires!

Stephen Thorne has been part of the arts since he started volunteering at the Getty 16 years ago—twice that long if you count the first of his many visits to the Getty Villa, back in 1980.

With no background in art history, yet an ever-blossoming interest in art and culture awakened by childhood visits to museums and historic sites, Stephen invests two weekends a month (his “Getty weekends”) to be a volunteer. Getty volunteers offer a welcoming face to visitors from around the world—handing out maps, explaining the multimedia players, or answering the perennial visitor question, “Where do I start?” Say Guten Tag, and you might even get ein bisschen German from him.

My favorite place to welcome visitors is the Tram Arrival Plaza at the Getty Center. You never know who will get off that tram. People who come here are always so wide-eyed and excited to be here.

I started volunteering because getting to come to a place where I could smile and be nice to people wasn’t work, it was a vacation!

After a long day of looking at art, visitors look like they’ve just eaten an incredibly satisfying meal.

Art can change lives because it motivates people to expand beyond their boundaries. You may work an average 9-to-5 job, but then come here and feel inspired—see something you’ve never seen before, something that helps you think outside the box.

If the world didn’t have art it would just be boring. Can you imagine? What would you look at? What would you aspire to? I don’t think we could appreciate anything if we didn’t have art.

Want to swap stories (or German) with Stephen? You can find him on Saturday mornings at the Getty Villa and on Sunday afternoons at the Getty Center every other week. His next shift is this weekend, November 16 and 17.  And to join Stephen as a Getty volunteer, you can also apply here by December 31, 2013. No special art knowledge required, just a way with people.

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      A Chat with Photographer Tomoko Sawada

      A conversation about Japanese matchmaking traditions, self-portraiture, clothes, and identity.

      When did you start photographing yourself?
      I began making self-portraits when I was 19. It was an assignment for a photography class. I can’t even explain in Japanese why I liked them so much. It was instinctual. It’s as if I knew that this was going to be my style, that this is what I wanted to do. And I’m still doing it because I love the self-portrait, but I don’t know why. 

      What themes are you exploring in your work?
      I’m interested in the relationship between inside and outside. If you wear a sexy dress or if you wear kids clothes or casual clothes, people treat you differently. Even though you are you no matter what you wear. It’s that relationship that makes me think. 

      My new work is from when I was living in New York. When I was in New York, people didn’t think I was Japanese. Sometimes they thought I was Korean or Chines or Mongolian. Even Singaporean. It was funny, when I would go to the Japanese market, they would speak to me in English. When I went to the Korean market, they would speak to me in English again. I don’t seem to look Japanese outside of Japan. I was surprised because I think I look totally Japanese. It’s funny that people’s points of view are totally different.

      Could you talk a little about OMIAI, the series that represents a traditional Japanese matchmaking technique.
      OMIAI is a tradition that is somehow still working today. Usually, there is a matchmaker and photographs are exchanged before meeting. If both sides are interested, they can meet for lunch or dinner accompanied by their parents and steps for marriage proceed from there. In the old days, some people chose their marriage partner just through photographs, without even meeting each other. 

      When OMIAI was exhibited in Japan I saw people making various comments in from of the work. People would say things like, “she looks like a good cook; surely she would prepare delicious meals every day,” or “ this girl could be a perfect bride for my son,” or “I can tell she would not be a good housewife,” or “she’s such a graceful girl; she must be the daughter of a decent family.” Comments like that. 

      What was the process of making that work?
      I gained 10 pounds before I started taking the pictures, and in six months I lost forty pounds, because I wanted to look different in each photo. I wanted to change the way my legs looked. 

      Every weekend I went to the hair salon and put on a kimono. Then I went to the photo studio on the street in Japan. I would take a picture and then change my clothes to western dress. Then I would go to the studio again the next weekend. 

      Did you tell the photographer how you wanted it done?
      I told him I was an artist and wanted to make photographs with him. I told him to think that each weekend new girls would show up to make the OMIAI. I didn’t want him to think of me as the same girl who came every weekend. He understood the concept. 

      We had fun. While he was taking pictures, his wife would tell me how to lose weight. She gave me many tips.

      Tomoko Sawada’s work is on view at the Getty until February 21, 2016 in “The Younger Generation: Contemporary Japanese Photography”


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