Joseph Vavak (born 1979) is a photographic artist from Omaha, Nebraska that explores small details and lesser-known histories, random highways and isolated places. His work focuses on his home state of Nebraska and the surrounding region. He believes that every place, no matter how small or seemingly inconsequential, has had meaning for someone at some time, and seeks to document and preserve their existence.
His first large-scale project was a photographic survey of the state of Nebraska entitled ninety-three. This collection of photographs features one image for every one of Nebraska’s 93 counties. Ninety-three was exhibited in 2010 and published as a photo book in 2013. Since then, he has worked on projects documenting South Omaha (called The Magic City), the Loess Hills region of western Iowa, and Fontenelle Forest in Bellevue, Nebraska, along with small town main streets throughout the Great Plains and upper Midwest.
Joseph Vavak received a degree in photography from Metropolitan Community College and a BA in art management from Bellevue University. His work has been exhibited at several galleries including Hot Shops Art Center and the Hillmer Art Gallery. His photographs can be found in several private collections.
Projects and Exhibitions
I'm currently looking for opportunities to exhibit and publish, both locally and nationally. Please contact me if you have any questions.
An Anniversary (2017-)
In June of 2007, I set out to photograph Nebraska for the first time, starting at the grave of the first Vavaks to settle in Saunders County. This effort would eventually become ninety-three, a series with one photo for each county in the state. To celebrate the tenth anniversary of the first trip, I revisited some of the places I photographed to see what has (and hasn’t) changed. The result is called An Anniversary and features pairs of photographs composed nearly identically - one from my original trip, the other captured a decade later. Some subjects have changed, some have simply eroded, and others are gone altogether.
In the far northwest corner of Nebraska's panhandle lies the Oglala National Grassland. This remote area, largely unpopulated and abandoned, has a tumultuous history including the controversial death of Crazy Horse, leader of the Oglala Lakota people. These photographs, taken over multiple visits to the area, capture my experience in a wide open frontier that stretches across into three states: Nebraska, Wyoming, and South Dakota. It's a fascinating place, with huge skies and unusual landscapes, along with a few towns that continue to hang on in the 21st century. Oglala has not yet been exhibited publicly.
A project dedicated to the idea of a walk in the woods, an exploration of Fontenelle Forest located in Bellevue, Nebraska. What started as a way to spend a fall morning turned into a thorough survey of Fontenelle Forest covering every one of its nearly twenty miles of trails and all four seasons. This presented a new challenge to me in several ways, from the natural subject matter to the relatively small area I chose to document. The result is a unique look at one of Nebraska's oldest protected areas and something I am very proud of. This series was first exhibited at the Forest's Nature Center in the spring of 2015.
The Magic City (2011-14)
I moved to South Omaha a few years ago and immediately found myself falling in love with this part of the city. Nicknamed the Magic City, South Omaha was celebrated for how quickly its population grew due to the world-famous stockyards after being founded in 1884. Today, South Omaha is home to a rising Hispanic-American population that has revived its main streets with locally-owned businesses and a sense of community that was missing a decade or so ago.The Magic City captures and celebrates its landscapes and details as they exist at this time. This series was exhibited at the Hot Shops Art Center in Omaha in May of 2012.
My first large scale project is called ninety-three. This series, a photographic survey of Nebraska, includes one photograph for each of Nebraska's 93 counties. I began in Saunders County at the grave of Matej and Katerina Vavak, the first Vavaks to settle in Nebraska in the mid-1860's. From there, I criss-crossed the state on numerous trips, eventually ending up with a sort of visual diary of what I encountered. ninety-three is very much about discovering who I am as an artist and what the place I've called home since the mid-1990's means to me. The series was exhibited at the Hot Shops Art Center in Omaha in May of 2010.
This was my first full portfolio, completed as part of earning my degree from Metropolitan Community College here in Omaha. Up to this point, I hadn't yet quite figured myself out. Working through this project helped me find my vision and set the stage for everything that has come since. The photographs, almost entirely mundane or slight odd architecture, were taken near home in places like Fremont, Nebraska and Creston, Iowa. I remember at the time being told that I would come to dislike my first portfolio as I moved forward, but that really hasn't been the case. It's still something I'm very proud of.