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Anna Rotty.JPG

Photographer Anna Rotty sorts through photos for her series "Terra."

UNM photo student Anna Rotty draws from environment, memory

With the sun beaming overhead and the wind blowing a gentle breeze through her hair, Anna Rotty can often be found on walks, getting inspiration from the environment and memories. This student is deeply immersed in her first year pursuing a Master of Fine Arts with a focus in photography at the University of New Mexico.

“I feel like the most myself when I’m making art and interacting with the world in that way, kind of paying attention and slowing down and observing and then creating something new,” Rotty said.

Rotty is usually working on several projects, often series, over a period of time, playing with ideas of memory and nostalgia. Close friend Sofia Mendez Subieta, a second-year MFA student in photography, said Rotty’s pieces “defy a sense of reality.”

“There’s a sense of magic in her work that feels very inspiring and sort of mak(es) us take a moment to really contemplate and observe and be present in the space,” Mendez Subieta said.

Mendez Subieta brought up the daily walks Rotty takes where she can “engage with the space around her.”

“Walks are a big part of my practice and I’ll just kind of observe and it just feels like meditative states where I can kind of just get lost in looking and thinking about the difference between looking and really seeing something and understanding it and how that shifts in our minds over time,” Rotty said.

Rotty grew up in Massachusetts and got her Bachelor of Fine Arts from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She moved to San Francisco, California in 2013 before coming to Albuquerque for school last year after finding a supportive community, especially in associate photography professor Meggan Gould, third-year grad student Jenny Miller and Subieta Mendez.

But in California, seeing the wildfires shifted a large part of Rotty’s art focus to climate change.

“Having the sky turn bright orange one day really kind of made me realize how bad the situation is and I’d thought about it for a while, but my art, at that point, started getting less about people or media — I was doing a lot of things in response to politicians — but it kind of shifted my focus to more about the environment,” Rotty said.

There are two series Rotty is currently focused on: “Terra,” which are “constructive landscapes … using light and reflective materials to create these environments” and “Solastalgia,” which draws “a lot of connections between the images that I’m seeing and making here and then also comparing it to places I’ve lived before and thinking about how we understand a place and what our connection is to that place.”

Even though “Terra” started when the pandemic had everyone in lockdown, Rotty was able to evoke a feeling of being outdoors, according to friend and California gallery director Shirin Makaremi. She said Rotty uses what is accessible to her, which “pushes those boundaries and creates this alternative way of looking at subjects.”

A newer sect of the research Rotty is doing is interviewing people about their jobs, most recently with her father about his job with an energy company, to learn about how it relates to the environment. In addition, she’s been analyzing how family history impacts “how we understand our place in the world now.”

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Rotty described herself as a people person and said art can be a tool to “open up dialogues with people and generate community.”

“I think half of it is maybe making stuff for myself but the other half is engaging with other people and seeing their work, too, like that’s why I love being in this grad program and being fully immersed in it is something I’ve never been able to do and it really feels like such a gift of having the time and the space to be here. I’m very grateful to be doing this right now,” Rotty said.

At UNM, Rotty is teaching her own class for the first time, Introduction to Photography, and has enjoyed teaching students that already have and haven’t been exposed to photography alike. This has inspired her to hopefully continue teaching at the college level in the future. 

“I mean it’s part of my job here but it feels like it feeds the way that I think about art and photography and I really like the teaching aspect of it,” Rotty said.

Mendez Subieta is excited for Rotty, who she described as “reliable, responsible and generous,” to share “that knowledge that she has” with students in her first time teaching. Makaremi said Rotty “really encourages and pushes her community to grow.” 

“She’s very willing to help from a place of genuine kindness, which I think is very sincere. For me, that’s something that stood out from the very beginning; it’s a very sincere sense of wanting to help others,” Mendez Subieta said.

Rotty’s series “Phosphene” was recognized with the Denis Roussel Award in 2020.

Rotty’s work will be in the spring show “Not Yet and Yet” hosted by the UNM Graduate Art Association starting March 11. Rotty also mentioned the juried undergraduate exhibition happening at the John Sommers Gallery until March 17, noting that she’s impressed by the works of Gerald Lovato and Nora Vanesky specifically.

“I would love to continue making art and I think I always see myself as a practicing artist and I hope that that’s the case, that I can maintain growing and developing my work and always learning,” Rotty said.

Megan Gleason is the Editor-in-Chief of the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at or on Twitter @fabflutist2716

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