Street People

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Assistant professor Matt Haffner’s photos lend urban cool to the contemporary art scene…

Georgia (Oct 28, 2009)

Assistant professor Matt Haffner’s photos lend urban cool to the contemporary art scene
By Jennifer Hafer
From self-proclaimed juvenile delinquent to the toast of the contemporary art scene, Assistant Professor of Photography Matt Haffner’s art brings the gallery to the streets of Atlanta and urban cool to the art world.
            Haffner combines elements of film noir, comic books and graffiti to create what he calls “ambiguous narratives” through a wide variety of media, including paintings, drawings, public works and installations.
            “I always have these narratives, this little storyline in my head for each piece, and some of them are very specific and some are just kind of loose, but I’m not interested really in revealing that – those little stories – what I’m really interested in is people kind of investigating that themselves,” he said. “Like, ‘why is this character touching this person on the shoulder,’ or ‘why are these hands about to touch in front of this background of Union Station?’ “I’m really interested in people asking themselves, ‘why is this happening?’”
            The son of school teachers, Haffner was born in Akron, Ohio. Expected to go to college, he dabbled in studying architecture before a friend’s enthusiasm for a photography class helped chart his course.
            “I had this friend who was taking a photography class with a professor he loved,” Haffner recalled. “I didn’t really have that, so I signed up for the class.”
            While experimenting with street photography as an undergrad at the University of Akron, Haffner heard the call of the urban jungle.
            “I loved that seedier side of town,” he said. “That’s where I would go to take pictures.”
            In 2006, as part of Atlanta Celebrates Photography’s first public art project, Haffner created “Serial City,” a series of giant photographic blowups of characters from his paintings that were wheatpasted on the backsides of buildings, old businesses and other sites around downtown Atlanta. Haffner received KSU’s prestigious Foundation Prize for the project.
            “I think it transcends what people’s idea about what graffiti is, but it also transcends what people’s idea about photography is too, and where those things can meet,” he says. “This is like street art with the volume turned way up.”
            After completing his Master of Fine Arts degree in 1998 at the Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia, Haffner was building cabinets and shipping crates for museum exhibits when he was “coerced” by his alma mater to teach a photography class.
            “I decided to go to grad school to be a better artist, and it was a big decision for me because it meant that I was committing myself to being an artist,” he said. “The decision to teach was a bit more accidental. I was coerced into teaching a class, and I just fell in love with it instantly.”
            Just as a passionate professor once inspired him to pursue photography as more than a hobby, Haffner is inspiring a new generation of artists at KSU.
            “I like his teaching style, and he’s passionate about the art,” said senior fine art photography student Geoffrey Smith. “He’s made me think about photography as more of an art form and less as a craft.”
            Working as a student intern, Smith helped install the public art project “Pushcart Vendors,” as well as serving as a studio assistant on Haffner’s recent solo show, “Tales of a Sleeping Giant” at the Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia. The spring solo show was the climax of a Loridans Award Haffner received from the museum.
            “Professor Haffner pushes his advanced students for something deeper conceptually,” Smith said. “It’s very challenging to come up with a new and original way of looking at something and that’s what he encourages us to do.”
            Haffner’s work is represented by Lyons Weir Ortt Contemporary in New York and Pentimenti Gallery in Philadelphia. Works by Haffner are included in the collections of: KUNSTWERK Museum, Berlin, Germany; Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia, Atlanta; Alston and Bird LLP, Atlanta; Charles McDougall, director, Desperate Housewives; Anglo Irish Bank, Dublin / New York; Alabama Theatre, Birmingham, Ala.; Temple Gallery, Philadelphia; Tyler School of Art, Philadelphia; University of Akron, Akron, Ohio; as well as in various private collections. He has also been invited to participate in Art 40 Basel in Miami Beach next summer. Art Basel is the world’s most prestigious show of modern and contemporary art.
            “It’s really kind of funny when you reach the point where you can’t even afford your own artwork,” Haffner laughs.


A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its nearly 43,000 students. With 11 colleges on two metro Atlanta campuses, Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the country and the world. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 6 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status. For more information, visit