Dick Blau has a BA in English from Harvard and a PhD in American Studies from Yale. He is self-taught as a photographer, with a lot of thanks to Milton Rogovin who let him hang out in his darkroom when Blau worked at SUNY Buffalo in the late sixties, where he had gone to help start the Program in American Studies. In the course of his time in Buffalo, Blau worked with founder Roberto Muffoletto to start Buffalo’s well-known Center for the Exploratory Art,CEPA, which continues to this day. Blau moved to Milwaukee in the mid 70’s, where he then co-founded the experimental UWM Department of Film and chaired it for twenty years.
In the course of his work with the UWM Film Department, Blau also began to make movies, learning from his colleagues through his collaborations with them. In addition to his own films, the latest of which is Milwaukee Night and Day (2020) he has worked with Robert Nelson, performing in Hamlet Act (1982) and Cecelia Condit, where he co-wrote and co-directed Oh Rapunzel with her in 1996.
In his photographic work, Blau follows two parallel lines of inquiry. On the one hand, he is a student of popular culture, with a particular interest in music and performance. Collaborating with anthropologists Charles and Angeliki Keil and Steven Feld, he has authored three photo-ethnographies –Polka Happiness (1992), Bright Balkan Morning (2002), and Skyros Carnival (2011).More recently, he has produced two other photographic books, Polka Heartland (text by Richard March) and Elephant House (with text by Nigel Rothfels.)
Blau also photographs closer to home, in the heart of the heart of the family. Photographs from his long term personal study of the domestic scene – now mocked-up in book form as Thicker Than Water: My Family in Photographs (1968-2018) — have been published widely. In an 80’s art tabloid like Theory/Flesh; in a 2009 Intervalles issue on Interdisciplinary Transcriptions; in Family Frames: Photography, Narrative, and Post Memory (1997), in the The M Word: Real Mothers in Contemporary Art (2011); and principally in a collaboration with writer Jane Gallop in her memoir/theory of domestic photography, Living With His Camera (2003).