Rylan Steele is an established artist teaching as a tenure track faculty in photography at Columbus State University. Rylan received an A.S. in Photographic Technology from the Southeastern Center for Photographic Studies at DBCC, a B.F.A. in Photography from Florida International University and a M.F.A in Photography from the University of Georgia. Rylan is currently working on a new group of photographs that explore Ave Maria, a catholic inspired community in a remote area of southern Florida. These photographs are an investigation of the infrastructure that supports the founders’ utopian vision.
This body of work is an investigation of Ave Maria, a catholic inspired community that was built in southern Florida. Florida has a complicated history that includes the nations oldest city, Saint Augustine, artificial realities like Disney World, and Seaside, which is one of the most studied contemporary master planned communities. Ave Maria was established in 2007, by Tom Monaghan, founder of Dominoes Pizza, as a place that offers “the best of both worlds — the great quality of life of Naples and a new dynamic Catholic and educational community.”
Ave Maria is not a gated community, but it does exist in a remote location primarily bordered by rural communities and wildlife conversation areas. I am interested in the infrastructure that supports the founders’ utopian vision. As with all utopias, what currently exists is not what was intended. Many aspects of this place and the residents might be easy to ridicule, that is not my intention. My interests remain in looking at the place, to observe how the community develops following its artificial creation.
The town of Ave Maria was designed around a Catholic Oratory and Ave Maria University, a small Catholic liberal arts college that was relocated from Ypsilanti, Michigan. In addition to its Catholic principles, Ave Maria was marketed as a small town destination for families and a paradise for retirees wanting to take advantage of the great weather. Possibly due to the economic collapse, there is a lower than expected population of the community and the university. Ave Maria continues to grow at a slow pace and it is unclear how, or if, the community will be able to succeed.
I was drawn to photograph Ave Maria because of my ongoing interest in how community is defined in contemporary society. I grew up in Florida and I am fascinated by the landscape, not living there has made it possible for me to photograph it. I find it curious that someone would build a community that is philosophically and geographically isolated from most of the population, but I appreciate his commitment and his hope that people will want to live in the place he created.
Rylan has exhibited photographs in numerous exhibition spaces over the last few years, both regionally and nationally. His work has been included in exhibitions at the Houston Center for Photography, the Light Factory in Charlotte, the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, and the Detroit Center for Photography. Mostly recently, he installed a solo exhibition of his series Ave Maria at George Mason University and will be included in Southern Exposure: Photographs From the Do Good Fund Collection later this fall. His work has also appeared in traditional and online publications, including Fraction, Oneonethousand, Wired, the Oxford American, and Newsweek. Rylan has participated in artist residencies at The Atlantic Center for the Arts, with master artist Thomas Struth and the Hungarian Multicultural Foundation in Budapest. Additionally, he has been active in photography portfolio review events including FotoFest in Houston, PhotoNola in New Orleans and most recently, has secured a position at the 2015 Photolucida reviews in Portland, Oregon.
To view more of Rylan’s work, please his website.