Light Work at SCOPE New York, Booth #C58

We’re so excited to have a booth at the SCOPE New York International Art Fair, which begins next week on March 3. Mary Lee Hodgens, our Program Manager, and myself will both be in booth #C58 talking to artists and art lovers about our residency program, exhibitions, and our journal Contact Sheet. Of course, we will also be selling lovely limited edition, signed and numbered prints from our Fine Print Program, as well as an assortment of beautiful signed books. If you’re in the New York area, please stop by, visit with us, hear all about the latest in our mission to support the best in emerging photography, and support us with the purchase of a print or book. Every penny we make through these sales goes right back into our programs.

Carrie Mae Weems – Kitchen Table Series
Untitled, from the Kitchen Table Series, 1990/2010
Silver gelatin print, 9 7/8 x 9 3/4″ image on a 14 x 11″ sheet
Signed and numbered print in a limited edition of 100
Available online here and at SCOPE New York, Booth #C58

Click here to read more about attending SCOPE New York including ticket prices and admission times. See you at Booth #C58!

—Mary Goodwin, Associate Director

Best from the Rest: Forward Thinking Museum & PAL

The Forward Thinking Museum has posted a wonderful video about an exciting project taking place with local students in Syracuse, New York. The Photography and Literacy Project (PAL) builds visual and verbal literacy, as well as self-confidence, by asking students to explore their lives through photography and writing. PAL founder and director Stephen Mahan launched the project in July 2010, and ever since then, hundreds of students have filled just as many notebooks with their thoughts and observations. Mahan explains, “Our educational system is set up to deal most effectively with one type of learner, and I was the ‘other’ type of student with reading and attention problems that made me feel a certain way. So what I try to do is even the playing field by using a camera as a storytelling device that articulates and validates each individual’s point of view, which builds self esteem. When the pictures are all laid out on the table, it is impossible to tell which kid has difficulties, and that is what motivates my passion.” Click on the image below to see the video and read more about PAL.

Best from the Rest: Left of Black

Check out this amazing conversation between Carrie Mae Weems and Duke University Professor Mark Anthony Neal from Left of Black. They talk about many of Weems’ iconic series, including the Kitchen Table Series, From Here I Saw What Happened and I Cried, Slow Fade to Black, Constructing History, and her latest project, in collaboration with Social Studies 101, called Operation Activate, a grass roots public art anti-violence intervention in Syracuse, New York. We’d love to hear your thoughts about the interview, and it would be great to hear from people living in Syracuse about how Operation Activate has impacted the community. Please leave your comments down below!

From the Files: Ode to the Slide Sheet

Most work that comes into Light Work these days—in applications for our Artist-in-Residence program, exhibition opportunities, or publishing projects—is in the form of digital files on a disk. The screen, of course, possesses a luminescence of its own and is undoubtedly a great way to show and look at work easily, quickly, and inexpensively.

From time to time, though, I do miss the slide sheet as a way of looking at work. A really great slide sheet is like a treasure chest stuffed with little gems. Take for example this slide sheet submitted by Angelika Rinnhofer back in 2004 in support of her application for a Light Work residency (click on the image to enlarge it).

The sheet is mostly comprised of work from her Menschenkunde series, which she describes in her application:

“With my Renaissance-style photographs I try to open the viewer’s mind to experience art as a combination of facts, beauty, and irony. The true subject of my portraits may be termed the question of representation. By capturing the lighting, composition, and mood of portraits by Old Masters, I achieve a double irony: first, my photographs portray contemporary persons; and second, they evoke familiar paintings. These images reflect on the very essence of portraiture; what is a unique person, and what a unique likeness? According to Jakob Burckhardt, a 19th-century Swiss art historian, portraits by Renaissance artists like Dürer, Rembrandt, and Vermeer linked beauty and psychological insight. I draw concepts from art history to express my intentions.”

We liked what we saw in the application, and Angelika has been a friend ever since. She completed her residency in 2005. Work from her series Menschenkunde, Felsenfest, and Seelensucht was featured in Contact Sheet 144 and a Light Work Main Gallery exhibition in 2007. Her image Felsenfest 1—Agatha, below, is in the Light Work Collection and the print Menschenkunde VII is in the Light Work Fine Print Program.

And it all started with an amazing slide sheet, well edited and jumping off the light table.

—Mary Goodwin, Associate Director

Rachelle Mozman on Costa del Estes

Rachelle Mozman’s exhibition Costa del Estes is currently on view at Aguilar Library in New York City until April 2, 2011. Rachelle and I recently talked about Costa and her other work in an email interview that traverses the suburbs of New Jersey and Panama, the politics of being a child in different cultures, and Mozman’s latest images of her mother.

Mary Goodwin: Earlier this month, you opened a show of your work Costa del Estes at the Aguilar Library as part of En Foco’s Touring Gallery Exhibition series. Costa del Estes, as well as a parallel series called American Exurbia, have been developed over the past couple of years. These bodies of work imagine the life of children in gated communities in Central America and the United States, settings that you describe as “. . . isolated, secure, and homogenous.” How did you get interested in making work about these communities?

Rachelle Mozman: I was initially interested in photographing what I saw to be the changing landscape of areas now known as exurbia in New Jersey. I had been driving out to teach at a community college in Randolph New Jersey, and I simply started noticing all the new corporate campuses and gated communities going up where woods once were. I was very attracted to photographing the changes. I started out making photographs of security guards in front of their posts, but then was drawn to the women I would see and then introduce myself to in the Dunkin Donuts. Then, gradually, through photographing the women in their homes, I became very interested in photographing their children. Once I began making photographs of the children, there was something that was coming through in the pictures that was very emotional for me, and I found myself narrowing in and just focusing on the children. I had grown up partially in the suburbs of New Jersey as a teenager, and I always felt a profound isolation in the American suburbs. When I realized that exurbia and the gated community was taking the idea of the suburb to a new level of isolation and homogeneity of class, I  was really drawn to exploring this, and the fantasy of isolation in order to achieve safety from the city and the other.

When I traveled to Panama in 2005 and realized that the gated community phenomenon had moved down there, I felt I had to make photographs. Costa del Este is the name of this gated community, where in essence all the middle class and wealthy Panamanians have moved to in the last five years. Each neighborhood has a gate, and they have a separate school, mall, etc. I was fascinated by the imitation of American lifestyle, but in a very Latin American, Panamanian way. Children there are brought up in a very small bubble, again from fear of interacting with another class or race, and fear of crime. But incidentally as the wealth and separation of class grows, so does the crime.

MG: There’s a curious power dynamic going on in Costa. All of the subjects are quite young, with the oldest looking not even tween. However, the helplessness and dependency associated with being that young is equalized in a couple of ways. Firstly, the camera is always at the children’s level giving their gaze as much importance as the viewers’. Secondly, the children don’t act like children — the way they stand and gesture has an oddly adult character to it. Do the children somehow reference the adults who also presumably populate these interiors?

RM: Yes, absolutely, the children in Costa do reference the adults. It could also be due to how they are taught to interact in front of a camera, as well as my interest in representing who they might be when they are adults. I believe the power dynamic that is picked up on in the photographs is based on the children’s sense of self-identity as an adult might have. It’s an identity that is tied to a sense of entitlement. Because the children rarely interact with people they don’t know (they are primarily in a small circle of their family and their maids), I often felt while photographing that they saw me as hired help. This is partly why there is that sense of power in their pose, and also why I chose to place the camera at eye level. I was drawn to revealing this and their conditioning. But after a few years I became very saddened by it.

MG: How have the children reacted to seeing themselves in your images?

RM: They often feel that the photographs are beautiful, but because they are not being represented in a way they are accustomed to seeing in the local socialite magazines, hair being fluffed, and heads tilted to one side, the pictures don’t appeal to them enough. They also do not see these photographs as art, more as snapshots of people they know. As a consequence they would never buy one and place it in their homes, because it would be a snapshot of some one else’s child.

MG: Who have you been looking at as you’ve developed this series? Which artists have influenced your work along the way?

RM: Roger Ballen is an influence. Also the work of August Sander is an influence, as well as the painter Velasquez and other portrait painters of the 16th and 17th century. I was thinking a lot about the strangeness of some of Sander’s portraits as well as the representation of identity and power in the paintings of Velasquez. I am often told my pictures are strange, but it’s not something I intentionally aim for. I feel that Sander was not trying to make strange images either, but sometimes something is revealed there. This tension is something that I am interested in.

MG: Tell us a little about your participation with En Foco. How have they supported you as an artist, and specifically this exhibition? What is their Touring Gallery Exhibition series — will Costa tour to multiple venues?

RM: En Foco has been wonderful, and I am very happy that they invited me to exhibit. They are a very important institution, and they do wonderful work. I love the idea of placing this work outside the context of the art world into the community. There are no immediate plans as of yet to continue touring the exhibit, but I would be happy to do it!

MG: While you were a Light Work Artist-in-Residence, you worked on printing images from Costa and Exurbia and also on shooting images for the series that eventually became Scout Promise. Can you explain what the Girl Scout Promise is for those who weren’t Scouts themselves earlier in life? Promise seems to be connected to your earlier series through the idea of exclusive communities/groups that impose an artificial order on childhood. Although in Promise, the children seem to have a healthier, more connected relationship with the environment?

RM: Yes, I am really interested in exploring that “artificial order” on childhood you mention. But I think it’s my interest in how societies are structured and how children are conditioned that is at the heart of my interest in photographing childhood. In Girl Scout culture the promise is at the center of what they teach the girls. I found it to be simultaneously beautiful and terrifying that the girls would recite this promise at the start of every meeting.

It’s the same attraction and terror I feel toward any structured group. In general I find the Girl Scouts to be very positive and even essential for girls, particularly in third world countries. I photographed the girl scouts in Panama, and I found it to be so important. In countries where the feminist movement has not gained strength, or where women have fewer rights, I feel that the Girl Scouts offer a great support and outlook for the girls. Who else in a predominantly Catholic country will teach them about sex education and the importance of protection against sexually transmitted disease?

MG: Most recently, you’ve started making pictures of your mother. Please tell us about this most recent series.

RM: The photographs of my mother are more overtly performative and theatrical than my previous work, although one can tell in my prior portraits that I am interested in blending the document with the narrative. The work with my mother, entitled Casa de Mujeres, represents three characters that are all played by my mother: an upper class woman, her darker twin sister, and her maid.

To make these images I borrowed heavily from stories from within my own Panamanian family. But the images represent a fictional home in a fictional Latin American country. In fact, so far I have photographed within the colonial homes of three Central American countries to make these images. The pictures address the conflict of race and class that can exist under one roof within Latin America, as well as within one person. Ultimately these photographs can be read as portraits of my mother as her various selves—like a nested doll—and read as images that reveal the conflict of vanity, race, and class that live within one woman.

MG: Costa del Este will be at the Library until April 2. What’s next in terms of exhibitions and publications? Where can we look for your work in 2011?

RM: In March I will be exhibiting in the launch of Humble Arts Foundation book launch of Collectors Guide Vol. 2. In June I will be exhibiting in the S Files Biennial at El Museo del Barrio, and later in the year I will be exhibiting in a commissioned project for Foto España.

MG: Thanks for catching us up on your work, Rachelle.

Images (from top): Cost Azul, 2006; Twins in Yellow, 2007; Group of four with rope, 2009; En el cuarto de la niña, 2010.

The Light Work Patron's Card

A subscription to the award-winning journal Contact Sheet is a great way to keep up on the best work in emerging photography — it has been for over 30 years. And it just keeps getting better. Now, subscribers to Contact Sheet receive a personalized Patron’s Card that gives them access to amazing benefits like free admission or discounts at dozens of participating venues across the United States and beyond.

These reciprocal benefits come through the Photographic Resource Center’s Connections Network, whose 25 members include, among others:

Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth, TX
Center, Santa Fe, NM
Center for Photography at Woodstock, NY
George Eastman House, Rochester, NY
International Center of Photography, NYC
Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago
San Francisco Camerawork, CA
Southeast Museum of Photography, Daytona Beach, FL

Click here to see a full list of participating organizations and read about benefits for each.

When you purchase either a print or an online subscription, you will receive your personalized Patron’s Card in the mail to start using immediately. The card is valid for the duration of your subscription. Enjoy!

DuBois, Stein, and Steinmetz East of Eden

Love the work that Sarah Stolfa and her staff are doing for photography and photographers over at the Philadelphia Photo Arts Center. Known for staging world-class exhibitions in their space, PPAC’s upcoming show is something special. Three long-time Light Work friends, Doug DuBois, Amy Stein, and Mark Steinmetz, will be in a show there which opens March 3. The show, called East of Eden, sounds amazing. The exhibition revisits themes explored in the John Steinbeck novel, including, according to the PPAC, ” . . . themes of the west as a place for transformation and prosperity, familial relationships, America on the brink of change and the deterioration of the small town.”

I recently spoke to Sarah Stolfa, executive director, and Christopher Gianunzio, exhibitions coordinator at PPAC, about their reasons for staging East of Eden now and with these particular three artists:

“There has been a lot of discussion lately about attention span as it relates to both literature and artistic, or more specifically, photographic practice. We had been discussing the tremendous crossover between photography and literature in terms of descriptive power, narrative, and how photographs can function like written language. We wanted to do a show that fused these two mediums.

The Internet has radically changed the way we experience images and writings. We wanted to create an exhibition that reacted against this diminished attention span through photographic projects where time became an important factor in their conceptualization and production. The novel, East of Eden, is so sweeping in its scope, both in terms of time and the length of the book itself, it seemed like the perfect fit. Conceptually, it made sense to take a novel that has been so influential in literature and create an exhibition of contemporary works that embodied many of its central themes.

Doug DuBois’s work about his family, All the Days and Nights, fit perfectly with the concept of the show. Having worked on one project for decades, it has become a record of a family’s complex history. The themes within the work and the scope of the project both relate to Steinbeck’s novel. As does the theme of being stranded or traveling to a better place that Amy Stein uncovers in her work Stranded. Stein, in the aftermath of the failed response to the flooding of New Orleans in 2005, states the work “is a meditation on the despondence of the American psyche as this collapse of certainty left the country stuck in an unfamiliar space between distress and relief.” This loss of faith in the American promise resonates with the novel East of Eden. Mark Steinmetz’s interest in photography is how it can function as literature. The South Central work is not a document of Knoxville, TN, but rather a loose narrative about the deterioration of the small town and the socio economic implications during a shift in technology.

The other unifying link between these three artists, though working within varying aesthetics, is their choice to use the portrait as the delivery system.”

The exhibition open March 3 with a reception March 10 and an artist talk by Mark Steinmetz on March 11. In the meantime, check out Doug DuBois, Amy Stein and Mark Steinmetz‘s work in the Light Work Collection as well as this video of DuBois talking about his work over on Sunday and Wednesday:

Doug Dubois Interview from Georgi Unkovski on Vimeo.

—Mary Goodwin, Associate Director

Image: Amy Stein, Peri, Route 64, Outside Lexington, Kentucky, 2005

Students explore the Light Work Collection for curating ideas

We received the following note from Syracuse University graduate student Lily Betjeman, who is enrolled in the Goldring Arts Journalism Program at the school. As part of the coursework, the program asks their students to curate an exhibition from the Light Work Collection, which they do online. Lily writes in to share her experiences looking for exhibition ideas in the Collection:

When Amei Wallach, an art critic and filmmaker who is a visiting scholar for my course, asked us to curate an exhibition from the Light Work Collection, it felt unwieldy at first. After all, where do you start if you have over 3,000 works to draw on? The task proved much more fluid than I had thought, however, once I let myself respond to a couple works and associate from there. I have a feeling this experience may be common for people interested in art.

While reading about Light Work’s history on their website, an image called Cheers, from Standards of Perfection (1999) by Linda Adele Goodine stuck out. The work features a grid made out of wedding cakes interspersed with pictures of young female cheerleaders. The images of the girls look like they are taken from a yearbook, preserved moments of rigid good humor.

Often associated with ambitious if not repressed females, perfectionism can take a powerful hold of people. Goodine’s work shows both the allure and the falsity inherent in notions of female perfection. But I wanted to explore more artists’ visions of perfection.

Enter the search term “perfect” into the online Collection database and more than 700 images show up. The term “perfection” in contrast yields 30 images. I decided to look through the “perfect” images first to have a broader range to choose from. Rita Hammond’s Architecture: Resort Series was haunting and felt related to Goodine’s work. The series of black and white images capture resort culture in central New York. Absent in the photographs, however, are people.  One work, Untitled (track and stands of Saratoga Race Track), shows the deserted track, so lively during the summer months. I felt an inkling of a theme developing: Notions of Perfection in Americana.

I have much more searching to do, and I’m really excited to see where my instinct takes me. The process is about looking at art but also about forming connections, another kind of creative process. The show I end up with may desert my initial idea entirely, but I’m sure the exploration will lead somewhere revealing. — Lily Betjeman

We’re looking forward to seeing the results of the Goldring students’ research, and we’ll be featuring a selection of their exhibitions on this blog in April.

Jonathan Katz tonight at Light Work

We look forward to hosting a lecture tonight by Jonathan Katz, co-curator of the ground-breaking Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery exhibition Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture. If you are in the Central New York area, this is a not-to-miss event. Katz will deliver a presentation about his experiences with curating the exhibition, which is the first by a major museum to focus on sexual difference in the creation of modern American portraiture. He will also speak about the censoring of David Wojnarowicz’s video A Fire in My Belly from the exhibition. The work was removed from the exhibition by the secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, G. Wayne Clough, after pressure was exerted to remove it by William Donohue, president of the Catholic League, and by Congressional conservatives including Republican Speak of the House John Boehner and Republican Majority Leader Eric Cantor.

The removal of A Fire in My Belly seriously undermined the credibility and institutional autonomy of the Smithsonian. More importantly, it was a blatant act of censorship by those who seek to stifle free speech and the First Amendment in this country. Ever since the removal of A Fire in My Belly from the National Portrait Gallery, institutions large and small across America have staged screenings and lectures to create and maintain an open dialog about the work itself and what it means to everyone’s rights when one artist is censored due to the criticisms of special interest groups.

Katz’s lecture tonight at Light Work, entitled Ending the Loud Silence: Hide/Seek the Future of Queer Exhibitions and Freedom of Speech, will be the latest step in keeping these critical issues alive in the national dialog. Visit to read a list of current, past, and upcoming events in support of Wojnarowicz, openness in cultural debate, and the First Amendment.

—Mary Goodwin, Associate Director

Image: David Wojnarowicz, A Fire In My Belly (Film In Progress) and A Fire In My Belly Excerpt, 1986-87
Super 8mm film transferred to video (black and white and color, silent), 13:06 min. and 7:00 min. Courtesy of The Estate of David Wojnarowicz and P.P.O.W Gallery, New York and The Fales Library and Special Collections/ New York University.