2017 Light Work Grants: Mary Helena Clark, Joe Librandi-Cowan, Stephanie Mercedes

August 28 – October 19, 2017
Jeffrey J. Hoone Gallery
Reception: Wednesday, Sep 13, 5-7:30pm

Light Work is pleased to announce an exhibition of works by recipients of the 43rd annual Light Work Grants in Photography. The 2017 recipients are Mary Helena Clark, Joe Librandi-Cowan, and Stephanie Mercedes. The exhibition will be on view in the Jeffrey J. Hoone Gallery at Light Work from August 28 – October 19, 2017, with an opening reception Wednesday, September 13, from 5:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.

The Light Work Grants in Photography program is a part of Light Work’s ongoing effort to provide support and encouragement to Central New York artists working in photography. Established in 1975, it is one of the longest-running photography fellowship programs in the country. Each recipient receives a $3,000 award, participates in the opening fall season exhibition, and appears in Contact Sheet: The Light Work Annual.

This year’s judges were Jacqueline Bates (Photography Director, California Sunday Magazine), Kottie Gaydos (Curator and Director of Operations, Detroit Center for Contemporary Photography), and Charles Guice (Director, Charles Guice Contemporary, and Co-founder, Converging Perspectives).

Mary Helena Clark

Mary Helena Clark is an artist and educator based in Hamilton, New York. She has screened her films at the 2017 Whitney Biennial (New York City), the Wexner Center for the Arts (Columbus, OH), Grazer Kunstverein (Graz, Austria), Anthology Film Archives (New York City), Museum of Contemporary Photography (Chicago, IL), National Gallery of Art (Washington, DC), the Swedish Film Institute (Stockholm, Sweden), and in numerous festivals including the International Film Festival Rotterdam, the New York Film Festival, the Toronto International Film Festival, BFI London Film Festival, the Hong Kong International Film Festival, and BAMcinématek. She has curated film programs at Altman Siegel (San Francisco, CA), The Nightingale (Chicago, IL), and Bridget Donahue (New York, NY). Critiques of her work have appeared in Reverse Shot, Cinema Scope, Artforum, The Brooklyn Rail, and Filmmaker Magazine.


I am an artist working in film, video, and installation. My work uses the language of collage, often bringing together disparate subjects and styles that suggest an exterior logic or code, to explore dissociative states through cinema. Collage is an essential strategy in my work, allowing materials to function representationally as images, and as fragments of an outside text. My work is motivated by the transportive qualities of cinema, employing the same fluidity and physical lawlessness that is at the heart of lyrical poetics– how rhythms can move a viewer through space while causal relationships splinter.

Working with collage, the materiality of film, and incongruous sound/image relationships, my recent work explores shifting subjectivities and the limits of the embodied camera. My current research connects the writings on mimicry of French surrealist thinker Roger Caillois with Jane Bennet and Karen Barad’s scholarship in new materialism. I am interested in using film language to articulate a move away from human-centric activity and dispersed agency, to reimagine the line between sentient and inanimate, self and other. My work builds off of the American avant-garde’s position of film-as-consciousness and proposes an extension of what or who the body behind the camera could be.

Does the destabilization of the singular “I” create a more empathetic film world? Can the untethered, embodied camera blur the distinction between organism and self? What types of knowledge can be gleaned from this perspectival drag? These are the questions guiding my work. One of the goals for the upcoming project is to embody what Jane Bennett describes as “a hope that will enhance receptivity to the impersonal life that surrounds and infuses us… to generate a more subtle awareness of the complicated web of dissonant connections between bodies, and will enable wiser interventions into that ecology.”

— Mary Helena Clark

Joe Librandi-Cowan

Joe Librandi-Cowan is a recent graduate of the College of Visual and Performing Arts at Syracuse University, where he studied fine art photography and was the recent recipient of an Imagining America Engagement Fellowship. His artistic practice is heavily community-based, dealing with the deep and complex issues of the prison industrial complex, its role within society, and its impact on his hometown’s community. Joe is a native of Auburn, NY – a community sustained by a maximum- security prison that lies in the middle of the city. He works closely with community members and community educational institutions to create and show images that function within the community to create positive dialog around these difficult topics, while simultaneously allowing these images to function outside of the community to ask bigger questions about mass incarceration within American Society. Librandi-Cowan has received a Finger Lakes Community Arts Grant and has had solo shows of his project The Auburn System at The Cayuga Museum of History and Art in Auburn, NY and The Gallery at SUNY Onondaga in Syracuse, NY. He has also shown widely online, including a feature on Lensculture and an interview with Pete Brook of the Prison Photography Project.


My hometown, Auburn, NY, is host to a maximum-security prison.

The prison sits directly in the middle of the city, nestled between busy roads and residential neighborhoods.

It’s thirty-five-foot high walls become largely ignored.

The walls around the perimeter of the prison are a visual and psychological reminder of the two distinctly different worlds inhabiting the same space.

Historically, this prison has played a large role in the workings and systems that structure modern day correctional services and prisons. This work is an ongoing portrait of Auburn and its relationship with its prison.

The people in these photographs are members of my community – some live across from the prison’s walls and others have worked behind them. My photographs explore this relationship and exist to question the histories and correctional practices that have traveled well beyond the walls of Auburn’s prison.

In the 1820’s, Auburn Prison implemented what became known as The Auburn System – a series of corrections that included lockstep, solitary confinement, and complete silence. The prison was also home to the first execution by electrocution. Many of the practices that began in Auburn have led to what is now called the Prison Industrial Complex a term that describes the overlapping interests of government and industry that use surveillance, policing, and imprisonment as solutions to what are, in actuality, economic, social, and political problems.

These histories are deeply ingrained within the social fabric of the community, and they historically mark the prison’s role within the Prison Industrial Complex.

The systems and correctional practices that were originally implemented behind the walls of Auburn’s prison have created and perpetuated traumas and injustices that are now shared by many people and communities nationwide. These histories, correctional practices, and their traumas have had a role in leading to the systematic oppression and mass incarceration of many Americans involved within different levels of the criminal justice system in the United States.

My work brings these histories into discussion within the context of modern day mass incarceration to explore how a community so deeply ingrained within the prison industry and penal history coexists with its prison. The work also exists to foster a discussion that asks difficult questions regarding prisons, incarceration, and policing within American society.

— Joe Librandi-Cowan

Stephanie Mercedes

Stephanie Mercedes is an Argentinian/American artist who studied Fine Art and Critical Studies at Smith College, the European Graduate School and was a 2014 recipient of the Norfolk Fellowship from Yale School of Art. Mercedes is interested in manipulating traditional forms of photography and investigating the role of photographic copyright in historical national memory. Mercedes recently had a solo show: Luz del Día: Copyrighting the Light of Day at the Flower City Art Center and the Common Ground Gallery in Washington, DC, and at Antenna Gallery, New Orleans, LA. Mercedes has also exhibited at MORE Gallery in Italy and Puffin Cultural Foundation in 2017. Mercedes has performed and exhibited throughout the United States, in Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, Switzerland, and Italy. She is currently teaching: “The Politics of Hope,” “Using Art as a Political Tool,” “Archives of the Future,” and “Law as Form.” Mercedes has participated in the residencies at Bronx Museum of Art, Flower City Art Center, Kimmel Neilson Art Center, Lugar a Dudas, Largo das Artes, LPEP, and SOMA Summer. Mercedes currently lives in Hamilton, NY.

Through altering documentary photographs and investigating the details in copyright law I hope to restore missing violent histories and turn the archive into legend. I have a photography and research-based practice which is sometimes presented via lecture based performances. My background is in both film photography and the intersections of art and law.

My work revolves around the Argentinian Dirty War because of my family history. I am Argentinian, both my father and grandfather lived during the dictatorship. The war is not something that is often talked about in Buenos Aires or studied in school. A year ago I learned I had a connection to the war I had previously not known of. Shocked, I began doing research about the Dirty War and current legislation that would affect Argentinean memory of the war. While I was doing research I came across articles written about Bill No. 2517-D-2015 of which this entire project Luz del Día: Copyrighting the Light of Day is in reaction to.

My work is very specific culturally because I work from the photographic archives of my country and my family but I believe and I hope that it can be accessible for anyone. Even for those who have no connection to Argentina or the history of human rights violations in Latin America. My work is about attempting to restore the missing fragments of historical memory. Something, that I believe is a universal human desire.

The project I am proposing to continue with the assistance of this grant is called Luz del Día: Copyrighting the Light of Day. The project is in direct response to pending Argentine copyright Bill No. 2517-d-2015 that would extend photographic copyright from 20 years post-production to 70 years post mortem or “after death,” erasing all public images from the Argentine Dirty War. Many photographers who documented the war (1976-1983) were themselves part of the 30,000 victims who were “disappeared” by the right-wing militia government, and therefore do not have a legal death date. Should the bill be enacted, their photographs, which are now in the public domain, would be considered “orphaned works” that the Argentinean state would own. Argentina has a poor record of making archives (on any subject) owned by the state accessible to the public.

— Stephanie Mercedes

For more information about the Light Work Grants in Photography, including past recipients and how to apply, please visit www.lightwork.org/grants