2018 Light Work Grants: Nydia Blas, Michelle Gabel, Jerry Lim

November 1 – December 13, 2018
Jeffrey J. Hoone Gallery
Reception: Thursday, November 1, 5-7pm

Light Work is pleased to announce the recipients of the 44th annual Light Work Grants in Photography. The 2018 recipients are Nydia Blas, Michelle Gabel, and Jerry Lim.

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 Kris Graves (publisher, photographer, writer), Qiana Mestrich (photographer, writer, founder of Dodge and Burn), and Allyson Torrisi (Director of Photography, Popular Mechanics).

Nydia Blas

Nydia Blas is a visual artist living in Ithaca, New York with her two children. She holds a BS from Ithaca College, and received her MFA from Syracuse University in the School of Visual and Performing Arts. She currently is a freelance photographer and serves as the Executive Director of Southside Community Center, Inc, a historically Black community center. She uses photography, collage, video, and books to address matters of sexuality, intimacy, and her lived experience as a girl, woman, and mother. Most recently her work is featured at two locations of The Wing: Home Base & Social Club for Women in New York and DC, and an exhibition entitled Vigilance, Struggle, Pride: Through Her Eyes which is traveling through Europe. This summer she will teach a course entitled “Photography as a Tool” for the MFA ImageText Program at Ithaca College.


I delicately weave stories of circumstance and magic inspired by girls and my time with them, and use my work to create a physical and allegorical space presented through a Black feminine lens. It is impossible to do this without exposing the constructs of sexuality, gender, and race that are historically based on pervasive and distorted European standards. It is a slippery slope between acknowledging the way society ignores, limits, and values you and working outside of these confines to create realistic and complicated ways of seeing and looking at oneself that are empowering and propel people forward into new narratives. How do you do this when the very body you reside in is in opposition to what is deemed normal, proper, and worthy of protection? My work destabilizes far outdated but very real constructs by spinning a counter-narratives as visual evidence of alternative spaces created by the subjects themselves, to reclaim their bodies for their own exploration, discovery, and understanding.

I am drawn to matters of sexuality and intimacy, working intuitively to create images that have the ability to be both esoteric and resonate with those on the periphery. This instinctiveness is an amalgamation of my lived experience, popular Black culture, film, and folklore. The result is an environment imbued with a sense of magical realism that is dependent upon the belief that alchemy takes place in the tangible world. And that in order to navigate often-harsh realities of circumstance and maintain resiliency, a magical outlook is necessary. In this space, props function as extensions of the body, costumes as markers of identity, and gestures/actions reveal the performance, celebration, discovery, and confrontation involved in self-definition within pre-existing structures.

— Nydia Blas

Michelle Gabel

Michelle Gabel is an independent photographer and visual storyteller based in Fayetteville, New York. Her work has been published in National Geographic PROOF, New York Magazine, The New York Times, USA Today, Detroit Free Press, The Syracuse Newspapers, ONE.org, and Global Post, among other outlets. A former photojournalist with The Post-Standard newspaper in Syracuse, NY, she has been recognized by the National Press Photographers Association, the Associated Press, the New York Publishers Association and the Syracuse Press Club. She has exhibited at Photoville in Brooklyn, NY, and at ArtRage Gallery in Syracuse, NY.

A traumatic event is at the center of these photographs—an accidental shotgun blast that took away Michelle Fox’s eyes, nose and upper palate, leaving her blind and unable to smell. It is a classic case of how one moment, one action, can change not only one life, but several lives forever. For the past four years, I’ve been collaborating with Michelle, who now lives in an addition to her parents’ house with her two young daughters.

This ongoing project delves into issues that are not as apparent as Michelle’s drastically changed appearance. Gun ownership and responsibility; beauty and identity; the impact of trauma on children; family and faith; disability; and the costs, financial and otherwise, of caring for people who become injured by gun blasts.

Since 2014, I’ve worked with Michelle and her family to create documentary photos, collaborative portraits and audio interviews that are at the heart of this project. Home movies, family pictures, and police records also inform the work.

Woven throughout are themes of strength and vulnerability—Michelle’s and her family’s. These images provide clues to how Michelle has survived the nine years since her live-in ex-husband accidentally shot her, and raise questions about what the future holds for her and her two young daughters.

For Michelle and her family, the traumatic effects of the shooting are there, but also the strength, resilience, and love that keep them together. I hope viewers will have a strong empathetic reaction to Michelle’s story and all involved. I also want this work to contribute to the ongoing call for gun safety research and sensible laws.

— Michelle Gabel

Jerry Lim

Jerry Lim is an artist that works in photography, text, sound, and video. His work examines the ways in which history and knowledge are produced, how they operate in our physical world and how they influence the individual and his/her community. His recent projects include photographs made at a North Korean school in Japan and the fading lighting district in New York City, 3D renderings of an encounter between two Atlantic salmon, and a group of video and photo-based works about language and loss since the decolonization and division of Korea. He received his BFA from the Maryland Institute College of Art in sculpture and finished his MFA at Cornell University in 2017. He is a recent recipient of grants from the Cornell Council for the Art, the Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies and the East Asia Program Travel Grant, Cornell University. Lim is also an accomplished experimental guitarist having performed at venues such as Roulette, The Stone, and Carnegie Hall. He has played with legendary saxophonist Joe McPhee, kayagum master Sang-Won Park, sound artist Sean Meehan, Martha Colburn, among others.


The small town of Imbe in Bizen, Japan has been continuously producing its own form of pottery, called Bizen for over a thousand years, albeit not without its challenges. It was admired by tea master Sen No Rikyu for it’s simple, rustic nature that derives its look from a lack of glaze, unique regional soil, mystical kiln effects and a beneficial amount of chance. It was an essentially lost art form by the Meiji period until it was meticulously revived by a small group of dedicated potters in the 1930’s and has since been recognized by the Japanese government as an Intangible Cultural Property.

Imbe is quiet, interrupted occasionally by a delivery truck or the footsteps of a lone tourist. The smell of burning red pine from kilns fills the air day and night. The narrow streets and alleys are a mix of residences, potter’s studios, and their shops. The shop’s window displays vary from minimal and meditative to overly crowded and pandering. Many are empty, reminiscent of offseason beach towns and have that same inexplicable sense of loneliness. It was not uncommon to see one small sake bottle occupying the entire display. Some were clearly about commerce and others a form of enigmatic self-expression. I rarely saw customers inside any of the shops.

A fellow visitor felt like she had gone back in time. I would add to that a sensation of time standing still and awe. Families have been producing Bizen here the same way for centuries, coexisting with the land and its soil. There’s an old adage, “don’t sell the field even if the kiln is sold.” Without the soil, there would be no more Bizen.

I was told by a young artist from a multigenerational Bizen potter family that the clay in Imbe is running out. He lightly shrugged and without a hint of despair added that the remaining people that make Bizen are also dying away so it all evens out. His matter-of-factness was disquieting especially from someone that is so deeply tied to the tradition and land.

This rationalization filled me with disbelief and sadness. A strangely familiar feeling I’ve had in other places I’ve lived, like New York City, or even where I grew up in suburban Maryland. Places where change is rapid and brutal. What we’ve lost is almost impossible to keep track of—let alone remember. This body of work looks at this ancient way of life and how it exists in a present filled with uncertainties.

— Jerry Lim

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