Re:Collection / Memoriam: Cjala Surratt on John Pfahl

“Strangers with puzzled looks were amazingly cooperative in letting me into their rooms with my photographic gear. They let me take down the curtains, wash the windows, and rearrange the furniture. Often, too, they expressed their desire to share their view with others, as if it were a nondepletable treasure. I liked the idea that my photographic vantage points were not solely determined by myself. They were predetermined by others, sometimes years earlier, and patiently waited for me to discover them.” — John Pfahl on his series, Picture Windows 

With great sadness, we share news of photographer John Pfahl’s recent passing, due to pre-existing medical conditions complicated by COVID-19. Pfahl was an alum of Fine Arts (’64) and  S.I. Newhouse School of Communications (’68) at Syracuse University. A supporter of Light Work, Pfahl was a beloved University of Buffalo professor and earlier taught at the Rochester Institute of Technology. A wonderfully inventive artist, he pioneered new digital photographic procedures in both printing and digitizing negatives in an image-making career that spanned more than thirty years. Pfhal practiced a photographic sleight-of-hand that skewed the landscape by manipulating the optics of the camera with objects or digitized interruptions. Light Work’s permanent Collection holds a number of images from Pfahl’s seminal portfolio, Permutations on the Picturesque, that particularly exemplify his unique approach. 

Pfahl’s Horse at Rydal Water, Lake District, England (1995/1997) presents an idyllic meadow containing the pastoralist’s usual muses—horse, pasture, watering hole, lush green foliage—a site of nature in respite, save an interruption by the artist’s hand. Two pixelated bars on the left side of the image create a stammer in the viewers’ gaze. Here, Pfahl extends the opportunity to stop and consider the interjection, its purpose, and his own intent as the image-maker. 

Many prominent collections hold his work, including Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Center for Creative Photography, George Eastman House, J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, The Museum of Modern Art, Princeton University Art Museum, and San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Pfahls’s photobooks include Altered Landscapes: The Photographs of John Pfahl (Friends of Photography, 1982), Picture Windows (New York Graphic Society, 1987), A Distanced Land (with Estelle Jussim, UNM/Albright-Knox Gallery, 1990), Permutations on the Picturesque (Light Work, 1997), Waterfall (with Deborah Tall, Nazraeli Press, 2000), and Extreme Horticulture (with Rebecca Solnit, Verlag, 2003).

John’s works and tireless contributions as an educator, innovator, photographer, and author are witnesses to his passions as an artist. Light Work considers it an honor that our permanent Collection holds fifteen pieces of John Pfahl’s photographic legacy for posterity. John’s wife, Bonnie Gordon, and his brother, Walter Pfahl, survive him. We are among the many who keenly miss him. 

View John Pfhal’s images in Light Work’s Collection here.

Browse John Pfhal’s recent work on his website.

John Pfahl (1939-2020)

Stuart Rome, a Light Work artist-in-residence in 1978 shares memoriam tribute to his dear friend John Pfhal. Pfahl passed on Wednesday, April 15, 2020, due to pre-existing medical conditions complicated by COVID-19. He was 81.

One of the saddest and most difficult jobs has got to be writing an obituary for a dear friend — and John Pfahl was that and more.

I attended R.I.T. starting in 1971 amongst an incredible freshman class and teachers to match, but the one who stood out was John Pfahl, who at the time was making photo installation sculpture. I had never seen anything like that and when I returned for my second year, it was with the goal of studying with John.

I, like many, have had my share of good and bad luck and one of the luckiest moments was connecting with John in his introduction to color class. John encouraged me as any good teacher would, but he also took an interest in my welfare. At the time, I was working as a janitor at the school to pay my way and in the summer cleaning students dorm rooms was especially depressing. I remember John phoning to offer the opportunity to work with him on what would become his breakthrough series, Altered Landscapes. I was so depressed that I initially passed up the opportunity, thinking that my mood would negatively affect his work, but he wouldn’t take no for an answer.  John drove from his home in Buffalo to where I was living on the outskirts of Rochester, made me pack a bag and he drove me to his home, where I spent the better part of that summer working as his assistant. That year, I became like family to both John and his wife, Bonnie Gordon, and from then on they treated me like one of their household. That summer, working daily with John at Art Park in Lewiston, NY, showed me what life as an artist looked like and I was hooked.

After I left Rochester, we kept in touch weekly and if I didn’t call, John would call me to make sure everything was OK. A few years later, when my graduate thesis show opened in Tempe, Arizona, much to my surprise, the first person that walked through the door was John Pfahl. John visited me many times in the many places I lived through the years and when he first got sick with cancer in the ’80s, I started visiting him more often in Buffalo.

John beat the cancer the first time, but it resurfaced a few years later and he beat it once again. The third time the cancer returned was just weeks before I was to leave for a year to work on a photo project in Indonesia and I drove up to Buffalo to see him in hospital to say good-bye, hoping that it would not be the final visit, and he asked me a favor. If he survived, could he come visit with me. When he was a boy, he saw a National Geographic article about central Sulawesi and always wanted to go there and, of course, I agreed. He survived and came to visit and our trip together, photographing side by side is one my happiest memories.

There are so many stories I could tell that would illustrate John’s playful sense of humor, his abiding intellect and his remarkable generosity, but that will keep for now. I still remember a sweltering Philadelphia swamp of a June day a quarter of a century ago when John walked into what would become Isaiah Zagar’s Magic Garden decked out in a sarong to be best man at my wedding. It feels eternally like yesterday.

Truly, the best possible luck was having John enter my life when he did and remain a close friend, critic, and confidante. The worst was losing him last week. Some memories have a life all their own.

View John Pfhal’s images in Light Work’s Collection here.

Browse John Pfhal’s recent work on his website.

Re:Collection: Dionne Lee on Susan Brodie

Visitors to our website are invited to explore thousands of photographic works and objects from the Light Work Collection in our online database that expands access of work by former Light Work artists to students, researchers, and online visitors. To coincide with the our collection website launch, we’re introducing a series on our blog called Re:Collection, inviting artists and respected thinkers in the field to select a single image or object from the archive and offer a reflection as to its historical, technical, or personal significance.

Today we’re sharing a reflection on an image made by Susan Brodie from multimedia artist Dionne Lee. Lee, born in New York City and based in Oakland, received her MFA from California College of the Arts in 2017. Dionne Lee: Trap and Lean-to exhibited in Light Work’s Kathleen O. Ellis Gallery in 2019.

As most of us remain homebound, I’ve found myself pulled between conflicting emotions and obligations: wanting to help but feeling helpless, wishing for connection in a time of mandatory physical solitude, tired of the indoors and wanting to go out. The desire to take a long walk, to go far away, without destination, grows daily.

This photograph by Susan Brodie offers a possibility of escape within the home. The glowing magnets of fruits and vegetables, familiar objects of a grandmother’s fridge, circling each other in a soft-shaped diamond, suggests a portal made from the most humble of knicknacks. Of course, there also is the fridge itself; both a container and gateway. So are the ingredients inside, the meals that will be created, the company that will share them, and the conversations that will happen over each composed plate (their own individual gateways), arranged and then consumed. Everything is traveling through something.  

I’m left wondering what other household objects can be gazed at, circled, squared, or spread out into an escape route: black beans let loose from their jar, a lasso of spaghetti, the bottom of a glass after the last sip of water…

Find more of Susan Brodie’s work online here.

Explore the Light Work Collection online at

Bob Burdick­: My Photo History and Interest

I started photography as a teen. First using a 35mm camera with an internal image screen to help estimate exposure, I explored everything. Then using a black-and-white processing tank for developing negatives, and paper exposure from negatives, I made contact prints. Without an enlarger, I was the only one to enjoy images in that small size.

Still, I was a brave photographer. With my camera in hand, I took advantage of that role in social situations. I was free to record sports events, friends, and family events, then a school trip to Washington in my senior year. Long after others forgot these events, I could view positive contact images. However, without prints to see, nobody shared, nor cared.

Much later, married, with three children and a dog, we used slides to record our camping trips to Hattaras during spring breaks. We recorded a­­ll the family events as well. When children got bigger, in the 1970s, we made several week-long canoe trips in Algonquin Park in Canada. (The dog, too.) Slides that I stored in carousel trays for viewing are now available as digital folders.

In 1979 I attended a workshop in Vermont with Fred Picker and his team of skilled photographers. We learned to emphasize careful picture-taking, systematic development of black-and-white prints, and deliberate study of work in Fred’s gallery. We visited an old Vermont Meeting House with an adjoining cemetery. There each would set up his camera on tripod, invite suggestions from a photographer, and shoot the picture. My Old Meeting House print came from that experience. Back home in Syracuse, I made Old Cedar Tree in 1980 and it is still a favorite of mine. Paired with similar shots several years apart, that image now becomes the digital In Decline print.

Fred Picker encouraged us to consider view cameras for the future. Our careful selection of camera placement for a shot, trying alternate possibilities in a good setting, and systematic processing of prints were all basic view camera procedures. Of course, Fred made an excellent 4×5 folding view camera that some of us later owned. Fred was an excellent creator of photographic equipment and he also made darkroom items—for example, the print washer to drain hypo from the prints. The Community Darkroom purchased a couple of these when black-and-white work was popular.

Following the workshop, I set up enlarger, developing trays, washer, and dryer to create fine prints at home. Fred’s instructional video helped me produce strong black-and-white images.

At the same time, two men—Tom Bryant and Phil Block—began designing Light Work’s Community Darkroom in a basement lab at Syracuse University for Syracuse students and interested members of the public, who could join with a membership fee. Equipment and helpful advice were available. What an opportunity! I offered my 4×5 enlarger in lieu of fees, and promptly joined. Over the years the Darkroom has changed several times to grow with photo expectations: first expanding black-and-white facilities, then color processing, then digital processing and printing. Each change has brought new ideas and excellent equipment for members to use. And the galleries around the halls of Light Work have reflected the fine work of SU photo students, Light Work photographer guest artists, and others.

During those same forty years, and currently, I have been actively involved with the Syracuse Camera Club (sometimes in leadership positions), where many of us compete with prints, slides, and now digital images, where we win individual scores. Each year the club prepares an exhibition of best work in various local galleries. Once a month we attend a workshop learning session. In February 2020, we heard from Michael Davis, a well-known active photographer.

I’m still active in the Syracuse Camera Club competitions, offering choice images but seldom winning, and in the Community Darkroom where, as an Honorary member, I have access to the best photograph equipment and good friends to advise and assist me. Thus, I stay alive in my choice hobby.

Listen to the Light Work Podcast. Today’s Artists. On Photography.

Dear friends of Light Work,

I hope everyone is continuing to keep safe and healthy during these unusual times. We’ve been working hard over the past weeks to develop more online content while we are closed to the public, and today we’re happy to launch the Light Work Podcast!

Find the Light Work Podcast on the most popular podcast streaming services! We will roll it out to more streaming platforms over the coming days. Just search for it on your preferred service and subscribe!

We’re launching with 25 episodes featuring artists that we’ve worked with on exhibitions at Light Work since 2013, discussing their artistic work and process. We will release at least four new episodes each year, along with other special audio content, but for now, you can listen to this incredible group of artists: 

George Awde, Gideon Barnett, Robert Benjamin, Justyna Badach, Michael Bühler-Rose, John Edmonds, For Freedoms, Todd Gray, Karolina Karlic, Jason Lazarus, Nicola Lo Calzo, Mary Mattingly, Aspen Mays, Raymond Meeks, Jackie Nickerson, Kristine Potter, Keisha Scarville, Pacifico Silano, Xaviera Simmons, Miki Soejima, Wendy Red Star, Rodrigo Valenzuela, Letha Wilson, Stanley Wolukau-Wanambwa and Suné Woods. 

If you’d like to support the development of the podcast, consider treating yourself to a limited-edition print, signed book, and Contact Sheet subscription from our online shop (note: shipments will be delayed) or by making a donation directly to Light Work. If you can’t support us financially at the moment, simply help us by sharing the link to the podcast with friends, on your social media pages, etc., so we can expand our audience. 

We feel it’s necessary that we all stay connected and inspired during this time, so I hope this gift from us to you comes at a nice moment.

My best,
Shane Lavalette 

Andrew Buck (1950-2020)

“I made my first photograph with a Brownie at age 7. My father, who had photographed and done his own processing and printing starting in the late 1910s, gave Brownies to my sister and me at the same time, probably to eliminate jealousy or competition. I remember being fascinated by that little black box, pushing the white button on the side and waiting anxiously to see the results.” – Andrew Buck

With great sadness, we share news of the recent passing of photographer Andrew Buck. An alum of Syracuse University’s School of Architecture and Fine Arts (‘72), Buck was also a founding board member of Light Work. Our organization was a privileged beneficiary of Andrew’s early fascination with photography and his dedication to building a community of like-minded enthusiasts. In 1973, his solo exhibition was the inaugural show in the burgeoning endeavor that was Light Work and Community Darkrooms. Later featured in group exhibitions in 1985 and 2013, Buck’s images also appeared in Contact Sheet 173 and are now in our permanent Collection

Buck’s Niagara Mohawk #1 captures the prowess of architect Melvin King. His resolute image of The Spirit of Light (1971), perched upon the National Grid building in downtown Syracuse, New York, reveals a photographer who was devoted to his craft and explored the art of photography with a practiced eye and cool determination. Later in his practice, Buck became particularly interested in panoramic cameras and worked on an extended series of panoramic studies of rock quarries, exploring them as land art on a massive scale. He kept in touch with Light Work over the years. Though he lived in Connecticut, he still sent scanning and printing jobs to the Lab. 

During his career, Andrew exhibited his photographs nationally. In addition to Light Work, sites of his solo exhibitions included Alexey von Schlippe Gallery, Duncaster Gallery, Everson Museum of Art, Four Decades of Photography, Gallery on the Green, Keyes Gallery, and Real Art Ways. Many collections in addition to Light Work hold his work, including New Britain Museum of American Art (New Britain, CT),  Real Art Ways (Hartford, CT), and Yale University Art Gallery (New Haven, CT).

We are proud that we were a long-standing part of his career and we remember with appreciation and gratitude his contributions to this organization’s legacy. We are among many who will miss him. 

View Andrew Buck’s images in Light Work’s Collection here.
Browse Andrew Buck’s recent work on his website.

COVID-19 and Our Community : A Letter From Light Work’s Director

Dear Light Work community,

I hope that you and your loved ones are keeping safe and healthy during this challenging time. So much has occurred in the world and here at Light Work since we made the difficult but important decision to close to the public and suspend our exhibitions and residency programs on March 13. 

While we have been closed to the public during this time and most our staff have been working from home already, our lab services have remained operational so that artists around the globe could still order prints, scans, and other image work from our facility over the past week. In order to take the next step of extra precautions to protect our employees and the public from the spread of COVID-19, we have decided to only accept service lab orders that can be accomplished remotely by our staff starting today, March 20. While New York State has ordered this change to go into effect on Sunday, we feel it’s best to take action now.

We do not currently know when it will be safe to fully re-open our facility. Until then, while we can provide quotes and accept orders for printing and scanning, the completion of some of these projects requiring certain equipment may only be able to take place once we return to having our facility open. We encourage everyone to stay in touch about projects nonetheless, including planning ahead for Summer and Fall. Find more info about the lab services at or reach out to the lab team at to discuss any printing, scanning, and retouching projects.

Light Work Lab is also offering one-on-one online sessions for those looking to further their photography education during this time.
 It’s a great opportunity to brush up on your skills or learn something new. Once again, reach out to the lab team directly at the email above to find out more info!

During this period of closure, we are working with each of our staff to develop flexible work-from-home schedules and plan to continue to pay all full and part-time hourly staff their usual wages, to help ease the burden of these unforeseen circumstances. We will continue to closely monitor the situation and COVID-19 guidelines provided by Onondaga County officials, Governor Cuomo, the New York State Department of Health, and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, with the safety of our staff and community as our top priority. 

With everyone having more time at home, we encourage you to explore our online offerings, including our history of exhibitions, portfolios of past artists-in-residence, our expansive online Collection (featuring over 4,000 works to browse) and Urban Video Project’s Insights(a great collection of UVP exhibition documentation, mixed with clips of exhibited works and the artists’ own reflections).

Please also take a moment to follow us on InstagramFacebook, and Twitter to stay in touch. In the coming weeks, we hope to launch an exciting new online project, and we will keep you posted on that!

My very best,

Shane Lavalette
Director, Light Work

Call for Entries: 2020 Light Work Grants in Photography

Light Work is pleased to announce the 2020 Light Work Grants in Photography competition. Light Work began offering grants to CNY artists in 1975 to encourage the production of new photographic work in the region. Three $3,000 grants will be awarded to photographers who reside within an approximate 50-mile radius of Syracuse, N.Y. The recipients of these grants are invited to display their work in a special exhibition at Light Work, and their work will also be reproduced in Light Work’s award-winning publication, Contact Sheet: The Light Work Annual.

In its 40-year history, Light Work Grants have supported more than 110 artists, some multiple times. With the help of the regional grant, many artists have been able to continue long-term projects, purchase equipment, frame photographs for exhibitions, promote their work, collaborate with others or otherwise continue their artist goals.

All applicants must reside in of one of the following Central New York counties: Broome, Cayuga, Chemung, Chenango, Cortland, Herkimer, Jefferson, Lewis, Madison, Oneida, Onondaga, Oswego, Schuyler, Seneca, St. Lawrence, Tioga or Tompkins.

Three judges from outside the grant region will review the applications. Their decisions are based solely on the strength of the candidate’s portfolio and completed application. Individuals who received this award in 2015 or earlier are eligible to re-apply. Full-time students are not eligible.

The deadline for the 2020 Light Work Grants is April 1, 2020.

Apply online at

Light Work’s Online Benefit Auction: March 10 – 24 on Paddle8

Raise Your Paddle and Bid! Light Work is pleased to partner with Paddle8 to launch a benefit auction of more than 60 limited-edition, signed archival fine prints. Bidding is available online through Paddle8, from March 10-24, 2020. Proceeds benefit Light Work and support our mission of supporting emerging and under-represented artists working in photography through residencies, publications, exhibitions, and a community-access digital lab facility.

The auction includes works by Renee Cox, Doug DuBois, Matt Eich, Lucas Foglia, Ann Hamilton, Leslie Hewitt, Mark Klett, Wayne Lawrence, Andrea Modica, Xaveria Simmons, Mark Steinmetz, Lida Suchy, Carrie Mae Weems, William Wegman, and James Welling, among others. In addition to a diverse array of exclusive, signed, limited-edition prints, we are excited to also offer several large-format framed works by award-winning photographers, including Mark McKnight and Kristine Potter. Hung gallery style or as a singular statement piece, every image is a wonderful addition to any collection. Bidding begins between $300 and $3,500, and all purchases include a one-year subscription to Contact Sheet.

We thank you, as always, for your continued support of the hundreds of artists that have called Light Work home over the past forty-three years. With your support, we will continue to do this valuable work for many more years to come. Place your bid and support some of today’s most exciting image-makers!

Please visit our auction to view all lots, and start your bidding!

In Response to the COVID-19 Outbreak, Light Work Announces Temporary Closure

Nothing is more important to us than your health and safety, and we take seriously our responsibility as a civic institution that serves the public good. In order to protect the well-being of our staff and visitors, and following guidance from local, state, and federal authorities regarding measures that best promote public health, Light Work will temporarily close to the public. We will suspend access to Kathleen O. Ellis and Hallway Galleries, the Light Work Lab, and all workshops and classes beginning Friday, March 13, at 5 p.m. The facility will remain closed through Monday, March 30, 2020. We will continue to monitor developments with COVID-19 and regularly reassess this temporary closure. Please note the Service Lab is still operational. Direct inquiries regarding an outstanding order or new print, scanning or retouching job to  

To be clear, there have been no confirmed cases of the coronavirus among our employees. Our goal is to do everything we can to help flatten the curve of this outbreak in Central New York and within our global community. In these tumultuous times, we believe that art can keep us connected and inspire creativity, openness, and generosity. With thoughts for all the members of our community, we’re sharing some ways you can experience Light Work wherever you are, from perusing the 4,000 objects and photographic prints in our permanent Collection, to checking out Urban Video Project’s Insights, (a great collection of exhibition documentation, mixed with clips of exhibited works and the artists’ own reflections), to making a bid in our online benefit auction

Please continue to check our website for additional operations and programming updates, and follow our social media channels for news. We thank you, in advance, for your patience and understanding.

For continued updates on Syracuse University’s policies surrounding COVID-19, please visit