Re:Collection: Marvin Heiferman on Toby Old

Visitors to our website can now explore thousands of photographic works and objects from the Light Work Collection in a new online database that expands access of work by former Light Work artists to students, researchers, and online visitors. To coincide with the our new 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 Toby Old’s Diving Mule, Orange County Fair, from Loose Games Series, 1991 from Marvin Heiferman, Faculty, International Center of Photography.

Square photographs, like snow globes, are classically balanced and seem to offer up perfect little worlds, at least until their contents get shaken up a bit. Think Vivian Meier, Diane Arbus, Peter Hujar or Robert Mapplethorpe, Larry Fink, and even Robert Adams. Think Toby Old, too, who, since the 1970s, has been drawn to various spectacles in, and the fleshiness of, everyday life. Trained as a dentist―a field that, like photography, demands a forensic eye for detail―Old went on to picture disco revelers, boxers, strippers and their audiences, and public events, all with an appreciation for both localized cultural values and the more generalized ways of the world. In this photograph, a silhouetted mule, hurtling headlong into a swimming pool at a state fair, hints at mythology, Muybridge, and danger, while rapt observers underscore Old’s fascination (and ours) with extraordinary things we can see when we’re receptive, patient, or maybe just lucky enough.

Explore the Light Work Collection online at http://collection.lightwork.org

Re:Collection: M. Neelika Jayawardane on Zanele Muholi

Visitors to our website can now explore thousands of photographic works and objects from the Light Work Collection in a new online database that expands access of work by former Light Work artists to students, researchers, and online visitors. To coincide with the our new 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 Zanele Muholi’s Lerato (Syracuse), 2015 from M. Neelika Jayawardane, Associate Professor at SUNY Oswego and Light Work board member.

Zanele Muholi’s work has always focused on telling stories that were rarely incorporated into the national narrative, or South Africa’s celebration of itself as a newly democratic nation. As a “visual activist,” Muholi’s portraits provide the foundation for her remarkable, long-term cartographic project, Faces and Phases. This portrait series, created between 2007 and 2014, maps, “commemorates and celebrates the lives of the black queers” Muholi met during journeys that spanned rural and urban South Africa. The project also collects first-hand accounts that bear witness to the schizophrenic experience of living in a nation where LGBTI people are often the targets of violence—this despite the fact that South Africa’s progressive constitution specifically protects the rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Intersex (LGBTI) people. Having realised that not having photographic evidence of her maternal or paternal grandparents resulted from a “deliberate” erasure, Muholi remembers feelings of “longing, of incompleteness, believing that if I could know their faces, a part of me would not feel so empty.” That knowledge of deliberate, systematic erasure from the nation’s historical records is so acute that she is driven now to “project publicly, without shame.”

We recognize, today, that ethnographic and tourist photographs serve the function of aiding Western visitors’ creation of subjectivity—as superior, perhaps benign, socially, intellectually, and geographically mobile, and participating in the flows of modernity. That project of European modernity required that the African subject remained firmly “fixed,” immobilized in time and place. Given that history, Muholi’s image of Lerato Dumse, a writer who documents their travels together for this project, reminds us of the significance of black portraiture photography—photographs of black subjects by black photographers—in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. As with W.E.B. du Bois’American Negro installation for the 1900 Paris Exposition—which organized 363 images into albums—Muholi uses photography and portrait-making as powerful political tools that contribute to one’s self-perception, as well as to the ways that others visualize who you are, as an individual or as a social group. Muholi’s work also signifies an older tradition of African studio photography, in which it is plain that those within the frame—people who colonial administrators and contemporary travelers from the geo-political West often misrepresented and caricatured—are no longer satisfied with remaining as simple “subjects.”

Today, there is a proliferation of photographs of black people, and in particular of black, African people, by white photographers. It is not just an “absence” of images that Muholi’s work helps counter, but an over-abundance of a problematic gaze that has its roots in white supremacist ideologies. As photography scholar John Edwin Mason recently wrote on Twitter, “White people like to look at photos of black people. There’s a seemingly insatiable demand [for] photos of black folks. Part of the reason is that photos give us permission to stare.” Though we “all like to stare,” he argues, audiences in the geo-political West have historically liked “to stare at the racial other.” Whilst some of that looking can be borne of somewhat benign curiosity, and even accept and celebrate the challenges that Muholi, and other black women and non-cis-gendered photographers pose, much of what we continue to reward in portrayals of African people is what Mason calls a “safe” gaze. That photographic gaze allows the “looker” who is geo-politically situated in the West to remain in a comfortable, traditional role—wherein they are entitled not only to look, but to penetrate, and to impose. It does not “disrupt established ways of seeing—and, thus, knowing—black and brown people,” or “take viewers outside of their comfort zones.” Because of the “safety” that such portraiture affords white viewers, especially, Mason concludes, it does little to challenge or change ways “of seeing and knowing that are the product of societies in which white supremacy is a given.” Though such photographs are often attractive (mostly because they meet stereotypical expectations we have been trained to imagine as “African”), and technically and compositionally expertly-made, they also fail us by presenting our world in solely heteronormative terms.

That failure of imagination is what this remarkable photograph by Muholi—and Lerato Dumse’s seemingly simple, direct look-back at us—counters. Here, Dumse is a powerful, playful co-creator of their portrait. They are self-styled, moving between phases in mood, in dialogue with the photographer and potential audiences.

The photograph gives us permission—perhaps even invites us—to stare back at Dumse’s lovely, symmetrical face, and their choice of slightly oversized check-pattern jacket, paired with an unlikely shirt patterned with bold, vertical stripes. But we know that we are not driving their narrative, or simply instrumentalising the person in the frame of the photograph as an “other” to further our own subjectivities. Rather, we commune with them with a respect and an understanding that this person is able to powerfully fashion themselves and how they wish others to see them. They are in dialogue with us, looking back and pushing back against the narrow possibilities that hegemonic culture made us all believe is all we have. This portrait gives us—all of us— the courage to ask for far more.

Find more of M. Neelika Jayawardane’s work online here.

Explore the Light Work Collection online at http://collection.lightwork.org

Light Work Receives 2019 NEA Art Works Grant

National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) acting chairman, Anne Carter announced on Wednesday, February 13 that Light Work is one of 1,000 not-for-profit national, regional, state, and local organizations nationwide to receive an NEA Art Works grant. In its first 50 years, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded more than $5 billion in grants to recipients in every state and U.S. jurisdiction.

Today, the NEA announced awards totaling more than $27 million in its first major funding announcement of the fiscal year 2019, including an Art Works award of $35,000 to Light Work to support Light Work’s Artist-in-Residence Program and production of Contact Sheet: The Light Work Annual. The Art Works category focuses on the creation of art that meets the highest standards of excellence, public engagement with diverse and excellent art, lifelong learning in the arts, and the strengthening of communities through the arts.

“The arts enhance our communities and our lives, and we look forward to seeing these projects take place throughout the country, giving Americans opportunities to learn, to create, to heal, and to celebrate,” said Mary Anne Carter, acting chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts.

“We’re grateful for the National Endowment for the Art’s continued support of our residency program and their recognition of Light Work as one of the leading arts organizations in the country,” says Light Work’s director Shane Lavalette. “Thanks to the support of the NEA we are able to offer today’s emerging and under-recognized artists the time, space and resources they need to develop their creative projects.”

Every year Light Work invites between twelve and fifteen artists to come to Syracuse to devote one month to creative projects. Over 400 artists have participated in Light Work’s Artist-in-Residence Program, and many of them have gone on to achieve international acclaim. The residency includes a $5,000 stipend, a furnished artist apartment, 24-hour access to our state-of-the-art facilities, and generous staff support. Work by each Artist-in-Residence is published in a special edition of Contact Sheet: The Light Work Annual along with an essay commissioned by Light Work.

For more information on projects included in the NEA grant announcement, visit arts.gov/news.

To learn more about the 2019 Artists-in-Residence, read our announcement on the Light Work Blog.

To become a supporter of Light Work yourself, consider making a contribution by beginning or renewing your subscription. We encourage you to help us achieve our goal of matching the NEA’s generous support. Contribute today and get something back in return. Browse limited-edition prints, signed books, and Contact Sheet at  www.lightwork.org/shop

All subscriptions will assure that you receive the NEA-supported issue of Contact Sheet: The Light Work Annual 2019 next summer.

Intern Spotlight: Maddy Fetzko

At Light Work, we appreciate the amazing energy and hard work of our interns and work-study students. From projects in the lab to the installations of our exhibitions, they truly help to make all that we do possible. We thought it would be nice to introduce some of our recent interns in a series of posts here on our blog.

Today, we’re happy to introduce you to Maddy Fetzko!


What are your aspirations as an artist?

To be able to do it all, to experiment with different mediums, tools, and styles. I don’t want to compromise my abilities in art and photography for design, or vice versa. I really want to incorporate more illustration into my work, because that’s something I used to do a lot of when I was younger but have been slacking in recently.

What photograph do you wish you had taken, but missed the opportunity?

When I was on a trip to the Caribbean, I saw a man who had a parrot perched on his shoulder. I asked the name of the parrot he said her name was “Beautiful”. I would have loved a portrait of him and the very well-behaved Beautiful.

What is your favorite smell?

Coconut everything and Pine scented candles

What do you like about Light Work?

How motivated staff and members are to continue creating things they are passionate about, despite other responsibilities like work and school. Also the fact that people from around the world travel all the way here to learn something new about photography. I’ve already learned a ton about printing, film photography, and editing in the few months I’ve worked here.

Keep up with Maddy and her work by following her on Instagram

Intern Spotlight: Kendra Ward

At Light Work, we appreciate the amazing energy and hard work of our interns and work-study students. From projects in the lab to the installations of our exhibitions, they truly help to make all that we do possible. We thought it would be nice to introduce some of our recent interns in a series of posts here on our blog.

Today, we’re happy to introduce you to Kendra Ward!


What was the first photograph you remember taking?

The first photographs I remember taking seriously were of my family. One of my favorites was a black and white photo of my aunt smoking a cigarette on Thanksgiving 2007.

What is your favorite smell?

Flour or fresh baked bread.

What are you listening to right now?

If I’m editing, I pretty much exclusively listen to podcasts. Right now I’ve been catching up on Once Upon a Crime and Myths and Legends. When I’m shooting I usually listen to the lofi hip hop radio – beats to relax/study to.

What do you like about Light Work?

I can’t say enough good things about Light Work. It’s really inspiring to be around artists who help other artists. The entire staff is incredibly supportive, and I can easily say that my work would not be where it is today without their assistance. It’s such a privilege to be around, and get to know the artists in residence. Assisting them has taught me so much and has been an amazing experience that I wouldn’t have if it weren’t for Light Work.

Keep up with Kendra and her work by visiting her website or following her on Instagram

Intern Spotlight: Siyaka Taylor-Lewis

At Light Work, we appreciate the amazing energy and hard work of our interns and work-study students. From projects in the lab to the installations of our exhibitions, they truly help to make all that we do possible. We thought it would be nice to introduce some of our recent interns in a series of posts here on our blog.

Today, we’re happy to introduce you to Siyaka Taylor-Lewis!

What are your aspirations as an artist?

To make work that has a positive influence on the way African Americans are perceived/understood/view ourselves. To make work that I believe in and that I am proud of. To live a lifestyle that inspires people to be the best versions of themselves.

What do you like about Light Work?

Light Work is a community of people who care a lot about photography and the process. It is its own school, and not only teaches you about photography technically but politically, and in relationship to the outside world/art world. It’s actually very special.

What are you listening to right now?

Alfa Mist, Kendrick, my beats, Hiatus Kiayote, Bla6k, Thundercat, Dave East, The Internet, SIR, “Biking” by Tyler The Creator, “Feels Like Summer” by Childish Gambino.

Keep up with Siyaka and his work by visiting his website or following him on Instagram.

Browse Light Work’s New Online Collection

Visitors to Light Work’s website can now explore thousands of photographic works and objects from our permanent Collection in a new online database that expands access to work by former Light Work artists, students, researchers, and online visitors. Optimized for speed, image quality, and overall user experience, this new website will enable visitors to learn more about the Light Work Collection and the history of the organization.

Already an early-adopter of digital technology in the 1980s, Light Work made the Collection fully accessible online in the early 1990s. The new site has been in preparation for over two years, builds on the information available in the previous format, and introduces new search features. This project was made possible with support from David Broda at Syracuse University’s Photo and Imaging Center, The Gifford Foundation, Joy of Giving Something, Inc. (JGS), The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), New York State Council on the Arts (NYSCA), The Phillip and Edith Leonian Foundation, and Light Work staff, led by Jeffrey Hoone, Shane Lavalette, Mary Lee Hodgens, and Victor Rivera.

The funding and support is a testament to the archive’s importance and the quality of the work done to make it more accessible to the public. The material in the Light Work Collection has significant research value, and thanks to the redesign of the online platform, these resources will be more widely available to educators, artists, critics, curators, and the arts community. The new participatory approach allows both the online visiting public and internal staff members to locate a desired image, object, or information in the archive more efficiently and accurately.

“The Collection is one of our greatest assets—people, I think, will be thrilled by it. It’s not only beautiful looking, but it’s an incredible resource for artists, curators, educators, and students of photography,” says Mary Lee Hodgens, Light Work’s Associate Director. “They will have the whole Collection at their fingertips.”

The Collection documents Light Work’s history of support for artists and their creative process. In 1979, early participants in our Artist-in-Residence Program began informally donating photographs to Light Work, which accumulated into a small collection. Light Work soon began to invite each artist to contribute work while in Syracuse to establish a permanent collection. The Collection now primarily comprises work made by artists who have participated in the residency and exhibitions as well as Light Work Grant recipients. The Collection represents Light Work’s 45-year legacy of supporting emerging and under-represented artists and boasts an extensive, diverse archive that maps the trends and developments in contemporary photography. Light Work’s Collection database currently contains more than 4,000 items, all of it original work, including color and black-and-white photographic prints, alternative processes, collages, installation pieces, artist books, portfolios, and publications. Exceptional in scope, the Collection covers all genres from documentary to abstract to experimental to conceptual work.

Online visitors will find early work by many artists who have gone on to significant acclaim after their Light Work residencies, winning coveted awards, exhibiting work in prestigious museums, and represented by top gallerists. The Collection has grown over the past four decades due to the generosity of former artists-in-residence and individual donors. The Collection includes many works of major importance from artists such as Dawoud Bey, Zanele Muholi, Andres Serrano, Cindy Sherman, Carrie Mae Weems, William Wegman, and James Welling.

Explore the richness and diversity of works across the photographic medium. Have questions or need additional support, our collection management staff can provide useful background information and offer guidance in selecting images that best supplement class curriculum or research topics.

Search Permanent Collection

Announcing the 2019 Light Work Artists-in-Residence

Every year Light Work invites between twelve and fifteen artists to come to Syracuse to devote one month to creative projects. Over 400 artists have participated in Light Work’s Artist-in-Residence Program, and many of them have gone on to achieve international acclaim.

The residency includes a $5,000 stipend, a furnished artist apartment, 24-hour access to our state-of-the-art facilities, and generous staff support. Work by each Artist-in-Residence is published in a special edition of Contact Sheet: The Light Work Annual along with an essay commissioned by Light Work. Work by former Artists-in-Residence is also part of the Light Work Collection.

We are pleased to announce the 2019 Light Work Artists-in-Residence!

Carolyn Drake
Carolyn Drake

Kris Graves
Kris Graves

Pao Her
Pao Her

Mark McKnight
Mark McKnight

Meryl Meisler
Meryl Meisler

Rafal Milach
Rafal Milach

Zora Murff
Zora Murff

Sarker Protick
Sarker Protick

Arpita Shah
Arpita Shah

Cian Oba-Smith
Cian Oba-Smith

Jiehao Su
Jiehao Su

Ka-Man Tse
Ka-Man Tse

Cristina Velasquez
Cristina Velásquez

See past Artists-in-Residence at www.lightwork.org/air
Applications are now open for 2019. Apply at lightwork.slideroom.com

Announcing the Light Work Photobook Award 2018

We are pleased to announce that the Light Work Photobook Award 2018 has been given to Rose Marie Cromwell, for her monograph El Libro Supremo de la Suerte, which will be co-published this year by TIS Books and Light Work. The Light Work Photobook Award is given each year to an artistic project that deserves international attention. As with all of Light Work’s programs, in selecting the artists to receive this recognition an emphasis is made to highlight emerging and underrepresented artists of diverse backgrounds.

Rose Marie Cromwell is a photographic and video artist who is based in Miami. Her work explores how globalization affects human interaction and social politics and the tenuous space between the political and the spiritual. Cromwell received a BFA degree from Maryland Institute College of Art in Art Photography in 2005, and an MFA from Syracuse University in Art Photography in 2013. Cromwell is a recipient of the Fulbright Research Grant, and a Syracuse University full-ride graduate fellowship. She was named one of “25 Under 25 Up and Coming American Photographers” by the Center for Documentary Studies in 2008, and “One to Watch” by the British Journal of Photography in 2017. She has had solo exhibitions at the Diablo Rosso gallery and the Antitesis Art Space in Panama City, and participated in the 1st Biennale del Sur in Panama City, and Prizm Art Fair in Miami. Cromwell’s artwork has been published online and in print in a variety of international magazines, including the 2014, 2015, and 2016 Vice Photo Issues, The New York Times, Camera Austria, Time Lightbox, ARC Magazine, Musee Magazine, The Oxford American, and The New Yorker. She participated in Light Work’s Artist-in-Residence Program in September 2014.

Rose Marie Cromwell
El Libro Supremo de la Suerte
TIS Books/Light Work, 2018
Hardcover, 192 pages
ISBN: 978-1-943146-12-3
First Edition
Signed by the artist

Rose Marie Cromwell’s debut monograph, El Libro Supremo de la Suerte (“The Supreme Book of Luck”), refers to a little piece of photocopied samizdat that supports a covert lottery in Havana, where Cromwell spent eight years living and photographing. Of the work, Paula Kupfer writes: “In exploring the visual connections between numbers—exact and absolute units of measurements—and the mystical, wayward ways of luck, as embodied by friends and family performing for her camera, Cromwell offers a lyric homage to Cuba, the place that’s shaped her practice and that, moreover, continues defying expectations and interpretations.”

Pre-order a first edition SIGNED copy of our 2019 Book Collectors Offer El Libro Supremo de la Suerte by Rose Marie Cromwell and you will also receive a complimentary subscription to Contact Sheet (a $115 value) for only $75!

Stephen C. Mahan III (1956-2018)

Light Work was bereaved to learn of the sudden passing of colleague and friend Stephen C. Mahan III, in a July 26 vehicular accident in Manlius, NY.

Mahan, the founding director of the University-based Photography and Literacy Project (PAL) and a teacher in the College of Visual and Performing Arts, was an adventure-seeking force whose boundless verve and compassion was evident in every aspect of his life. For over thirty years he was a vital leader in the Syracuse art and photography community. “His infectious enthusiasm and curiosity touched everyone he encountered and drove him to use his skills in photography to improve and enrich the lives of others,” says Jeffrey Hoone, executive director of the Coalition of Museums and Art Centers at Syracuse University and Light Work.

Mahan participated in many programs at Light Work including receiving a Light Work Grant in 1989 and serving on our board of directors from 2010-2018. But his most enduring contribution to the field was his work teaching literacy and life skills through photography to young students. Beginning with a collaboration with his wife, Mary Lynn Mahan, at the Ed Smith school in Syracuse, Steve went on to teach and mentor a generation of young students so that they could discover value and self-worth by exploring their talents through photography and writing.

Since 2010 Steve accomplished this work through PAL a collaborative program among the College of Visual and Performing Arts at Syracuse University, the Coalition of Museum and Art Centers at SU, and the Syracuse City Schools. Located in the Nancy Cantor Warehouse the PAL Project is a model for helping students develop literacy skills by using photography, video, audio recordings, and writing.

photo credit: Carrie Mae Weems

With Steve at the helm, PAL not only offered youth exposure to the photographic medium, he cultivated a safe environment for program participants, a place in which youth, could frame, explore and share visual narratives of the world around them.

Doug Dubois, Department Chair and Associate Professor in Department of Transmedia at Syracuse University, reflected on the unique space Mahan fostered at PAL stating,

“Steve designed, furnished, equipped and ran the PAL Project as a dynamic classroom/community space in the basement of the SU Warehouse. Crammed with art books and magazines, computers of various vintages, cameras of all shapes and sizes, poetry, posters and prints from past PAL projects covering the walls, the space delighted and inspired students and visitors alike.”

Student Work: 2017 ‘Seen and Heard Project’ Photography and Literacy Project (PAL)

In his capacity as director, Mahan also taught the course Literacy, Community, and Media in VPA’s Department of Transmedia. As part of that course, University students had the opportunity to become mentors to city schoolchildren involved in the project The PAL program received national recognition and funding from the Joy of Giving Something, Inc. (JGS) in New York City and the Fay Slover Foundation in Boston among others.

Through his incredible dedication and desire to make the world a better place, Steve touched many people, and as our thoughts go out to Steve’s family, we will do our best to honor his memory in the weeks and years to come.

Stephen C. Mahan III is survived by Stephen and Rosemarie “Riley” Mahan of Geneva, his wife Mary Lynn, daughters Riley and Sadie; two brothers Michael “Mickey” (Deborah) and Joseph “Go”, and sisters Mary Pat Longstreet (Paul) and Jean Marie Shutter (Steve), and beloved in-laws, nieces, and nephews.

If you wish to send a note of condolence please visit www.gangmemorial.com

Calling hours: 5-7 pm Friday, August 17 at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church 310 Montgomery St. Syracuse.

Memorial Service: 11:00 am, Saturday, August 18 at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, 310 Montgomery St. Syracuse.

In lieu of flowers, a 529 College Savings Account has been established for Sadie. Contributions can be made as follows: Checks payable to College America, memo – FBO Sadie Mahan and mail to Mary Lynn Mahan. Checks can be directed to Light Work at 316 Waverly Ave, Syracuse, NY 13244.

Stephen Mahan’s obituary in the Post Standard can be found here.
SU News article describing Stephen Mahan’s work and legacy can be found here.