Light Work Galleries and Photography Lab Reopens to the Public

With enormous pleasure, Light Work announces the reopening of our state-of-the-art photography Lab and exhibition spaces to the public! Over the last three months, we have taken incremental steps toward pre-pandemic “normal.” At Light Work, we have seen a progression from essential staff only to a green light on welcoming Light Work’s community of photographers and photo enthusiasts into the Kathleen O. Ellis, Hallway Galleries, and Lab. For Light Work and arts institutions across the nation, the last year brought unprecedented trials that we at Light Work have tried to meet with a determined and creative dexterity and an unwavering commitment to support, amplify, and #keepartgoing. It’s so exciting for us to welcome patrons back into our exhibition spaces for in-person gallery openings, artist talks, and curator conversations. 

Recently appointed Light Work director Dan Boardman says, “It is nothing less than thrilling for us to open our doors after more than a year of closure. I’m looking forward to the creative energy our patrons and members bring to this space. I’m pleased to share our calendar of exhibitions going into 2022. We are going to bring exciting and exceptional work to our community here in Syracuse, and we hope you will join us in celebrating with the artists at Light Work in person.”

Wendy Red Star: Baaeétitchish (One Who Is Talented), Gallery Opening, 2019 Courtesy of the Julie K. Herman

Light Work’s reopening includes a community-wide invitation to students, educators, local organizations, and university partners to schedule use of the main gallery, library, and lab studio for exhibition-related art-making, workshops, class discussions, or staff-guided tours. Light Work’s community partnerships comprise organizations that cultivate safe spaces for inquiry and critical dialogue and their approaches to both exhibitions and the ideas presented in the works are creative and interdisciplinary.  

2021 Fall Exhibitions

The Fall 2021 exhibition schedule offers a diverse intersection of thematic insights and photographic methods. Please join us for Clifford Prince King: We Used to Lay Together (Kathleen O. Ellis Gallery – Aug. 23-Oct. 14, 2021), Queer Moments: Selections from the Light Work Collection (Hallway Gallery – Aug. 23-Oct. 14, 2021), 2021 Horizons: New Film Out of Central New York (UVP | Everson Plaza – September 30, 2021), and Hito Steyerl: Strike (UVP | Everson Plaza – September 16-December 11, 2021) 

Community Access Photography Lab

Light Work Lab members also have cause for celebration.  In preparation for welcoming the community back into the photography lab, the staff reconfigured the space. We have established new best practices for using state-of-the-art workspaces, darkroom, lighting studio, and printers. The new guidelines ensure a safe,  productive workflow that will support the needs of its members, workshop participants, and artists-in-residence.

Light Work Photography Lab Courtesy of the Julie K. Herman

Gallery and Lab hours are Monday-Friday, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Light Work closes on all Syracuse University and federal holidays. Find Light Work in the Robert B. Menschel Media Center at 316 Waverly Avenue, Syracuse, New York, 13224. Limited metered parking is available on Waverly Avenue and paid parking is available in Booth Parking Garage. Visit for information on parking and directions to the galleries. We pledge strict adherence to the most up-to-date COVID-19 safety protocols to protect patrons, artists, students, and staff.  


Light Work thanks Syracuse University and Robert B. Menschel and Vital Projects, as well as the Andy Warhol Foundation, CNY Arts, the Central New York Community Foundation, JGS (Joy of Giving Something Inc.), the National Endowment for the Arts, the New York State Council on the Arts, and the subscribers to Contact Sheet for their dedicated and ongoing support of our programs. Light Work is a member of CMAC, the Coalition of Museum and Art Centers at Syracuse University.

Re:Collection: Sydney Ellison on Pedro Isztin

Visitors to Light Work’s 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. Our Re:Collection blog series invites 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 Pedro Isztin’s image Stan, 2009 from Sydney Ellison. Ellison is a Brooklyn-based artist whose work addresses themes of gaze and intersectionality primarily through collage and self-portraiture. Ellison is an art photography student at Pratt Institute and an editor of The Photographer’s Greenbook, a resource hub for inclusion, diversity, equity, and advocacy in the lens-based art community.

When searching through Light Work’s collection, I was immediately taken aback upon finding Pedro Isztin’s Stan (2004). In this image, almost all the space inside the frame is taken up by the face of an elderly man with bloodshot, blue eyes, a stern gaze, and a small black and white photograph secured on his forehead with red tape. I was taken aback by how confrontational this image is when I first saw it, but the more time I spent with it the more complicated it became. I am not aware of the original context of this photograph, but something about the tension between the deep blues and bright red and the presence of another photograph within the photographic frame feels like a piecing together of contexts. While the tightness of the frame and the direct gaze of the subject are obviously confrontational, his expression seems to be more one of pleading than of aggression. It is this pleading expression and the photograph taped on his forehead that made me think that the nature of photography itself is the subject of this photograph. It is nostalgic, it fixes a moment in time, and it fails to live up to reality.

Pedro Isztin, Stan, 2009 Courtesy of the Artist

The positioning on the man’s head of the photo of a baby, whose gaze is similar indirectness to the subject’s, seems to illustrate memory and the idea of a photograph as an object that houses a memory. The man’s age seems to reference loss. While this could be memory loss it could also simply be the loss of who one used to be and what they once had. This caused me to wonder, are photographs where we store past versions of ourselves? I think that often they are. Because of this, the reckoning with a photograph, presumably from another time, within this image is largely what makes it so enchanting and unnerving.

Internships at Light Work

Offered year-round, Light Work internships provide a platform for undergraduate and graduate students to gain practical, hands-on experience in our exhibitions, education, and collections departments. Light Work’s programming includes exhibitions, educational classes, workshops, community education programs and initiatives, residencies, publications, a digital darkroom, and a library. We endeavor to match each intern with duties that match their interests and learning goals. To apply for internships fill out our Internship Application PDF and send it and all requested documents to

Light Work Welcomes Summer Intern: Sydney Ellison

Addressing issues of equity and inclusion has been important to me since I began my formal education in photography. I have not always had the vocabulary to describe my concerns. I was a first-generation college student whose understanding of photography was primarily technical and I had yet to visit an art museum. Yet, I intrinsically knew there were discrepancies between the types of work that different individuals could make safely, how others received that work, and how the curriculum addressed particular histories and legacies. 

Centering equity and inclusion in photography requires moving beyond acknowledging past faults and injustices. It requires attempting to address the past by creating a future in which we are all more responsible makers and consumers of images. While critical discussions around photography and its ethics often occur within the relatively inaccessible spaces of academia and fine art, images affect how all people relate to themselves, history, and others. This is why it is essential to encourage equity and understand how we all come to images with our own context(s) within the medium. For similar reasons, it is also essential to make sure there are inclusive spaces to share and discuss photography, which I spend a lot of time trying to cultivate and support. If we let it, photography can be a democratic tool for self-expression, starting conversations, and building empathy. While images can cause harm, they can also refute harm and create an opportunity for care and affirmation with responsible handling. Image makers and curators have both an opportunity and a responsibility to employ the best qualities of the medium. 

From “Her, again” series. Courtesy of Sydney Ellison

Sydney Ellison is a Brooklyn-based artist whose work addresses themes of gaze and intersectionality primarily through collage and self-portraiture. Ellison is an art photography student at Pratt Institute and an editor of The Photographer’s Greenbook, a resource hub for Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Advocacy within the lens-based art community.
Internships at Light Work
Offered year round, Light Work internships provide a platform for undergraduate and graduate students to gain practical, hands-on experience in our exhibitions, education, and collections departments. Light Work’s programming includes exhibitions, educational classes, workshops, community education programs and initiatives, residencies, publications, a digital darkroom, and a library. We endeavor to match each intern with duties that match their interests and learning goals. To apply for internships fill out our Internship Application PDF and send it and all requested documents to

Light Work Receives Darryl Chappell Foundation Grant of $10,000

The Darryl Chappell Foundation has honored Light Work with a $10,000 grant. The award will support the residency of two lens-based artists from the African Diaspora. Artists-in-residence is selected through Light Work’s annual residency juror review process, with an anticipated announcement of all residents, including Darryl Chappell Foundation recipients, in late summer 2021.

The Darryl Chappell Foundation seeks to enable emerging and established artists to achieve their highest potential,” said Foundation Chair and CEO Darryl Chappell. “We accomplish this by providing grants as well as by sponsoring artist-in-residence programs designed with the needs of artists, art patrons, mentors, and key partners in mind. Through this work, we believe a more authentic artist voice can be made visible, and heard, on a global scale.

Every year Light Work invites between 12 and 15 artists to come to Syracuse to devote one month to creative projects. More than 400 artists have participated in Light Work’s Artist-in-Residence (AIR) 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 Light Work AIR appears in a special edition of Contact Sheet: The Light Work Annual along with a commissioned essay.

About Darryl Chappell Foundation 

The mission and purpose of the Darryl Chappell Foundation is to foster an appreciation of the fine arts (for example, painting, drawing, sketching, sculpture, ceramics, photography, and metallurgy) among members of the African Diaspora (descendants of Sub-Saharan Africa) through grants, as well as to help foster an appreciation of the fine arts within the community. 

Light Work Announces 2021 Recipients of Grants in Photography

With enormous pleasure and pride, Light Work announces the 47th annual Light Work Grants in Photography. The 2021 recipients are Carla Liesching (Ithaca, Tompkins County), Jessica Magallanes Martinez (Syracuse, Onondaga County), and Paul Pearce (Mattydale, Onondaga County). Nidaa Aboulhosn (Ithaca, Tompkins County) and  Zaire Knight (Syracuse, Onondaga County) each received Honorable Mention recognitions. The Light Work Grants in Photography provide support and encouragement to Central New York artists working in photography within a fifty-mile radius of Syracuse, New York. Each recipient receives a $3,000 stipend and appears in Contact Sheet: The Light Work Annual.  A group exhibition of grant recipients’ work will be on view in the Hallway Gallery in Fall of 2021.

Established in 1975, the Grants program is one of the longest-running photography fellowships in the country. In its 48-year history, Light Work Grants have supported more than 130 artists, some more than once. With the help of this regional grant, many artists have been able to continue long-term projects, purchase equipment, frame photographs for exhibitions, promote their work, collaborate with others, and otherwise work toward their artistic goals.

This year’s judges were Ryan Arthurs (visual artist, co-founder of Rivalry Projects, a contemporary art gallery in Buffalo, NY), Ashlyn Davis (writer, editor, and the former executive director and curator of Houston Center for Photography, chief editor of spot magazine, and co-founder of Assembly), Courtney Reid-Eaton (creative director for the Documentary Diversity Project at Duke University Center for Documentary Studies). 

Light Work is pleased to announce this year’s grant recipients:

Carla Liesching (Ithaca, Tompkins County)

Carla Liesching’s ongoing project, Good Hope, is a fragmented visual and textual assemblage that orbits around the gardens and grounds at the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa—an historic location, now an epicenter for anti-colonial resistance movements, and also the place of her birth. The Portuguese named the Cape during their “Age of Discovery” and viewed its position at the mid-point along the “Spice Route” with great optimism for its capacity to open up a valuable maritime passageway. Later they established the “refreshment station” there, which set into motion flows of capital from “east” to “west.” Today, the iconic central statue commemorating imperialist Cecil Rhodes is gone and gray plywood covers its pedestal, thanks to the #rhodesmustfall movement, whose representatives declared,  “The fall of Rhodes is symbolic for the inevitable fall of White supremacy.” 

Jessica Magallanes Martinez (Syracuse, Onondaga County)

In she is also for others, Jessica Martinez employs the visual language of documentary, performance, and still-life simultaneously to create an allegory of faith, queer identity, and feminine power. Exploring the intersections of her experience as a queer Catholic Chicana from South Central Los Angeles, she questions identities that are increasingly under attack—leaving behind dense voids where nuanced layers of personhood have been obscured and erased. Jessica Martinez’s photographs create a space for recovering identity and reclaiming power.

Paul Pearce (Syracuse, Onondaga County)

A retired 1st Lieutenant in the Army, Paul Pearce employs staged tableaus and vintage military figures to pose questions about our derived moral and ethical formation. Exploring the implications of moral injury through childhood gameplay, Pearce opines about his military service, stating, “As a forward artillery observer in combat, maps, and a compass guided our way and directed lethal fire at the enemy. Where was my moral compass? I look back to a time where an innocent boy made war with toy soldiers. Where did my moral compass point? What happens to us when we play war?” Pearce returns to toys and play as vehicles to unpack his existential question, but this time with his toys that get wounded and suffer. He inserts his childhood lens and asks where he would be if he saw the consequences of these playtime battles.

We are thrilled to support these inspiring artists in our community. Together they show a wide range of approaches to the medium, and highlight the exceptional talent here in Central New York. 

Six Light Work Artists-in-Residence and Urban Video Project Exhibiting Artists Among Guggenheim Fellows

The John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation awarded two Light Work Artists-in-Residence and three former Urban Video Project (UVP) exhibiting artists 2021 Guggenheim Fellowships. The Guggenheim is one of the nation’s most prestigious honors for scholarly and artistic achievement, honoring individuals who have demonstrated exceptional capacity for productive scholarship or exceptional creative ability in the arts. Congratulations to all this year’s awardees, including Light Work and UVP family members Sama Al Shaibi, Ephraim Asili, Crystal Z. Campbell, Jill Magid, Cauleen Smith, and Rodrigo Valenzuela. The recipients are among the 184 artists, writers, scholars, and scientists Fellows selected from a pool of more than 3,000 applicants. 

“I am thrilled to announce this new group of Guggenheim Fellows,” said Edward Hirsch, President of the Foundation, “especially since this has been a devastating year in so many ways. A Guggenheim Fellowship has always been meaningful, but this year we know it will be a lifeline for many of the new Fellows at a time of great hardship, a survival tool as well as a creative one. The work supported by the Fellowship will help us understand more deeply what we are enduring individually and collectively, and it is an honor for the Foundation to help the Fellows do what they were meant to do.”

We are excited to offer signed, limited edition Fine Prints and Contact Sheet volumes featuring works by this year’s Guggenheim recipients. Proceeds benefit and champion Light Work’s on-going support of emerging and under-represented artists working in photography through residencies, publications, exhibitions, educational programming, and a community-access digital lab facility. Search all our offerings at

Rodrigo Valenzuela 
American Type 15, 2019
Archival inkjet print, 14 x 11″ image on 15 x 12″ paper
Edition of 50, signed and numbered by the artist

Rodrigo Valenzuela’s work in photography, video, and installation boldly addresses themes of labor, power, and representation. In American Type, he uses and critiques the language and history of abstraction in art, while imbuing his photographs with social and political meaning. Valenzuela participated in Light Work’s Artist-in-Residence program in 2017.

Works from and essays about 2021 Guggenheim recipients appear in Contact Sheet Annuals 134, 190, 156, and 201. Light Work designs and prints Contact Sheet in the tradition of fine art photography monographs and is completely commercial-free. We invite you to see first-hand the innovative and creative work of artists who are making important contributions to the field of photography.

Over Light Work’s 48 year history, 42 of our Artists-in-Residence and exhibiting artists have received the Guggenheim Fellowship, including Dawoud Bey, Sandford Biggers, Eric Gottesman, John Gossage, Elijah Gowin, Leslie Hewitt, Sky Hopinka, Deana Lawson, Osamu James Nakagawa, Suzanne Opton, Christian Patterson, Alessandra Sanguinetti, Cindy Sherman, Mark Steinmetz, and Hank Willis Thomas. We are humbled to provide time, space, and resources for these artists early in and often throughout their careers. We extend our congratulations to all the 2021 award recipients on joining this illustrious Fellowship legacy. 

We’re Hiring: Light Work Director

Director (Full-time) Master’s degree or equivalent experience preferred

Priority Deadline: May 15, 2021— APPY HERE

This position will remain open until filled. However, we will give priority to applications received before May 15, 2021.

Housed in the Robert B. Menschel Media Center at Syracuse University, Light Work is one of the country’s most respected art institutions. Founded as an artist-run, non-profit organization in 1973, Light Work provides direct support through residencies, publications, exhibitions, a digital lab facility, and other related projects to emerging and under-represented artists working in photography and digital imaging.

We are seeking a dynamic, highly qualified, experienced individual for the Director’s position, and we strongly encourage applications from individuals of diverse cultural backgrounds. The Director reports to the Executive Director and is responsible for Light Work’s overall management, including physical facilities, financial management, human resources, and growth and development. In consultation with the other executive team members, the Director determines the professional practices, standards, and strategies involved in furthering the organization’s mission. The Director will manage all aspects of the organization including curatorial vision, programming, grant research/writing, fundraising, financial management, public relations/marketing, and staff development. Light Work is entering its 50th year of operation, and the successful candidate will expand on Light Work’s legacy in the photographic community and offer a strategic vision in line with evolving institutional and curatorial best practices. They will possess demonstrated managerial skills and experience in all key areas, including budget management.

A demonstrated knowledge of contemporary art, emphasizing photography and digital imaging, is vital to the position. Successful candidates will have a Masters in Fine Arts or equivalent experience with knowledge of photographic and digital imaging techniques. The position requires the ability to work as part of a team and the proven ability to take initiative.

Light Work is an equal opportunity employer. Upon request, both Light Work and Syracuse University will provide accommodation to applicants with disabilities throughout the recruitment, assessment, and selection process.

Job Description

  • The successful candidate will be an individual who understands and champions the organization’s commitment to supporting emerging and under-recognized artists.
  • Responsible for the successful operation of the Light Work Lab so that services are delivered to meet the needs of the members of the Lab and the University community.
  • Responsible for the fiscal success of Light Work Lab and Light Work Visual Studies, Inc., which includes managing budgets and raising funds through earned income and grants from individuals, foundations, and government agencies.
  • Maintaining diversity and artistic excellence in all programs including Artist-in-Residence, exhibitions, publications, and access to all public platforms, including website, social media, print, and marketing campaigns.
  • Successfully manage a staff of six full-time and two part-time staff, and several work study students.
  • Work successfully as a member unit of the Coalition of Museum and Art Centers (CMAC) in order to collaborate with other CMAC units and University Departments in order to make the arts an integral part of campus life.

Syracuse University is an equal-opportunity, affirmative-action institution. The University prohibits discrimination and harassment based on race, color, creed, religion, sex, gender, national origin, citizenship, ethnicity, marital status, age, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression, veteran status, or any other status protected by applicable law to the extent prohibited by law. This nondiscrimination policy covers admissions, employment, and access to and treatment in University programs, services, and activities. For a detailed position description and online application instructions, go to (Job #036896).  Cover letter and resume must be attached.  Review of applications begins immediately and the search will remain open until the position is filled.  Syracuse University is an AA/EOE.

Photographs Reassembled: Jan McCullough

Jan McCullough is the recipient of the Irish Museum of Modern Art’s( IMMA) Photography Residency Award which commenced January 2020, offering an opportunity to undertake two formal residencies: one at IMMA and the other in partnership with the internationally renowned Light Work in Syracuse, New York. The award included a third peripatetic residency supporting self-initiated international research journeys as proposed by the artist. In early 2020 McCullough went to the USA to take a deeper dive in to the rituals and rhythms of the DIY processes we use to construct and imagine ourselves. Visiting workshops, businesses and meeting with self-improvement initiatives McCullough connected with sub-cultures of collective and creative thinking.

McCullough returned to IMMA’s Residency where these accumulative experiences shifted her work significantly. In her IMMA studio McCullough pushed her photography and research further in to 3D form. As the world came to a standstill in March 2020 a second journey to the USA was put on hold, along with a residency with Light Work scheduled for May 2020. Since then Light Work successfully re-instated international online residencies, with McCullough completing a remote one-month residency in February 2021. Jan McCullough will return to IMMA later this year to resume the final stage of this expanded residency award.

1. Jan McCullough Studio at IMMA, 2020. 2. Jan McCullough, Maquette, 2020, PS2, Belfast.

Below Sarah Allen interviews Jan McCullough about the role of photography in her work, what informs her methodology with the artform, how her practice has evolved with recent opportunities and events, and what’s next.


Photography is often a starting point in your work, and I know the camera’s capacity as a research tool is central. Could you speak about how the role of photography has evolved in your practice?

Photography is the backbone of my work, though it’s not always the end point in my process. Recently it has played a more fluid role – as source material, becoming reconfigured into more sculptural and three-dimensional forms. I’m interested in the instructional quality of photography–it can represent how an object or space should ‘ideally’ look (e.g. in instruction manuals) or how it can prescribe a certain way of viewing, through chosen framing. I think there’s a really fascinating relationship between photography and sculpture… the physicality of it – the camera can visually dissect a space, reconfiguring forms within it. I often do this physically too, through photographic collage – in preparation for building into 3D forms.

I’ve always used my own photographs in scrapbooks and sketchbooks in a tactile way as part of my process …photocopying, cutting up, gluing together or painting over – making new configurations within the images. Recently I realised I had built up an evolving archive of images from spaces of ‘construction’ that I kept returning to photograph, such as hardware shops, garages, sheds and factory floors. During lockdown I took the scrapbooks with these ‘reconfigured’ photographs and started to physically construct the flat images inside them for the first time.

Jan McCullough, Scrapbook for Tricks of the Trade, Biro blue, voltage red, 2020.

What is it that interests you about these ‘spaces of construction’? 

The role of photography within the DIY / self-improvement culture fascinates me – how we use it to construct and imagine ourselves. I have previously documented ‘spaces’ generated by DIY activities, where the photographic image acts as an interface between the private and public performances of desire, such as in Home Instruction Manual (2014-2016), where I made and documented a home ‘from scratch’, using advice from strangers on the internet. Photography encircles and shapes us whether we like it or not, through advertising, television, online…a better life has been commodified to be bought and built. But what does it look like to ‘build’ a life when desires are shaped by advertising and the photographic image?  And what do the spaces [in which these processes become physical] look like?

I also love how you have previously described the ‘rituals and rhythms’ that take place in these spaces and I’m interested in that sense of play that comes across in your installations. For example, Tricks of the Trade (2020) sees the functional object – a worktable or scaffolding – losing its function – becoming an absurd object and the installation on a whole wonderfully evokes a playground.

There is a childlike curiosity in entering into a space of construction which is not your own – like stepping into a temporary world or someone else’s den. When making Tricks of the Trade, (an installation of structures, sculptures and photographs exploring spaces of construction opened in November 2020 and runs until 1 May 2021 at The Centre for Contemporary Art CCA in Derry/Londonderry), I was thinking about the sensation in these spaces and how the materials and assemblages often seem to develop a language or life of their own. While I had brought materials to use and photographs as ‘notes’, the building of the structures themselves took part solely in the gallery in an ‘ad hoc’ way which responded to the space, like how the photographs were collaged and reconfigured in the scrapbooks at the start of my process. The structures in the gallery are three-dimensional translations of (sections of) my photographs… transformed / physically constructed into the space. There was a playfulness to the materials themselves that I wanted to let evolve during the installation in CCA.

1. Jan McCullough, Light Work Remote Residency, in partnership with IMMA, 2021.
2. Jan McCullough, Light Work Remote Residency, in partnership with IMMA, 2021.

And that sense of play is also activated by how the viewer interacts with the installation, correct? 

Yes – for me the installation is only half visual, it’s also the smell and experience of the materials themselves – the wood, metal, paint and oil. I’m fascinated with how photography can encounter and transform built space. I wanted to build sections of the installation to guide the viewer to different planes of view and ways of navigating it – like when I’m using a camera; where I position my body translates directly to the image frame. They might have duck under or climb through parts of the structures. To interact with materials in this way is quite childlike.

1. Installation view, Jan McCullough, Tricks of the Trade, 2020, Timber structure, photographic print, frame emulsion: biro blue, Centre for Contemporary Art, Derry~Londonderry, Northern Ireland (28th November 2020 – 1st May 2021).
2. Installation view, Jan McCullough, Tricks of the Trade, 2020, Plywood plinth, torqued steel, Centre for Contemporary Art, Derry~Londonderry, Northern Ireland (28th November 2020 – 1st May 2021).

In the past you have mentioned your interest in the camera’s capacity to ‘make strange’ –a concept that has such a rich history within avant-garde photography. I also find it interesting that you have spoken in the past of how the camera’s mechanical function is the very means through which it ‘makes strange’ through flash, zoom, framing and different angles – again something pioneered by avant-gardes like Moholy-Nagy who embraced the camera’s mechanical eye to see the world anew. It’s interesting to consider within the context of your work in which you create 3D sculpture inspired by the language of photographic process such as flash etc….

Definitely – the camera by its very nature makes our world strange. The photograph is always a slice of a larger picture, a subjective abstraction of reality. When photographing I often work with a powerful flash, which singles out details from the surrounding environment – dissecting and sometimes reducing individual features to outlines. I like using the photograph as a tool not simply for representing objects and spaces, but for reconfiguring their form and function as well – as a source of shapes and forms to be further transformed in later stages of work.

I love the research images of materials (and their transformation later as paintings) in Paul Nash’s work (eg. Still Life on Car Roof (1934) and Maurice Broomfield’s photographs of factory workers from the 50’s and 60’s. Also, the more functional/utilitarian use of photography (as you say, embracing the camera’s mechanical eye) – like in Bernd and Hilla Becher’s ‘Pennsylvania Coal Mine Tipples’ (1974 – 1978) and the manual ‘Instant Furniture’ (Peter S Stamberg / The Globus Brothers, 1976).

Jan McCullough, Scrapbook, 2018, Photographs from ‘Instant Furniture’ by Peter S Stamberg and the Globus Brothers, 1976.

I love the reference to Broomfield as well as Nash. There was an excellent exhibition of Broomfield’s work I saw not so long ago in Derby – the factory floor, but not as we know it! The works is so theatrical and glamorous. What is it in particular that interests you about these images? 

Broomfield’s images are highly staged and lit, and the working environments within them look lush and shiny; completely the opposite of how I would have imagined them. But of course, his photographs weren’t ‘documentary’, instead commissioned by industrial corporations for promotional use… hence the machinery and workers poised picture-perfect and polished for his camera. I read that he once repainted a whole section of a factory in preparation for an image! The photographic staging looks so surreal within those environments…

I love the idea of repainting a section of the factory to prep for a shoot – a time before photoshop! I’m also interested in the role text plays in your work, it featured in one of your first bodies of work Home Instruction Manual (2014-2016) and more recently you have commissioned the author Wendy Erskine to write about your work…

I often work with DIY manuals and procedures for organising as part of my process – where images are printed alongside written commands. When making Tricks of the Trade, I knew I would have to provide a brief text for the viewer but didn’t want to prescribe an experience of the work– I wanted the text to have a life of its own, like the materials themselves. For Wendy’s text which is titled ‘Instructions for the Assembly of Workspace’ I posted her a small package of materials from my studio such as photographs of ladders, worktables, collages and a list of things I had in the studio. It formed a strange kind of menu and Wendy then wrote the text using that ‘menu’ as a point of departure. Wendy drops the reader right into their own imagined space of construction– requiring them to utilise their own tactile memory and smell.

Wendy Erskine and Jan McCullough, Instructions for the Assembly of Workspace, 2020, Collaboration between writer Wendy Erskine and artist Jan McCullough. Designed by Sean Greer at Nongraphic Funded by Freelands Foundation, London.

It’s a fantastic text, recently I find myself most drawn to photobook text commissions that are creatively independent like Wendy’s, a refreshing change from deadening the work through over-interpretation. Finally, can you tell me a little more about your current work with The Light Work Residency and your future engagements with IMMA?

The Light Work Residency (in partnership with IMMA) was originally meant to be a production residency in New York, it recently took place under lockdown conditions from home. I used the time to fully immerse myself in the tactile processes that are central to my practice as part of the experimentation process for new work involving photographic and sculptural processes. It’s been great to have remote studio visits and conversations about the evolving work with the Light Work community. I’m interested to see how this period alters my processes going forward, and after working scaled-down at home, I’m excited to see how the work evolves and physically expands when I return to the studio space at IMMA later this year, in 2021.

1. Jan McCullough, Work in Progress from Light Work Remote Residency, in partnership with IMMA, 2021.
2. Jan McCullough, Studio at IMMA, January 2020.

Art Keeps Nonprofits Going: Artsy Benefit Auction 2021

Let the bidding begin!

Light Work is thrilled to participate in the Art Keeps Nonprofits Going: Artsy Benefit Auction 2021, an online initiative organized by Artsy to raise funds for non-profit partners during this challenging time. Light Work is pleased to feature three signed limited editions, archival fine prints by acclaimed photographers including Paul Mpagi Sepuya, William Wegman and James Welling. Bidding in the auction opens exclusively online through Artsy and will close on Wednesday, March 10, 2021 at 5:00pm ET 

To view the works available, visit

Proceeds benefit Light Work and champion our mission of supporting emerging and under-represented artists working in photography through residencies, publications, exhibitions, educational programming, and a community-access digital lab facility. Hung gallery style or as a singular statement piece, every image is a wonderful addition to any collection. 

To support the important work of multiple museums, institutions, and non-profit organizations, Artsy is honored to host a curated benefit auction which aims to unite the art world and art industry at large during this difficult time. Art Keeps Nonprofits Going: Benefit Auction 2021 is a rare opportunity to support the fundraising efforts of some of the art industry’s top institutions and artists through this fantastic collection of works.

“I’m proud of the Artsy team for their exhaustive efforts to support our partners and their artists through this crisis,” says the firm’s chief executive, Mike Steib. “We will do everything we can to ensure that art keeps going through this crisis and is available to everyone in the world.”

The physical art world is indefinitely on pause, museums and galleries have closed, exhibitions have canceled, and auctions and fairs have been postponed. Still, in times of crisis, art keeps us connected across time and place. Art keeps going, and it keeps us going.

A New Chapter, A Warm Goodbye

Dear Light Work Community, Colleagues, and Friends,

I’m writing today to let you know that I will be leaving my role as Director of Light Work in February in order to focus on the launch of Assembly—a new model and global platform supporting photographic artists. I am thrilled to be co-founding Assembly with Ashlyn Davis Burns (former Executive Director of Houston Center for Photography), who shares a vision for important change and innovation in our field. I’m excited to tell you more more about this ambitious new project, but before I do I want to take a moment to reflect on my time here at Light Work. 

When I came to Syracuse in 2011 for a Light Work residency, I could not have predicted just how important this organization would become to me. I immediately identified with the ethos of “artists supporting artists” and the notion of an artist-run space that can make positive impacts on the work and careers of image-makers. Shortly after my residency, I was fortunate to assume a leadership role with Light Work and these last nine years have truly made possible some of the most meaningful professional and personal experiences of my life. I’ve learned so much from all of the amazingly generous and creative human beings with whom I’ve been able to interact, including many individuals on Light Work’s staff and board over the years, and my wonderful colleagues at Syracuse University. I’d like to personally thank the current staff, including Jeffrey Hoone, Mary Lee Hodgens, Julie Herman, Anneka Herre, Xuan Liu, Dan Boardman, Ryan Krueger, Rebecca Marris, Cjala Surratt, Victor Rivera, and Richard DeNune. As we often say, and is true, “Many hands make Light Work.” I want to extend my deepest gratitude for their unwavering support, generosity, and guidance.

Light Work remains one of the oldest artist-run organizations in the country, founded in 1973. What it means to me to be part of this legacy is difficult to put into words—it has in itself been nothing short of a profound experience to be in the company of so many visual pioneers who have inspired me over the past decade. The gallery has hosted the work of numerous artists and talks that have moved me in ways that I will remember and cherish—but I’ll always recall the words of one artist who, following a reception dinner, confided in us, “Light Work changed my life.” To make even a small impact on an artist’s life is why we do what we do, so this moment continues to resonate with me today and will for many years to come. I am grateful to have worked with hundreds of talented image-makers from around the world, including hosting more than 100 artists-in-residence here in Syracuse, producing more than 50 exhibitions, publishing more than 40 issues of Contact Sheet, contributing to numerous monographs, educational programs, and various satellite projects. So, I’d like to express my gratitude to all of these artists, and to those of you reading this letter, for making this community so truly special. 

Light Work has grown in many significant ways during this time as well. We have redesigned our award-winning publication, Contact Sheet, as well as all printed materials and the website, and completely rebranded the organization with a new graphic identity. Light Work has played a major part in expanding the definition of photography in important ways in recent years. We have continued our mission of showcasing a diverse range of voices and bolstered our commitment to supporting emerging and under-recognized artists working in photography. We received national recognition and funding for our programs, including ongoing support from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), the New York State Arts Council (NYSCA), and secured new prestigious grants from the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts and the Pollock-Krasner Foundation. We fully renovated our digital lab facility, maintaining it as a state-of-the-art makerspace for photographic artists. We launched a new and improved online collection, featuring more than 4,000 objects from our permanent collection. We grew and developed as a staff and now have one of the hardest working and best teams in the organization’s long history. As the COVID-19 pandemic hit, we moved our programs online in just a matter of weeks, launched a podcast, and reimagined ways to connect with and support artists during this difficult time. After nearly five decades of service to artists, we have much to be proud of as an organization, and while many challenges most certainly lie ahead, I feel Light Work is ready for new energy to carry the organization into the future. The staff are working together on a transition plan and will be announcing more about what’s next for Light Work soon. 

As I make this transition, I’m thrilled to be able to continue supporting artists through Assembly. Assembly will operate in a multitude of ways—as a gallery, agency, creative studio, and art advisory, with an innovative approach to providing holistic support to a diverse group of artists working with photography and the moving image. Ashlyn and I will offer value-driven consulting for collectors, museums, and institutions, creative production and art buying services for magazines and brands, and work with an expansive network of creatives to develop unique projects that tell memorable stories about the world we live in. If you’re interested in learning more, please take a moment to bookmark the website ( and follow us on Instagram at @assemblyprojects. Stay tuned for our official launch on March 1, 2021.

Many of you know I also work as an artist myself, so I am very happy to be able to return to devoting more time in the studio to my own photography practice ( and will be looking to work with more curators and photo editors on new projects this year. In February, I’ll be working with Laimun, a Berlin-based residency program for visual makers and researchers focusing on the relationship between images and texts, books, and archives. I’m looking forward to sharing some other exciting news soon as well, including a major museum exhibition in the works for Fall 2021. My personal Instagram is @shanelavalette and I invite you to stay in touch there too.

Once again, thank you from the bottom of my heart to all of you—the Light Work community—for being so good to me over the last nine years. I look forward to keeping in touch and finding ways to continue collaborating with Light Work and other art spaces in my new role.

Please feel free to add my other emails to your address book and reach out. I’d love to hear from you. 

Shane Lavalette