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

Call for Entries: 2021 Light Work Grants in Photography

Light Work is pleased to announce the 2021 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 41-year history, Light Work Grants have supported more than 120 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 2016 or earlier are eligible to re-apply. Full-time students are not eligible.

The deadline for the 2021 Light Work Grants is April 1, 2021.

Apply online at

Announcing the 2021 Light Work Artists-in-Residence

Each year, Light Work supports at least a dozen emerging and under-represented artists working in photography and related media with month-long residencies and a total of over $60,000 in support. In addition to being awarded an unrestricted stipend of $5,000, each artist receives access to technical and professional resources. While the COVID-19 pandemic has constrained our ability to physically host artists in Syracuse this coming year, Light Work has responded innovatively to offer that continued support in the form of remote residencies.

With great pleasure, Light Work announces the following 2021 Remote Artists-in-Residence: Liz Johnson Artur, Danielle Bowman, Sabiha Çimen, Steven Molina Contreras, Larry Cook, Jeremy Dennis, Odette England, Dionne Lee, Daniel Ramos, Aida Silvestri (in partnership with Autograph ABP), Marion Wilson, and Guanyu Xu. This diverse group of lens-based and multimedia artists represents the breadth of important and innovative work in the field today. We’re pleased to again partner with Autograph of London (U.K.) to support the residency of Aida Silvestri. This international arts organization’s sponsorship of one of our artists is the latest in a longstanding collaboration that dates from 1996. 

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to significantly affect our global artist community, many of whose members are now facing unexpected loss of income and cancellation of exhibitions, grants, and residency opportunities. In response to this, Light Work has shifted our residency to a remote format that maintains the same level of robust and intentional artist-guided support. 

Citing the effects of the ongoing pandemic, Light Work’s director Shane Lavalette notes, “Canceling or postponing our support to emerging and under-represented artists is simply not an option—in fact, it’s even more essential that we are there for the photographic community right now. Instead, we are deeply committed to being the best international remote residency program for image-makers. In order to do so, we asked artists about the ways in which we can best support their practice during this difficult time, and as a staff we have come together to work to creatively reimagine how we can accomplish this from afar. Despite the geographic distance, we’re thrilled to be able to work closely with this incredible group of artists in 2021.”

The remote residency experience will support artists in developing their artistic practice from their home or designated studio space. In addition to the stipend, artists will benefit from technical, professional, and creative support, as well as the extraordinary freedom to determine their own residency’s shape and timing. Our AIR participants can use their month to pursue their projects: photographing, scanning, printing, editing for book projects, and working closely with our staff for feedback and conversation. Light Work staff will use the flexibility of virtual support to expand the artist’s networks through discussion groups and educational programming. A special edition of Contact Sheet: The Light Work Annual presents the work of each Artist-in-Residence with an accompanying commissioned essay. Each Artist-in-Residence also makes a donation of their work that becomes a part of the Light Work Collection.

Launched in 1976, this competitive program now usually receives about 1,000 applications annually. Following an international call for submissions, Light Work selects twelve to fifteen artists and invites them to Syracuse for one month to pursue creative projects. To date, more than 500 artists have participated in the Light Work Artist-in-Residence Program, and many have gone on to achieve international acclaim. The artists who receive this distinction embody Light Work’s mission of providing direct artist support to emerging and under-represented artists working in photography and digital imaging.

We are pleased to announce the 2021 Light Work Artists-in-Residence!

Liz Johnson Artur

Danielle Bowman

Sabiha Çimen

Steven Molina Contreras

Larry Cook

Jeremy Dennis

Odette England

Dionne Lee

Daniel Ramos

Aida Silvestri (in partnership with Autograph ABP)

Marion Wilson

Guanyu Xu

See past Artists-in-Residence at
Applications are now open for 2022. Apply at

UVP Marks Tenth Anniversary with State-of-the-Art Projector Upgrade

This summer, Light Work’s Urban Video Project projector went dark for a long-awaited equipment upgrade that was the culmination of years of fundraising and planning. This upgrade will make it possible for UVP to continue to present exhibitions by preeminent video artists from around the world. UVP is an essential international venue for the public presentation of video and electronic arts and this initiative extends the lifetime of the equipment. Hosted on the facade of the Everson Museum of Art, this technical upgrade secures UVP’s role as one of the nation’s premier outdoor architectural projection sites for years to come.

Light Work executive director Jeffrey Hoone notes, “Since opening the UVP Everson site with an exhibition by Bill Viola ten years ago, we have continued building on the site as an important electronic public art venue for emerging and established artists from around the world. The Everson Museum was one of the first museums in the world to exhibit the work of video artists and we are so pleased to be able to continue that tradition with this important collaboration among Light Work, the Everson, and Syracuse University to make Syracuse a place that supports important artists working in new media.”

For ten years, UVP has created opportunities for the community to engage large-scale moving images by outside projection. The program’s former exhibition roster boasts work by Lawrence Abu Hamdan, Shimmon Attie, Sandford Biggers, Christopher Harris, Cauleen Smith, William Wegman, among many others. These exhibitions transform the plaza and offer a unique public viewing  site for appreciation, consideration, and conversation. 

“The new equipment we’ve installed is more advanced, energy-efficient, and will produce a brighter, sharper, more spectacular image, “says Anneka Herre, director of Urban Video Project. “But more importantly, this upgrade will allow Urban Video Project to sustainably continue our mission to make media arts a part of our community’s fabric for many years to come.”

For technology aficionados who crave installation details, the upgraded spec rundown includes  a new Barco UDX-W40, an HD projector that produces a spectacular 40,000 lumens at center with a sealed light engine. The UDX-W40 uses new, laser phosphor technology that will last for an impressive 20,000 hours while producing half the heat of a traditional xenon-based lamp. We also have a completely new custom-designed and climate-controlled “smart” enclosure from Display Devices to maintain all of this sensitive AV equipment.

This installation has been possible through the support, patience, and expertise of local MWBE-certified contractors Tony Baird Electronics (prime) and Diversified (sub), and Clark Rigging & Rental. Van Hook Service supplied work on HVAC. Onondaga County has also been a partner throughout the project, providing county electricians to complete the installation and providing electricity going forward. 


Urban Video Project’s equipment upgrade was made possible by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York State Legislature through a REDC Midsize Capital Grant and Syracuse University.

Light Work Lab Resumes Printing and Scanning Services for Photographers

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Light Work Lab closed to the public in early March and then went on to move classes, workshops, and one-on-one training sessions entirely online. During the closure, Lab staff and our members worked remotely to imagine fresh ways to stay engaged and offer support to our photography community. 

After months of limiting our service activity, we are very excited that Light Work Lab can again offer our full line of services to artists. This includes printing, scanning, and retouching. Visit for a complete list of service rates and stock papers.

The steady hum of printers and scanners are cause for celebration! Light Work’s global community of photographers will again have access to exceptional museum quality archival printing services and the support of our knowledgeable and enthusiastic staff. As added incentives during this difficult time and until further notice, we are extending all Lab memberships that were valid when we closed our doors, as well as offering FREE service memberships for new and returning clients. Our prices are already among the lowest in the industry, but we want to keep our services as accessible as possible to make it even easier for you to work with us from anywhere in the world. This is an excellent opportunity to begin or return to projects that may have stalled due to the pandemic. 

The Lab team has worked diligently to institute cleaning routines for the facility. All safety protocols are in place, including protective partitions, social distancing signage, hand sanitizer stations, and free distribution of masks to staff. Even while masked and six feet apart, the team is happy to get back to producing creative projects with artists from afar. “We have spent the last month preparing and recalibrating, testing out new materials, and implementing social distancing rules to make our space safer to use for our own staff,” said Light Work lab manager Dan Boardman. “We are ready for your printing, scanning, and retouching inquiries. It is very rewarding for us to work with artists from all around the world, and we are looking forward to helping you with your next project.”

Does this mean we are open to the public and visitors can come into the facility for DIY printing and scanning? Unfortunately, no. Though the number of new cases across Syracuse and New York State are low, we are proceeding cautiously regarding a physical re-opening of the Lab and exhibition spaces to the public, and we must wait for clearances from New York State and Syracuse University in order to do so. Following the best practices of arts institutions nationwide, Light Work will institute clear safety guidelines when we do re-open in the future, and we will be sure to keep you posted on developments as we have news to share regarding those next steps. 

We appreciate your generosity and support during this time! We look forward to the company of lab members, students, and gallery patrons down the road. Until then, we encourage you to engage with Light Work’s programs through our social media platforms, online educational opportunitiespermanent Collection website, Contact Sheet subscription program, and episodes of the Light Work Podcast

Light Work Receives $50,000 National Endowment for the Arts CARES Act Grant

The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) has awarded Light Work a $50,000 grant as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. Light Work is one of 855 organizations that the NEA selected from 3,100 applicants nation-wide who requested $157 million with $45 million available in direct assistance. The non-matching funds support staff salaries, fees for artists or contractual personnel, and facilities costs.

The NEA has been an important funding partner with Light Work for nearly 50 years,” said Jeffrey Hoone, Light Work’s executive director. “We are extremely grateful for this grant as we continue our core mission to support emerging and under-recognized artists during this challenging time.

The CARES Act recognizes the nonprofit arts industry as an essential sector of America’s economy. The National Endowment for the Arts awarded funds to nonprofit arts organizations across the country to help these entities and their employees endure the economic hardships caused by the forced closure of their operations due to the spread of COVID-19. The grants support exemplary projects in artist communities, arts education, dance, design, folk and traditional arts, literary arts, local arts agencies, media arts, museums, music, musical theater, opera, presenting and multidisciplinary works, theater, and visuals arts.

During the past five months, Light Work has navigated the challenges COVID-19 pandemic-related closure and tallied numerous successes. This emergency grant helps Light Work continue to deliver on a 48-year legacy of advocacy through exhibitions, an awarding-winning publication entitled Contact Sheet, a state-of-the-art community-access digital services lab, and a permanent Collection comprising more than 4,000 photo related objects and images. Light Work remains devoted to serving the artists and the community in meaningful and safe ways. Staff and board eagerly anticipate reopening with new exhibitions, online educational opportunities, and remote print services that include safety protocols.

At this challenging moment for arts organizations across the country, Light Work is extremely grateful to receive support from the NEA as part of the CARES Act,” says Light Work director Shane Lavalette. “This grant will offset some of the pandemic’s financial impacts and ensure that we can continue to provide artists with support they need through this difficult and uncertain time. 

Like many cities across our national landscape, Syracuse is poised for a reimagining of arts engagement within our sites. Arts and culture are vital parts of our city’s dynamic economy. In the Greater Syracuse area arts and culture generate over $130 million in economic activity, support more than 5,000 full-time jobs, provide $110 million in household income, and deliver $20 million in local and state government revenue. This NEA funding helps support those jobs and nonprofit organizations during this time of great need. Arts and culture will persevere as significant contributors to Syracuse’s community life and recovery. 

All of us at the National Endowment for the Arts are keenly aware that arts organizations across the country are hurting, struggling, and trying to survive. Our supply of funding does not come close to meeting the demand for assistance,” said NEA chair Mary Anne Carter.

Congress established the NEA in 1965 as the independent federal agency whose funding and support allow Americans to participate in the arts, exercise their imaginations, and develop their creative capacities. Through partnerships with state arts agencies, local leaders, other federal agencies, and the philanthropic sector, the Arts Endowment supports arts learning, affirms and celebrates America’s rich and diverse cultural heritage, and extends its work to promote equal access to the skills in every community across America. Visit​ to learn more.

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

Urban Video Project Installation “In Solidarity” Closes for Projection Equipment Upgrade

Wednesday, July 8, at midnight, Light Work’s Urban Video Project installation, In Solidarity, will go dark to make way for a long-awaited upgrade of their projection equipment. The culmination of years of fundraising and planning, the upgrade will make it possible for Urban Video Project to continue their mission to present urgent, thought-provoking work of media artists from around the world at their outdoor projection site at the Everson Museum of Art.  With the contributions of  Black photographers and photojournalist allies, UVP’s act of solidarity has appeared each night for more than three weeks, offering viewers on the plaza an opportunity to witness the passions, frustrations, and determination driving the protest movement in Syracuse, New York. We extend our appreciation to the many photographers and artists who made images of the marches, rallies, and actions organized by Last Chance For Change, Raha Syracuse and YouthCuseBLM. The photographs and labor of Cheriyln Beckles, Mylz Blake, Kollina Dacko, Dennis Fernando, Eric Derachio Jackson Jr., and Maranie Staab chronicled the protesters’ unwavering commitment to condemn and root out police violence, systemic racism, and state-sanctioned violence.  

Those who journeyed to the museum’s plaza provided powerful feedback that reaffirms art as an indomitable tool in challenging injustice and inequity. “We appreciate the work of the photographers covering the movement in Syracuse and the Urban Video Project’s willingness to have a solidarity display,” said Rannette Releford, director of Syracuse’s the Citizen Review Board (CRB), which hears complaints about police misconduct. “This was a perfect example of how important this movement is to our community and the choices an organization can make to show support. We appreciate being showcased in the ‘In Solidarity’ installation because accountability and transparency are necessary to improve relations. You cannot have one without the other, and for far too long, neither has been a top priority to the Syracuse Police Department.” 

Having visited the exhibition on numerous occasions for documentation purposes, UVP communications coordinator Cjala Surratt said she was struck by the installation’s ability to create space to empathize and mourn in a large public site. “It’s quiet there,” said Surratt. “The rhythmic sounds of the fountain encourage introspection and stillness. There I had permission, one I had not extended myself before to grieve. To grieve with the families of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, David McAtee, and Tony McDad, and with so many others in America’s Black communities, who have suffered devastating losses and live in fear because of racism, violence, and injustice.” 

At the launch of this collaborative project, UVP director Anneka Herre spoke of the location’s importance. “It is not a coincidence that UVP’s  Everson Museum site is proximate to where many of the protests are happening along the downtown law enforcement and legal corridor. This corridor of civic buildings was created through an urban renewal program that displaced a population of Black citizens who are also disproportionately affected by the criminal justice system. It is incumbent upon us to use this site in ways that amplify the voices of those who are doing the difficult work of making change and to add our own voice to that call.”

Urban Video Project again extends our gratitude to everyone who stood in the presence of this installation, either in solitude or gathered in small numbers, to consider the reckoning that is now underway in our city, state, and nation. 

We are excited to announce In Solidarity will be part of Light Work’s 2020-21 exhibition calendar for those who did not get the opportunity to see the installation in person at the plaza. This body of work will be on view in the Hallway Gallery at Light Work later this fall. Keep an eye on our website and social media platforms for updates regarding online programming running in conjunction with these forthcoming exhibitions. The show will run concurrently with Matthew Connor’s exhibition in Kathleen O. Ellis Gallery. Please be aware at this time that we have temporarily closed Light Work to the public and canceled all scheduled opening receptions and artist talks as part of our commitment to helping flatten the COVID-19 curve. We encourage you to visit Light Work exhibitions online. 

Urban Video Project (UVP) is a program of Light Work in partnership with the Everson Museum of Art and Onondaga County. This outdoor architectural projection site offers public presentation of film, video, and moving image arts, using cutting-edge technology to bring art of the highest caliber to Syracuse. It is one of the few projects in the United States dedicated to ongoing public projections and adds a new chapter to Central New York’s legacy as a major birthplace of video art. 

Using a large permanently installed projector and all-weather sound system, UVP’s outdoor architectural projection site on the north façade of the Everson Museum of Art transforms the adjoining Onondaga County Community Plaza into a massive,  year-round video installation every Thursday through Saturday night.

Long Read: Interview with Poulomi Basu

“I owe it to the women who have opened themselves up to me. I want them to know that we are fighting this oppression together. And we are doing this with agency. Our collective voice of resistance.”

Content note: contains a personal narrative of domestic violence 

Poulomi Basu’s work advocates for the rights of marginalised women using the power of photography as a tool for storytelling – amplifying the voices of women from the majority world. An Indian artist, photographer, and activist, she has become widely known for her powerful photographic projects Blood SpeaksCentralia and To Conquer Her Land, to name a few. Her first photobook Centralia was recently published by Dewi Lewis.

Autograph’s Curatorial Project Manager Bindi Vora has been working closely with Basu over the past eighteen months to present the international debut of her decade-long project Centralia, which was due to be exhibited in Arles as part of the Louis Roederer Discovery Award. Unfortunately, the unfolding Covid-19 pandemic has forced the cancellation of this year’s festival.

One of Autograph’s core aims has always been to enable artists to develop their practice. We recently sent Basu on the Autograph / Light Work residency, to support the development of her new series Fireflies. Each year, we team up with Light Work in Syracuse, New York – a non-profit, artist-run organisation providing direct support to emerging and under-represented artists working in photography. Autograph selects an artist to go on a residency at Light Work’s studios to pursue their personal projects: an exhibition, publication, printing, or even just space to think. They are provided with travel expenses, a stipend for living and production, a private darkroom, an apartment, and 24-hour access to Light Work’s photo and computer lab facilities. We’ve been doing this since 1996.

As we reflect on life since lockdown, Vora spoke with Basu about Fireflies, and some of the enduring legacies of women’s trauma.

from the series ‘Blood Speaks’ by Poulomi Basu

Bindi Vora:  Fireflies is a new work you began editing during your residency at Light Work. To begin, it would be good if you could introduce the project, and how it’s been evolving over the last few years. 

Poulomi Basu: Fireflies was a combination of ideas and of accumulated experiences which made me feel compelled to turn the camera upon myself; to tell my story of resistance and stand in solidarity with the women who have opened their lives to me.

The work is a response to the trauma of my own background as told through the relationship between my mother and I. When I was 17, my mother told me to leave home so that I would be able to live a life of freedom and choice that had been denied to her, and my grandmother, who were both child brides and then young widows. Rooted in my experience of domestic violence, this work navigates the blood lines of our collective trauma, mapping an elemental journey of survival. From the claustrophobia of the home, through to dreams of escape and transcendence, this is a kinetic and spiritual work lingering on the fragility of time and our earthly insignificance when contrasted against the celestial wonder of the natural world.

The work further explores the themes of gender, identity and violence building upon my previous works exploration of these topics. However, it further extends these explorations into hinterland between fact and fiction, using the tropes of female centred, science / dystopian fiction, to weave a narrative simultaneously real and fantastical. 

There is so much pain, anxiety and fear behind most women I have met in life including myself. Yet we are strong and magical. I wanted to celebrate both those dualities.

BV:  I want to first delve into the title of the project. Fireflies – as when I think about the idea of a firefly, it insinuates an occult reality, a sense of light, flight and freedom. There is a fine balance of magic which I think is emphasised within the context of this work.

When you initially shared the project with me as you were preparing for the residency, I began to research into the firefly, an insect that is characterised for its distinct glow and the way in which they use their luminosity to detract predators. It’s a power. Although we see an overall sense of harmony within the images and how they appear, as you delve further there is an underlying dystopian reality.

It’s this way of storytelling which I find runs as a common thread throughout your practice – such as in Centralia, where you have these incredible landscapes, juxtaposed with portraits of people who have been killed – all across one or two spreads (if we take a section of the Centralia book). It’s only as you delve deeper into the oscillating narratives and begin to read the stories of the female guerrillas, that you begin to sense the deciphering of truths as they converge into one another.

PB:Fireflies glow in the darkness. So, there is both this element of something free, pulsing and magical, yet dark. I associate that with feminine powers. Women are powerful and magical yet there is a lot of struggle laced in our history and constant battleground of misogyny and patriarchy. There is so much pain, anxiety and fear behind most women I have met in life including myself. Yet we are strong and magical. I wanted to celebrate both those dualities.

Centralia is a journey into the heart of darkness, but you find these powerful women in the work who are standing against the establishment and fighting back. They are fighting not only the economic and political realities, but also patriarchy and caste system. I wanted their voices to be heard, known and celebrated despite the nightmare they find themselves in.

I promise myself I would never live in the shadow of men.

BV:  Activism and advocacy for women’s rights is at the heart of your practice, with sensibility and care as you collaborate with marginalised communities. You have this innate way of creating safe spaces full of choice, which empowers these women with whom you spend time, creating bonds to share their story through their words.

Blood Speaks for example, changed the law in Nepal – it outlawed the physical controls imposed on women whilst menstruating. Although more work by lawmakers needs to be done to completely banish this practice, it’s a huge achievement for those suffering under these constraints. To now turn the camera on yourself and perhaps in some ways use this as a form of therapy to heal a deep trauma, that has for years sent ripples within your family dynamics. Why is this work at this stage of your life important for you to make?

PB:  I grew up in a very volatile home feeling very ashamed of myself and my self-worth constantly under the shadow of men. I watched women in my home including myself getting repeatedly abused and our potential diminished. My father sometimes used to beat me up with an iron rod and other days stop me from going to school to write my exams. He would take away my school uniform and school shoes. I remember calling up friends borrowing their extra clothes and turning up in school without proper shoes and then getting punished in school for that. But at least I got to write my paper. It was very violent and controlling. But I knew having a proper education was my ticket to freedom. But I had to fight for it. But many girls don’t have that option even today.

I wanted to be a dancer. I was trained in classical Bharatnatyam, lyrical jazz and funk jazz dance growing up and I used to perform in shows. When I turned 15 that was stopped too because my father thought that professional dancers were harlots. Because I wanted to be a dancer, he called me a slut.

India is an exclusively male space. Misogyny filters through almost every environment. I really wanted out. I became a very rebellious teenager as a result, and I promised myself I would never live under the shadow of men. I was 17 when my father passed away and that was my chance really. My mother asked me to leave our home and the city of Calcutta and try and live a life of independence and choice that was denied to her. So, I packed my bags and left.

Today I live in the UK. But it’s been a crazy long journey uprooting myself. I have directly seen the impact of abuse and of not letting women get ahead in life very closely. My work on women is a direct outcome of what I have experienced in my life. Trauma lingers long and I don’t know if peace will ever come. Both my mother and I felt ready to make this work. We are ready to tell our story. This work is the root of my artistic practice and activism. This is where it all began. I owe it to the women who have opened themselves up to me. I want them to know that we are fighting this oppression together. And we are doing this with agency. Our collective voice of resistance.

It is not enough for me to just provoke an audience. Because then you leave them no agency of what they should do next? Empathy is not a destination.

Blood Speaks deals with blood politics and its larger implications, such as menstrual exile, child widows, sexual abuse, dowry deaths, child brides, abortion, women in lifetime prison who have killed their abusive husbands to escape all kinds of stories. That work has encompassed large campaigns, community engagement, art as social practice. It took five years of hard work but ultimately, we saw light at the end of the tunnel. The practice of menstrual exile, known as chaupadi, was criminalised, and finally arrests are now being made. Thankfully! It’s a start but more work needs to be done.

It was not easy making that work. I have had death threats on the field. Once a man came at me with an axe because his wife decided to collaborate with me. Another time, during my first major project To Conquer Her Land, at an army camp I had a continuous knock on my door for three hours in the short hours of the morning. I was alone there. Another time, I saw a teenage girl getting horribly beaten and shamed in font of 30 men because she entered his threshold while menstruating. So, it is quite devastating to witness. I can tell you endless stories as to what I have seen women go through. With Centralia, if I give up my Indian passport my country likely will blacklist me from coming back because of the human rights crimes and extra judicial killings I have recorded. I was embedded with the guerrillas and told the stories of the female guerrillas. So yes, it is hard doing social justice work. Too many forces are against you. And then there’s always mental health, worries and self-care.

I was not interested in winning art awards and medals. It is not enough for me to just provoke an audience. Because then you leave them with no agency of what they should do next? Empathy is not a destination. I have barely exhibited the entire work. I do hope more people show the complete work somewhere. But I was really interested in seeing a constructive ground swell and impact. And I am actually glad it changed a law rather than me winning awards or climbing up the art ladder.

Poulomi Basu, from Centralia, 2010 – ongoing

BV:  It would be very naïve to skip past the obvious traumas that are present with this work. But, I want to talk about your relationship with your mum. From our conversations, I know it’s a bond that despite all the challenges so far faced is incredibly strong. How does she feel about this work and her roll in this project as your co-collaborator?

PB:  She feels very empowered to be able to conquer our collective shame. The injury, taboo and violence we have faced. She is an extremely bold, creative and forward thinking woman. If she had a real complete education and a chance in life, she’d be very successful. This I feel is true for many women. We have a very strong bond. But I do live in daily guilt of being able to escape while she is still trapped in a culture of violence. That thought haunts me every day. Even in my freedom I feel her pain. That is why it is important not only to tell women stories but to actively work towards ‘activating’ them. I have had many people who have sponsored girls after seeing stories I have done. So, it is possible to amplify our voices. Just have to keep working as fighting for women’s rights. It is an unrelenting battle. I do feel it is my calling. But it is also our collective responsibility.

BV:  I think in some ways this leads me to the very strong undercurrent of science fiction that runs within the work. The locations you’ve chosen together, the spaces in which the bodies feel boundless – such as you floating in the abyss of water. Did tropes of fantasy and dream help you work through some of the more difficult and / or painful elements in which you both appear vulnerable.

PB:  Creating a fantasy, a kind of fiction, creates a level of abstraction, allows me to view myself from an external perspective, to universalise my interior world and struggle so that these abstract thoughts and feelings can be communicated to an audience. Within my work, as seen in Centralia, I am interested in blurring the line between reality and fiction; in creating work that exists in a hybrid state. The tropes of science fiction allow for the reimagining of reality; of creating an exterior world that is comprised of elements that are normally interior. In this way the dystopian landscape becomes a metaphor for my vulnerabilities. The landscape as trauma.

BV:  How has the residency at Light Work helped you develop the work? 

PB:  During my time in Syracuse I was able to fully immerse myself in this work. Diving deep into these themes and ideas to edit a selection of images that were true to my original conception of this project. In doing so, I was also able to begin development of the written piece that will sit alongside both the images and is to be used within the 16mm films I am creating. This written piece takes the form of a free form poem that provides a thematic and narrative backbone to the project.

Additionally, I would say that the financial part of the residency helped me to travel and make the 16mm film and the photographic elements of Fireflies. I also started drafting my first script whilst at the residency. But that has evolved since then. A script needs to sit for a bit before it is final and ready in my opinion. Photographically, I will continue to develop this body of work, but at present, I would consider a portion of the photographic element complete. The work also comprised of two films. Editing is underway of the two films. They will be ready in 4-6 weeks. I am collaborating with filmmaker CJ Clarke on the films.

from the series ‘To Conquer Her Land’ by Poulomi Basu

BV:  The global presence of Covid-19 has dominated and consumed all aspects of our lives in over the last few weeks and months. Do you think the exploration of the self especially in relation to this project has evolved even further?

PB:  As with any work of art, I feel like Fireflies is reflective of the times in which it is made, perhaps more so given the themes of isolation and self-exploration, very much in evidence within our Covid affected societies. The conception of the work took place pre-Covid, but the evolution of the themes are definitely affected by what is occurring at the moment, and perhaps certain elements are more evident as a result. Whilst Fireflies is not a work directly about Covid, it definitely is, in part, a meditation on isolation and the resulting journey towards inner space that takes place as a result of such prolonged exposure to the self.

If we keep looking out for the community, the community will look after us. There is no greater need for this, than now.

BV:  Since we began this conversation, a devastating cyclone hit Calcutta and west Bengal – I know this is your home city and your community and being in the UK it must feel even further away, to just observe the destruction as a spectator.

PB:  Home has never felt this far away. We haven’t had power for almost 28 hours now*. My mother’s phone is about to die and in typical post-apocalyptic fashion Ma using the last bit of battery to let me know she is safe. Horrifyingly, the BBC has reported more on this than our national media, and the central government remains silent. All the trees have fallen. Hope seems lost. The scale and power of what happened yesterday has shaken us. We still don’t have power / running water / drinking water / windows smashed glass everywhere / water inside / intermittent phone network / a staff got through at one point to say our books storage studio is flooded. Our precious stock, books, stationery for school students and our shop, that has kept us going through this mess, paying rent and salaries. We are in despair, but my family still have a roof over their head. There was chaos in our brick home, can you even imagine what happened to the rest of Bengal?

Bengal, which is one of the poorest parts of the world in the best of times. Rural Bengal is finished. Calcutta is chaos. Millions of people are hungry, homeless, unemployed and possibly facing sickness in the midst of the pandemic. The shelters are overflowing, and social distancing is not possible. If I was terrified about my brick home, I cannot even imagine people in less sturdy structures, those on the streets and the animals. People have lost everything. The Sunderbans, the entire ecosystem has been damaged. Tigers and people are dead. The bottom has fallen out of Bengal. We don’t know what to do. 84,000 houses damaged in Khulna in Bangladesh. By the time you read this there will be thousands more.

Looking at all the photos of fallen trees in despair and thinking there is only one thing that will heal us now: community. People everywhere, Bengal needs your help. And people of Bengal, Bengal needs your help. We need to put everything aside and rebuild together.

It’s been helpless and unnerving to be a remote spectator to the absolute havoc caused by cyclone Amphan in a place I grew up, and where my Mother lives. It’s also inherently human (and flawed), to realize the gravity of something just when it hits home.

What I do completely believe and trust in is Calcutta’s innate resilience in the face of crisis, and the grit to move ahead, and help one another while doing so. Also, in a Calcuttan’s ability to bring humour in while dealing with the most dire of situations. If we keep looking out for the community, the community will look after us. There is no greater need for this, than now.

* Power was restored in Basu’s mother’s house 128 hours after the cyclone hit.

BV:  Resilience through all these hardships, the peaks and troughs will be key to our survival. What comes next for you?

PB:  2020 has been a strange one so far. On one hand my book completely went out of print and is a ‘lockdown bestseller’ on another hand I have seen huge cancellations of my shows and other events. I really think we will emerge out of this pandemic portal different versions of ourselves. In some cases, injustices will be deepened in some other cases we will come out more kind and spiritual.

It remains to be seen which end we decide to be on.

All images in this article courtesy of / © Poulomi Basu

Poulomi Basu recommends donating to the Amphan Cyclone Relief Fund to help support relief efforts

Basu’s book Centralia can be purchased from Dewi Lewis and Light Work

See more on Poulomi Basu’s website

Bindi Vora recommends this article by 1000 Words about Basu’s work