Announcing the Light Work Photobook Award 2018

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

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

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

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

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

Stephen C. Mahan III (1956-2018)

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

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

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

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

photo credit: Carrie Mae Weems

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If you wish to send a note of condolence please visit

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

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

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

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

Light Work Partners with For Freedoms To Launch Billboard Campaign in Syracuse, NY

In conjunction with the forthcoming exhibition, Be Strong and Do Not Betray Your Soul: Selections From The Light Work Collection, Light Work and For Freedoms are collaborating on a series of billboard artworks in the Syracuse area. This is part of The 50 State Initiative, an ambitious new phase of For Freedoms programming that culminates this fall. Building upon the United States’ existing artistic infrastructure, For Freedoms has developed a network of artists and institutional partners, including Light Work, who will produce nationwide exhibitions, public art installations, and local community dialogues in order to introduce nuanced, artistic thinking into public discourse. Centered on the vital work of artists, these exhibitions and related projects will model how arts institutions can become forums for civic action.

The 50 State Initiative will include the installation of a series of artist-produced billboards in public and art spaces in all 50 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico. Billboards are going up across the country this fall in advance of midterm elections, while other educational and outreach components of the initiative will occur from September through December. Six of the billboard installations are within the city of Syracuse, New York, and will be in various locations between August 13 – October 7, 2018. The images and text that comprise these billboards aim to provoke conversations in our community that lead to civic engagement. To help easily identify billboard locations and encourage engagement, a free downloadable map with information regarding the works on view will be available to the public.

“Our hope was to spark dialogue about our collective civic responsibility to push for freedom and justice today, as those before us pushed for freedom and justice in their time through peaceful protest and political participation.”

— Eric Gottesman

Thursday, September 20 at 6pm, For Freedoms co-founder Eric Gottesman will join us for a gallery talk about the process of curating Be Strong and Do Not Betray Your Soul and how this thematically intersects with the For Freedoms campaign artistic and art ideals.

201 South Geddes and West Fayette Street (digital billboard)

700 East Washington and Almond Street

201 South Geddes and West Fayette Street (digital billboard)

201 South Geddes and West Fayette Street (digital billboard)

Butternut and North Salina Street (side 1)

Butternut and North Salina Street (side 2)

In appropriating the billboard format, these by award-winning artists invite the viewer to engage critically with the messages their work presents as well as with the medium of political and commercial advertising itself.

Former Light Work artists-in-residence Eric Gottesman and Hank Willis Thomas started For Freedoms in 2016 as a non-partisan platform for civic engagement, discourse, and direct action for artists in the United States. Inspired by Norman Rockwell’s 1943 paintings of the four universal freedoms that Franklin Delano Roosevelt articulated in 1941—freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear—For Freedoms seeks to use art to deepen public discussions of civic issues and core values, and to clarify that participation, not ideology, is the bedrock of citizenship in American society. For Freedoms is part of a rich history of artists employing means of mass communication to provoke political discourse. For Freedoms believes art and artists play important roles in galvanizing our society toward a more representative and transparent government.

Free Public Programs

Be Strong and Do Not Betray Your Soul:
Selections from the Light Work Collection

August 27 – October 18, 2018
Kathleen O. Ellis and Hallway Gallery at Light Work
Reception: Thursday, September 20, 2018, 5-7pm

Gallery Talk: Eric Gottesman
Thursday, September 20, 2018, 6pm
For Freedoms co-founder Eric Gottesman will share back-story about the inception of the For Freedoms and use his curatorial selections from the Be Strong and Do Not Betray Your Soul exhibition as talking points to ignite a dialogue about the various socially relevant topics.

Be Strong and Do Not Betray Your Soul: Selections from the Light Work Collection exhibition and related programming are partially supported by a grant from The Central New York Community Foundation (CNYCF).

To request high-resolution images for press reproduction and interviews, contact Light Work Promotions Coordinator, Cjala Surratt directly at (315) 443-9933 or

Collector Spotlight: Kenneth Montague of The Wedge Collection

One of the wonderful things about Light Work’s Fine Print Program is the affordability our limited-edition prints by artists. This has allowed for photography lovers of all kinds, from around the globe, to begin or grow their collections and support a good cause at the same time.

Many serious collectors and institutions are regular subscribers to Contact Sheet, by way of our Fine Print Program, and have discovered new artists in the process. We love having the opportunity to visit our collectors in person and to see Light Work prints in their amazing collections. Recently, we had the pleasure of visiting Dr. Kenneth Montague in Toronto, who has been a longtime advocate for the organization.

“I have acquired important photographs for my personal collection through Light Work’s Fine Print Program—Carrie Mae Weems, Deana Lawson, LaToya Ruby Frazier, and Zanele Muholi—among many others. My most recent purchase was this quietly powerful print by John Edmonds (Phantom, 2017). These affordable works have greatly enhanced my perspective on contemporary photography, and added value to my growing collection.”

– Dr. Kenneth Montague | The Wedge Collection, Toronto

Take it from Kenneth…

Now is a great time to begin or grow your personal collection!

Light Work’s Online Benefit Auction: April 17 – May 1 on Paddle8

Raise Your Paddle and Bid! Light Work is pleased to partner with Paddle8 to launch an online benefit auction of more than 60 limited-edition, archival fine prints, and signed books. Bidding is available through our auction partner Paddle8 April 17 through May 1, 2018. Proceeds benefit Light Work and support our mission of supporting emerging and under-represented artists working in photography through residencies, publications, exhibitions, and a community-access digital lab facility.

For this unique online auction, we are offering hand-selected Fine Print and Book Collector auction lots curated by Phil Block (Deputy Director for Programs,ICP), who co-founded Light Work with Tom Bryan in 1973. All purchases include a one-year subscription to Contact Sheet. The 2018 Light Work benefit auction catalog boasts an offering of diverse works by internationally acclaimed and award-winning photographers. Bidding begins between $300 and $1,500.

The auction includes works by John Edmonds, Matt Eich, Lida Suchy, Wayne Lawrence, Zanele Muholi, Paul D’Mato, Christian Patterson, Doug DuBois, Lucas Foglia, Ann Hamilton, Leslie Hewitt, Mark Klett, Shane Lavalette, Andrea Modica, Mark Steinmetz, William Wegman, James Welling, and more!

We thank you, as always, for your continued support of the hundreds of artists that have called Light Work home over the past forty-one years. With your support, we will continue to do this valuable work for many more years to come. Thank you.

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

Phil Block, a long time photographer, founded Light Work with Tom Bryan in 1973, serving as its director for the next ten years. The organization offers space to artists for studio work as well as exhibitions for aspiring photographers. Block curated more than 60 solo and group exhibitions of photography during his time with the nonprofit. We thought of ourselves as being facilitators, catalysts, not as being curators or directors, Block told FK magazine, a journal of Latvian and international photography. We were partners with the artists. Our job was to serve them, and, of course, our success was based on their success. The more we could help them to be successful in what they did, the greater our success would be. Since 1982, Block has worked with the International Center of Photography in New York City, first as associate director and now as deputy director of exhibitions and education.

Reception Recap: 2018 Newhouse Photography Annual

By Andrea Henderson

2018 Newhouse Photography Annual is on view in Light Work’s Hallway Gallery through July 27, 2018. Exhibiting student photographers include Marianne Barthélemy, Colleen Cambier, Bryan Cereijo, Haoyu Deng, Kathleen Flynn, Shweta Gulati, Chase Guttman, Shuran Huang, Joshua Ives, Evan Jenkins, Zachary Krahmer, Fiona Lenz, Tingjun Long, Claudia McCann, Todd Michalek, Moriah Ratner, Jessica Sheldon, Erika Sternard, Ashley Tucker, Austin Wallace, and Cassie Zhang.

Selfies with artists, echoes of laughter, and brief photo-explanatory conversations filled the Light Work Hallway Gallery on March 29, 2018, as students, staff, and community members took in the 2018 Newhouse Photography Annual. Light Work proudly hosted the exhibition of more than 25 stills by graduate and undergraduate students from the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications Multimedia Photography and Design Department. Their work—talented in vision and accomplished in technique—covered a range of topics, including images from the Syracuse refugee community, holiday traditions, and various styles of portraiture.

Light Work partnered with Newhouse’s MPD department to encourage students to create quality work in the community and to then produce a group show in this space to exhibit their work to the general public. The last time Newhouse students showcased work in the Light Work Hallway Gallery was 11 years ago, but Lorraine Branham, Dean of the Newhouse School, said she is delighted to return to Light Work and hopes that the next such collaboration occurs well before another decade passes.

Photography graduate student Zachary Krahmer traveled to Colombia last year and captured photos of the women and men fighting in the civil war there and the aftermath of the battles. He chose to use wet plate photo processing to create images that document conflict resolution groups within Colombia. Krahmer shot more than 80 stills, but for the Light Work exhibition he chose two from his series, Santa Lucia, Ituango Municipality, Colombia/Maritza, Member of the 18th Front of FARC, Colombia, days before demobilization.

For the Newhouse Photography Annual display, students chose to shoot a wide variety of subjects. Shuran Huang said the community always inspires her to produce photos that reflect the souls of societies and the people who add life to common activities. This explains her affinity with Collin’s Barber and Beauty Shop, a three-generation African-American salon that has serviced the Syracuse community for half a century.

A large crowd including faculty and local photographers attended and expressed enthusiasm about the students’ work. And so did Dean Branham, who walked through the exhibit greeting students with excitement and satisfaction.

She said the photographs, “show us how many great possibilities there are for collaboration and what great opportunities there are for our students. And I hope going forward that we will make the most out of these kinds of opportunities. I’m so proud of the work that they have done here.”

During the formal part of the reception, Light Work director Shane Lavalette acknowledged the Newhouse students’ work and expressed his gratitude for their participation. “This really shows the diversity of not only photography now, but of visual storytelling, and I’m excited to follow the work of all the students.”

To see all the images, visit the Hallway Gallery at Light Work in the Menschel Media Center on Waverly Avenue. The 2018 Newhouse Photography Annual exhibition will be up until July 27, 2018.

Tim Maul on Artist Keren Shavit’s “Broken Kayfabe”

2014 Light Work Artist-in-Residence Keren Shavit’s Rabbits (a.k.a. Oryctolagus Cuniculus) is part of AKIN: Keren Shavit & Eva Marie Rødbrom, the first exhibition in Urban Video Project‘s 2018-2019 curatorial program. AKIN will on view at the UVP Everson Museum of Art architectural projection venue from February 15 through March 31, 2018. Vanguard filmmakers Keren Shavit and Eva Marie Rødbrom will be present for an indoor screening of additional selections of work and a Q&A with the audience on Thursday, March 8 at 6:30pm in Watson Theater at Light Work.

UVP is a multi-media public art initiative of Light Work and Syracuse University, and an important international venue for the public presentation of video and electronic arts. For more event and exhibition information, please visit

Given Shavit’s current exhibition with UVP, we decided to dig into our archives and share the following essay about her work, written by Tim Maul, and originally published in Contact Sheet 182: Light Work Annual 2015. Tim Maul is an artist and art writer who lives in New York, NY.

Keren Shavit’s forthcoming publication Broken Kayfabe will defy casual interpretative reading of its challenging assembly of images and text. Culled from her extensive archive of self-produced photography and video, Broken Kayfabe constitutes a metafictional tale centered on a cast of characters inhabit- ing a clique of young people working in a greasy, fast-food chain in Haifa, Israel. The ravaged individuals that populate Shavit’s images are not directed in any imposed mis en scene but function as puzzle pieces moving within a dense narrative concerning the group’s fixations on the Von Erich professional wrestling dynasty, which they fantasize joining. Peti, (“gullible” in Hebrew) the central female character, is the haunted peg this morphing story is hung upon. Her initial goal to attend the Von Erich match in Israel (an actual event) is thwarted, and she emerges as a mutable, tragic figure in a maelstrom of lurid and o en distressing photographic content. The symbols (fast- food employee cap) and markers (eating, food) dispensed throughout Broken Kayfabe are highly unstable signifiers exemplified by the Von Erichs themselves, their history fraught with deception, suicide, and internal struggles over legitimate use of the Von Erich name. Shavit has built an array of oblique documentation into a construct that, despite the seriality of any page, will deflect narrative by radically dissociating image and text.

Keren Shavit, from Broken Kayfabe

Attracted to hermetic clans, Shavit courts acceptance and inserts herself into family units and social groups that o en exhibit unusual behavior or militant disregard for conventional norms. Once within, Shavit documents and mediates events captured on a battery of cameras: moving, still, and iPhone. Shavit’s project originates more from cinema than still photography, threading through the documentaries such as Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky’s Brother’s Keeper (1992) and primitivists like the Kuchar brothers, early John Waters, Harmony Korine’s Gummo, and the unsettling oeuvre of David Lynch. Lynch’s sumptuous dream film Mulholland Drive (2001) corresponds with the glamor-deprived Broken Kayfabe with its embedding of symbols like a blue key, an empty sign that, when pro red, returns the labyrinthian plotting back to mystery genre with its (false) promise of final revelations and a restoration of visual order.

Shavit’s still photographs, produced by a range of amateur technologies, are blunt and harrowing. Favoring raw texture and high contrast color, her reflexive in-camera compositions appear organized around our discomfort. While coy or voyeuristic portraiture o en maintains a self-preserving distance from its subjects, Shavit situates herself in the action located in unspecified claustrophobic settings. Unlike the supine addicted families of emaciated beautiful losers in Corrine Day’s or Jessica Dimmock’s photography, Shavit’s people, when not in repose, engage in hectic activities where aging bodies crowd into a frame awash in garish patterns amid accumulations of clutter. In both content and lurid coloration, a resemblance exists between Shavit’s images and British photographer Richard Billingham’s notorious 1996 body of work around his troubled working-class family. Billingham’s pictures cruelly recall a grotesque Monty Python skit depicting “the worst family in Britain,” with Mum ironing a cat with the son, played by fantasy director Terry Gilliam, screaming for baked beans from a couch.

Keren Shavit, from Broken Kayfabe

Shavit’s pursuit and integration with perceived outsiders are primary source material gathering repurposed, for the artist, into the unwinding tale of Peti and her circle. Scavenging her own corpus and deleting any explanatory backstory precedes an image’s enlistment into Broken Kayfabe performing a surrealist act of detournement upon her own production, and in this Shavit emerges as highly original. Shavit’s pageant of glistening bearded men, cavorting seniors, wrestlers, monstrous rabbits, and haggard fast-food employees may be interpreted as a dream world or alternative universe. Indeed, Broken Kayfabe is an amalgam of doppelgängers, tangential distractions (Hitchcock’s “MacGuns”), and enough recurring symbols to hold us in paranoid thrall. Employing multiple perspectives and imaging formats can suggest avant-garde cinema at its most hallucinatory, but I propose that Broken Kayfabe, in its structure, relates closely to the autism or Asperger’s condition, where the slippage between what is seen and what is named resists even temporal registration into contextual narrative. Individuals with these disorders may construct densely plotted, hand-rendered epics resembling storyboards or pictograph friezes not to express or communicate, but to slow reception of a delirious exterior world where language and appearance never align.

Kayfabe (pronounced kay-fabe) is a term pro wrestling insiders use for active plot, storyline, and events inside the ring. A broken kayfabe applies to an incident in the match that temporarily ruptures the fourth wall between the wrestlers and an audience that expects a continuation of the agreed action that the sport’s emotional and physical content is real. Aficionados of wrestling have detected a growing trend of these, perhaps, intentional lapses within the ring and speculate online how it will alter the future of the industry. Keren Shavit’s Broken Kayfabe project occupies a similar, convulsive space between the documented fact and the elaborate action it purports to illustrate.

Light Work at The Photography Show 2018, Presented by AIPAD

Light Work is proud to exhibit at the longest-running exhibition dedicated to the photographic medium, The Photography Show presented by AIPAD, April 5-8, 2018 at Pier 94 in New York City.

Find us at The Photography Show to view and purchase limited-edition prints from our Fine Print Program, as well as a selection of signed photobooks. All purchases will begin or renew your subscription to Contact Sheet!

For a preview of what we’ll be showing, visit our profile on Artsy.

See you soon, NYC!

A Conversation with Justyna Badach

Justyna Badach, refugee, Philadelphia-based artist and museum professional, has brought her work to Syracuse. Badach’s Land of Epic Battles solo exhibition, on display now at Light Work, explores the hyper-masculine world of Islamic State group recruitment videos and exposes the futility of war.

Being able to create art about violence and masculinity is important to Badach, both as a woman and as an immigrant. Land of Epic Battles is a series of large, handmade dichromate prints composed using film stills from IS training videos. The Daily Orange talked with Badach about her work before her February 1 opening reception. The exhibition is on view through March 2, in the Kathleen O. Ellis Gallery.

Jony Sampah: Can you please tell me what you’re working on?

JB: Well, I’m still working on the Land of Epic Battles series. There are a couple images in that series that I’m working on printing. And then, there’s a couple of offshoots of that body of work that I’m developing currently.

JS: How would you characterize your art? What is the mission of your art?

JB: Well, I have a research-based practice that involves looking at masculine tropes and how they’re communicated through popular culture. So, this is sort of the foundation of my work, and also I am looking at how I, as a woman artist, fit into the long history of masculine tropes within art.

Untitled Video Still (Palmyra #2), 2016

JS: What influenced this project?

JB: I actually have been working with appropriated imagery for a bit. In 2001 I had another body of such work in a solo show at White Columns. It was called Untitled: Epic Film Stills. And those were from movies like Wyatt Earp and Young Guns. I was also going through those films and looking for the single frames of landscape that appeared to be unclaimed, and primarily I was interested in that because I am an immigrant, a refugee, and the space of those films was very macho. It seemed to be very much tied into how I could access that space, both metaphorically and physically, as a woman and an immigrant, and kind of appropriate that history for myself. I was looking for these landscapes that were empty and I was picking up the single frames out of those movies. So I was working both as a censor and an editor within the context of those films. What I found is that these films seemed to fall into several categories, like mountains, plateaus, sunrises, and sunsets. And the images tended to look very similar from one film to the other. So those were then arranged into these kinds of sequences and printed (they were color, kind of very bright colors reflecting colder color). At that time it was still filmed that was being used, so very much a palette of Hollywood cinema. And then they were printed and mounted to curved aluminum so that they look like sculptural forms that float in space, resembling drive-in movie screens. I had a solo show of that work at White Columns in New York City that opened the Friday right before September 11th. So this show had been open for three days when the bombing occurred. The gallery is on 13th street, so the show closed, and I always felt like the work was cursed. The pieces were purchased, but they weren’t really shown again after that. I had put that work aside and started another body of work that involved the interiors of men’s homes and how they create these museums of the self.

Untitled Video Still (Killing the Apostates in Revenge for the Monotheists, Khurasan), 2016

JS: What are your long-term goals as an artist?

JB: My long-term goals are to continue making work, to push the boundaries of the medium, and to also push the boundaries of what kind of work is considered acceptable for a woman to create. A lot of the work that I do, the response that I get is like, when I was doing my bachelor series, people would ask me if my husband was okay with that, as if I need permission. And with this work, a lot of people ask, “Are you scared?” The idea of a woman working with subject matter that is violent, or to some extent threatening, is not readily out there. I think if a man were doing this work, it would have a very different response because there is this tradition of glorification of war. Most of those tableau-type paintings were done by men and it was, again, geared for a male audience. As a woman, I’m interested that we also live in a world that’s affected by war and violence. So I think it is important to have the female voice in that conversation. And so for me, that’s my goal: to really interject the female voice into what is essentially a global situation that we are also part of and yet oftentimes we are left out of the conversation.

JS: How did your relationship with Light Work start?

JB: I had a residency at Light Work in 2011 and that was the start of the relationship. I spent a month there working on printing the bachelor series and they’ve been tremendously supportive throughout my time as an artist. They’ve printed for me and John Mannion, who’s the printer there, is a huge resource. I just find them to be very open and willing to take on challenging work. I think because they’re a non-commercial space. They don’t have to worry about work that might be challenging or confrontational and yet important in terms of the dialog. I get their publication, Contact Sheet, and I just feel like they are a beacon for really important work that’s happening. They’ve had a lot of foresight in terms of recognizing artists who are doing important work and getting their foot in the door and giving them support at really critical stages in their careers.

JS: How do you think Light Work has helped you bring your art to the world or achieve your goals as an artist?

JB: For me, when I did the residency, it was a huge help to have a month to work on just my own work. I tend to be pretty rigorously focused on work but having the time to just be there, seven days a week, working on things, was really great. I tend to think that I could get more done than I do and so sometimes I’m really frustrated. Because I have all these ideas for work that I can’t produce as quickly as I have the ideas. So having the support of their staff was really crucial. And I did have a lot to do with that body of work, more than I thought before I arrived. And out of that residency, I basically had a traveling solo show and a publication and an artist’s book. So, they were hugely important. I think had I not had that residency, it probably would’ve taken me a year, maybe even a year and a half, to finish all the work that I did in a month there. And then in this case, I feel like we’re in a precarious time right now due to this discussion of ISIS and the global network of terrorism and what it means, and also of men, and how the social changes are taking place now in terms of where men fit into society, and what drives joining these groups and getting immersed in this dark culture on the web and becoming consumed in it. I think it is an important discussion to have. Because there are clearly changes happening in the social fabric on the global scale and these terrorist groups are symptoms of that. I feel like much of the discussion revolves around government propaganda or trying to calm the masses, yet it’s not really addressing what’s driving people to join these kinds of groups. So I think that Light Work, rather than pushing work that’s decorative or easy, has taken a huge step. And again, the catalog is a huge thing for me, to have the work together in book form along with this larger body of work. Because the images are not singular. They’re meant to be seen as more than one or two images. So the opportunity to have a sequence of images together, which is how I tend to work, is really important to understanding the work overall. And it’s really important, what they’re doing for me as an artist now that the work has come together as a body.

“Land of epic Battles” exhibition, Kathleen O. Ellis Gallery, Light Work, Syracuse
Photograph: Julie Herman

“Land of Epic Battles” exhibition, Kathleen O. Ellis Gallery, Light Work, Syracuse
Photograph: Julie Herman

JS: Let’s talk about gender. You previously mentioned how your work is influenced by you being a woman. How do you think being a woman makes you view these things differently?

JB: There’s a philosopher, Alain de Botton, and in The School of Life, he talks about changes in current society in terms of rituals that propel people from being children into adults. So, he says that, traditionally, mandatory military service in Eastern Europe served as a kind of ritual as you went from being a child to being an adult and marked a certain stage. Once you passed through this stage there was a level of respect and belonging, but now many of these societal spaces have been dislodged. That military service no longer exists for men. For women, he also talks about how marriage and childbearing are no longer important. But he says that women have adapted better to the breakdown in these social norms and in many ways they have benefited women. But men somehow have kind of become boys who are lost. So, they’re looking for a sense of belonging. Botton says there are actually two places that men could go: either to this global consumerist, competitive market that’s essentially about making money and accumulating wealth, but with no point. You’re just accumulating and competing for the sake of competing, but there is no meaning attached to it. Or you drop out. And he talks about the many boys who drop out and what they’re drawn to. The body becomes this point of sacrifice. It’s something that’s basically used up. And so, in that respect, as a terrorist somebody can easily say “okay” to blowing oneself up, since the body is this useless thing to be sacrificed, it has no meaning. That could be something attractive for somebody in that frame of mind. As a woman, I think often times I’m somebody looking from the outside in at a violent culture and trying to understand that. And I think in many ways, as I said before, women are fundamentally affected by male culture because we’re still living in a male culture. And so, the decisions that men make about wars, about conflict, women suffer the consequences of that and yet have very little voice. And I think there’s a cultural glorification of conflict and consumerization of conflict. Even reality TV is all about driving conflict, right? As a way of selling to audiences. I’m trying to understand all that, and as a woman, I feel like it’s just such a dangerous territory to be slipping into culturally and socially.

Untitled Video Still (Ahmed al-Rifi Shrine Ta Afar), 2016

JS: Why did you choose to bring your art to Syracuse?

JB: I think amazing art happens in many places. If I were interested in a commercial gallery, Syracuse probably is not the place because there just isn’t the collector base. But you guys here at Syracuse University have an amazing art history program. You guys have an amazing school of journalism, there’s also an amazing art program. You guys are actually in a place where there is a lot happening. This kind of belief that art only happens in big cities, I think is foolish. I don’t think that big cities are necessarily the best places to make art. And I don’t think that the audiences for art are necessarily the best in big cities because you’re essentially competing with so many different things. Sometimes work that’s more difficult and requires a little bit more time of the viewer is just going to get glossed over in a big city because there are flashier, easier things to see. So, I think Syracuse actually is a really great place with a lot happening. There’s a huge intellectual community, and it’s very highly respected, and a network of people who are doing really great things. So I’m really excited to be here.

JS: What is your opinion on the NEA/NEH/CPB cuts and how do you think they affect people’s attitudes towards the arts?

JB: I actually am a museum professional. I work at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. So, the Trump budget on the arts affects me on so many levels as an artist, but also as somebody who is entrusted with caring for the cultural heritage of this country and keeping it safe and visible for future generations. The NEA has been an easy target for ultra-conservative politicians and groups since the 1980s. It’s very sad because, I think on many levels, how a society treats its art programs and cultural programs speak volumes about who they are and what that society values. If you look at countries that have corrupt governments, or governments that are weak and falling apart, they also tend to lack art, funding. And in many ways, the arts are intricately tied to innovation and to intellectual development in this country. People come specifically to the United States because of the arts. People go to museums, they want to go to the MET, they want to go see Lincoln Center. And so the cuts are a huge step backward. But I also think the arts are an easy target because it is easy to say, “Well, the arts don’t serve a purpose.”

Untitled Video Still (Killing the Apostates in Revenge for the Monotheists, Khurasan), 2016

JS: My last question is, how do we get people to care about the arts?

JB: I think dialog is important. There will always be people who are not going to care. Art is a little bit like a gift, and the person needs to be ready to receive it. You might be giving them the gift today, but they might not be ready to receive it until ten years from now. But that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t give it to them. Because in ten years they might have this awakening and say, “Wow, I remember when I saw that and that’s what that meant.” So I think it’s important to engage people in the dialog. And it’s important to have art that not necessarily just about them.

I know there’s a push for creating work that people see themselves in and, yes, that is important. But it’s also important that people see others in the work because they need to step outside of their own mind and be able to step into the mental space of somebody else. It’s just as important that they inhabit a world that’s completely unfamiliar, foreign, that they didn’t realize existed. That’s how you expand yourself and your psyche.

Justyna Badach’s family arrived as refugees in the United States in 1980. She currently resides in Philadelphia, where she is an artist, educator, and museum professional. Her work has been exhibited extensively in the United States and abroad and is in the permanent collections of Cranbrook Art Museum, Portland Art Museum, Museet for Fotokunst Brandts, Odense, Denmark. Her artist book is in the Special Collection at the Rice University Library, Houston, TX, Temple University, Philadelphia, PA and Haverford College. Her work has been exhibited internationally, including; Queensland College of Art Griffith University in Brisbane, Art Wonderland Space in Copenhagen and the Temple of Hadrian in Rome to most notably in the US at the Corcoran Gallery, D.C., Portland Art Museum, James A. Michener Art Museum, Doylestown, PA, and Catherine Edelman Gallery, Chicago among others. Badach participated in the residency program at Light Work in 2012.

Light Work Receives 2018 NEA Art Works Grant

National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Chairman Jane Chu announced on Wednesday, February 7 that Light Work is one of 936 not-for-profit national, regional, state, and local organizations nationwide to receive an NEA Art Works grant. In its first 50 years, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded more than $5 billion in grants to recipients in every state and U.S. jurisdiction.

Today, the NEA announced awards totaling more than $25 million in its first major funding announcement of the fiscal year 2018, including an Art Works award of $40,000 to Light Work to support Light Work’s Artist-in-Residence Program and production of Contact Sheet: The Light Work Annual. The Art Works category focuses on the creation of art that meets the highest standards of excellence, public engagement with diverse and excellent art, lifelong learning in the arts, and the strengthening of communities through the arts.

“It is energizing to see the impact that the arts are making throughout the United States. These NEA-supported projects, such as this one to Light Work, are good examples of how the arts build stronger and more vibrant communities, improve well-being, prepare our children to succeed, and increase the quality of our lives,” said NEA Chairman Jane Chu. “At the National Endowment for the Arts, we believe that all people should have access to the joy, opportunities, and connections the arts bring.”

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

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

For more information on projects included in the NEA grant announcement, visit

To learn more about the 2018 Artists-in-Residence, read our announcement on the Light Work Blog.

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

All subscriptions will assure that you receive the NEA-supported issue of Contact Sheet: The Light Work Annual 2018 next summer. Preview spreads from Contact Sheet 192: Light Work Annual 2017 online here.