Hank Willis Thomas on Light Work

Hank Willis Thomas

Light Work was my first artist residency. It’s the place where I began, Unbranded: Reflections in Black by Corporate America (2005-2008), one of my most successful projects to date. While in residence, I met so many great artists who I continue to maintain relationships with.

I am so happy to have been part of it!

— Hank Willis Thomas, 2005 Light Work Artist-in-Residence

See a selection of Hank Willis Thomas’ work on his Light Work artist page.

Order a signed copy of Hank Willis Thomas’ book Pitch Blackness in the Light Work Shop.

From the Files: A Postcard from Stephen Chalmers

We form long-term relationships with most artists we work with, whether it’s through our residency program, our publications, or our exhibitions. Our artists choose a variety of ways to keep us informed about what they’re doing, including email, Facebook posts, in-person visits, phone calls, and mailed notices for exhibitions and other life events.

One of our favorite update notices of all time came from Stephen Chalmers, who was a resident with us in 2007 and later showed his photoraphs at Light Work in the exhibition titled Unmarked, and was published in Contact Sheet 156. Stephen sent this postcard in 2009 when he was getting ready to move from Portland to Ohio to teach at Youngstown State University, where he still works. A card like this is definitely a great way to update your friends and contacts.

From the Files: Alessandra Sanguinetti

At Light Work we hosts exhibitions in our main gallery four times a year. The shows feature work by cutting-edge artists who receive recognition not only in our gallery but also in the issues of Contact Sheet that are published concurrently with the exhibitions. For many artist, this is their first significant national exposure.

Alessandra Sanguinetti was a Light Work Artist-in-Residence in 2002. In 2003, she had an exhibition of her work in the main gallery. The subject of this exhibition was a series of images that she began making while photographing farmers and their lives on the land around Buenos Aires, Argentine. Sanguinetti met two cousins, Guille and Belinda, ages 9 and 10, and started a five-year collaborative project. Sanguinetti explored the girls’ growth into young adults by photographing them in their fantasy and dream spaces. The resulting images became the exhibition The Adventures of Guille and Belinda and the Enigmatic Meaning of Their Dreams and the subject of Contact Sheet 120. (Sorry, the print edition of Contact Sheet 120 sold out long ago, but of course you can look at it, and every other Contact Sheet ever published, online by purchasing a paid subscription, which gets you access to our fabulous Digital Archive. Click here for details.)

While her exhibition was in the main gallery, a group of local children came in for a tour. Sanguinetti was in town at the time and happily talked with them about the work. The pictures you see here are just three of the dozens of thank you notes sent to the artist by the children after their visit. Enjoy!

From the Files: Ode to the Slide Sheet

Most work that comes into Light Work these days—in applications for our Artist-in-Residence program, exhibition opportunities, or publishing projects—is in the form of digital files on a disk. The screen, of course, possesses a luminescence of its own and is undoubtedly a great way to show and look at work easily, quickly, and inexpensively.

From time to time, though, I do miss the slide sheet as a way of looking at work. A really great slide sheet is like a treasure chest stuffed with little gems. Take for example this slide sheet submitted by Angelika Rinnhofer back in 2004 in support of her application for a Light Work residency (click on the image to enlarge it).

The sheet is mostly comprised of work from her Menschenkunde series, which she describes in her application:

“With my Renaissance-style photographs I try to open the viewer’s mind to experience art as a combination of facts, beauty, and irony. The true subject of my portraits may be termed the question of representation. By capturing the lighting, composition, and mood of portraits by Old Masters, I achieve a double irony: first, my photographs portray contemporary persons; and second, they evoke familiar paintings. These images reflect on the very essence of portraiture; what is a unique person, and what a unique likeness? According to Jakob Burckhardt, a 19th-century Swiss art historian, portraits by Renaissance artists like Dürer, Rembrandt, and Vermeer linked beauty and psychological insight. I draw concepts from art history to express my intentions.”

We liked what we saw in the application, and Angelika has been a friend ever since. She completed her residency in 2005. Work from her series Menschenkunde, Felsenfest, and Seelensucht was featured in Contact Sheet 144 and a Light Work Main Gallery exhibition in 2007. Her image Felsenfest 1—Agatha, below, is in the Light Work Collection and the print Menschenkunde VII is in the Light Work Fine Print Program.

And it all started with an amazing slide sheet, well edited and jumping off the light table.

—Mary Goodwin, Associate Director

From the Files: Aaron Siskind

The Light Work files are full of great postcards (remember those?) like this one from Aaron Siskind to Jeffrey Hoone in 1986. Siskind, who was 82 at the time, had just closed an exhibition at the Robert B. Menschel Photography Gallery, and this card marks the safe return of the work from the show. A little piece of Light Work, photographic, and communications history all rolled into one little card.

Siskind’s exhibition, which is the subject of Menschel Gallery Catalog #3, was comprised of new images, all taken from 1980-1984. In the catalog, Hoone writes, “In this new work he continues to abstract the depth of visual poetry present in the objects that surround us by conveying photographically things felt as things seen. This conviction has been the hallmark of Siskind’s work for the past 40 years and this contribution will forever allow us to consider the essence of photography’s power as more than merely the accurate and faithful recording of visual facts.”

We’d love to hear your thoughts about Siskind and his work in the comments!

—Mary Goodwin, Associate Director

From the Files: Carrie Mae Weems

For over the 30-plus years Light Work has been supporting emerging and under-recognized artists working in photography. In the course of that time running a residency program, staging exhibitions, hosting lectures, and publishing Contact Sheet, we have accrued quite an archive of files. In fact, one wall of the Light Work offices is taken up by these hundreds of files, all organized by artist name or project. Light Work has worked with ground-breaking artists, many of whom have gone on to become inspirational and influential in the art world. Our files act as a historical record not only of our mission but of 20th and 21st century photography in general. From the Files gives a unique glimpse into how Light Work has helped artists early in their careers, and how these artists in turn have contributed their talent to our mission.

As a case in point, in 1986 Carrie Mae Weems wrote this letter (click to enlarge) to then Director Jeff Hoone to introduce herself and offer to give a lecture at Light Work. In the letter Weems gives brief descriptions of her series Family Pictures and Stories, South-East San Diego, and Ain’t Jokin’.

Weems went on to be a Light Work Artist-in-Residence in 1988. Her contributions to Light Work include seven pieces in the Light Work Collection, exhibitions in 1996 and 2003, and the donation of prints to the Eatonville Portfolio and to our 2011 Subscription Program, which features an image from the Kitchen Table series. Her work is included in Contact Sheets 61, 97, and 124.

From the Files: Alfredo Jaar

From the Files is a new feature on the Light Work blog that highlights artifacts from our large artist and project archive. From the Files provides a visual history of our mission to support emerging and under-recognized artists.

In 1989, Alfredo Jaar created the installation Sheer Conviction in the Robert B. Menschel Gallery, our exhibition space located in the Syracuse University Schine Student Center. These are the floor plans for the exhibition that Jaar drew up after visiting the gallery. Click on the images to enlarge them.

Six light boxes, each 96 x 20 inches, were suspended from the ceiling with the wiring hidden so that the boxes would appear to float when the room was darkened. The light boxes featured photographs on both sides—one side displayed images of anonymous protesters, the other side pictures of soldiers.

In the Menschel Gallery catalog (Menschel Gallery Catalog #15) published in conjunction with the exhibition, then Director Jeffrey Hoone writes of the project, “Viewers must interact with the piece—walk between the light boxes from protesting civilians to dour-faced military zealots. Where do I stand? Which side am I on? Who is on the other side? What am I up against? What shall I do? The audience must respond to these questions as participant and observer, ruthless oppressor and hapless victim. We must decide what side we’re on, our silence speaks against our beliefs—we must come forward and be heard.”

Jaar’s eloquent commentary on state suppression, both the apparatus that supports it and those who attempt to subvert it, found a perfect home in the Menschel Gallery.

From the Files: Charles Gatewood

The Light Work files contain all kinds of valuable detail about artists we’ve worked with over the years. Collectively, they help us form a narrative of our history as an organization. Case in point is this letter (click on the letter to enlarge it) found in Charles Gatewood’s artist file. Gatewood was the first Light Work Artist-in-Residence, the inaugural entry in a list of artists that now reaches into the hundreds. In the letter he mentions the day he will arrive in Syracuse, allowing us to pinpoint the exact anniversary of the program.

A press release from 1976 has this to say about Light Work’s first resident: “During September, Charles Gatewood, photographer, will be spending the month in residency at Community Darkrooms. A self-taught photographer, Gatewood’s interest in people is evident always in his work. ‘I like people. Human behavior has always fascinated me especially when it is tied to strong emotion. As a photographer, I try to capture these emotions on film to remember, to communicate with others and to comment on what I have experienced.'”

Also in the files was this thank-you note that Gatewood wrote days after the residency upon his return to New York City . . .  sounds like it was a good experience.

Click here to see images by Gatewood in the Light Work Collection and to read more about the artist.

—Mary Goodwin, Associate Director