Announcing Light Work’s 2023 Artists-in-Residence

With enormous pleasure, Light Work announces the 2023 Light Work Artists-in-Residence (AIRs). A total of thirteen artists working in photography and related media received residencies: Bruce Bennett (New Jersey), Marcus Xavier Chormicle (New Mexico), Devin Fenimore (Washington), Eric Gyamfi (Ghana), Kyoko Hamaguchi (New York), Katherine Hubbard (New York), Sayuri Ichida (United Kingdom), Clifford Prince King (California), Abdulhamid Kircher (California), Jim Mangan (California), Joiri Minaya (New York), Ahndraya Parlato (New York), and Agnieszka Sosnowska (Iceland).

Each year, Light Work supports emerging and under-represented artists working in photography and related media with funding totaling more than $60,000. Each receives a $5000 honorarium, housing, unrestricted 24-hour access to our digital imaging lab, wet darkroom, a library of photo-related publications, as well as critical and technical support. 

In addition to a financial award, Light Work AIRs benefit from technical, professional, and creative support, have space on-site to develop new work, and have extraordinary freedom to determine the shape and timing of their residency. Residency program participants can use their month to pursue their projects: photographing in the area, scanning or printing for a specific project or book, or experimenting with a new photographic technique. A special edition of Contact Sheet: The Light Work Annual presents the work of each Artist-in-Residence with an accompanying commissioned essay. Each AIR also makes a donation of work that becomes a part of the Light Work Collection.

Light Work has three exciting collaborations with prominent organizations that support our artists this year. Autograph in London, UK, has sponsored the residency of Eric Gyamfi, the latest in a partnership that dates from 1996. The Darryl Chappell Foundation has sponsored two residencies. Finally, Canson Infinity is offering each artist-in-residence access to its collection of fine art inkjet papers.

Light Work’s highly competitive residency program dates from 1976 and now receives nearly 1,000 applications annually. Artists who earn this distinction carry forward Light Work’s mission of providing direct artist support to artists working in photography and digital imaging. The annual applications are of such high quality that the slimmest of margins usually determine the judges’ final choices, and this year has been no exception. Light Work extends a full-hearted thank you to all who applied.

Bruce Bennett (New Jersey)
Marcus Xavier Chormicle (New Mexico)
Devin Fenimore (Washington)
Eric Gyamfi (Ghana)
Kyoko Hamaguchi (New York)
Katherine Hubbard (New York)
Sayuri Ichida (United Kingdom)
Clifford Prince King (California)
Abdulhamid Kircher (California)
Jim Mangan (California)
Joiri Minaya (New York)
Ahndraya Parlato (New York)
Agnieszka Sosnowska (Iceland)

See past Artists-in-Residence at www.lightwork.org/air
Applications are now open for 2024. Apply at lightwork.slideroom.com

Whitney Hubbs Named Associate Director of Light Work

Light Work has the greatest pleasure in announcing that Whitney Hubbs will be our new associate director. Hubbs begins on August 16, 2022.  Hubbs joins Light Work from Alfred University in Western New York, where she served as associate professor of Photography in the School of Art and Design.  In addition to her administrative and curatorial work, Hubbs will manage the Light Work artist-in-residence program as well as a range of program initiatives. 

“The Board and Light Work’s staff are very excited to welcome Whitney,” said Dan Boardman, director of Light Work. “Whitney brings enormous enthusiasm for photography and deeply understands our mission to support emerging and underrepresented artists. Whitney’s leadership and substantive knowledge of photography will be an invaluable asset as the organization prepares to celebrate its fifty-year anniversary and works to imagine and realize the next fifty years of practice-centered support for artists working in photography and digital imaging.”

Hubbs noted, “I am honored and excited to join the Light Work team as the new associate director. Through this role, I will integrate my knowledge, experience, network, and commitment, alongside my new colleagues, to support Light Work’s mission. I look forward to getting to know and collaborating with local, national, and international communities that Light Work has supported for decades while building future collaborations with artists from all over the globe.” 

Whitney Hubbs was born in Los Angeles, CA, and lives in Syracuse, NY. Hubbs received her BFA in Photography from the California College of the Arts in 2005 and an MFA in Photography from University of California in Los Angeles in 2009.  She has exhibited both nationally and internationally in commercial galleries, artist-run spaces, non-profits, and institutions. These include Arturo Bandini (Los Angeles), California Museum of Photography (Riverside), Fahrenheit Madrid (Madrid, Spain), Karl Marx Studio (Paris, France), M+B Gallery (Los Angeles), No Gallery (New York City), P. Bibeau (New York City), Silver Eye Center for Photography (Pittsburgh), Situations Gallery (New York City), and The J. Paul Getty Museum (Los Angeles). Public collections holding Hubbs’ work include the California Museum of Photography, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and The J. Paul Getty Museum. Hesse Press published her first book, Woman in Motion, in 2017 and she published her second book, Say So, with Self Publish Be Happy Editions in 2021. Publications featuring her work include Artforum, Bomb Magazine, Frieze, The New Yorker, and most recently in Charlotte Cotton’s seminal book, The Photograph as Contemporary Art. Hubbs is represented by M+B Gallery in Los Angeles and Situations Gallery in New York City.

Hubbs was an associate professor of Photography at Alfred University, Faculty Fellow with Image Text Ithaca’s MFA Program, and Visiting Critic and Lecturer at University of California in San Diego, University of Oregon, Virginia Commonwealth University, and Yale.

Robert B. Menschel (1929-2022): In Memoriam

image: Robert B. Menschel, family, and friends celebrate the dedication of the Robert B. Menschel Media Center at Syracuse University in 2001. From left: Ed Bleier, William Safire, Joyce Menschel, Jeffrey Hoone, Robert B. Menschel, Martin Zausner, Dr. Mort Lacher, and Carrie Mae Weems.

ROBERT B. MENSCHEL (1929-2022) — With profound sadness, we share the news of the passing of our good friend and long-time supporter, Robert B. Menschel, on Thursday, May 27, 2022, at the age of 92.

His generosity and support over a lifetime enabled Light Work to flourish as a photography organization that supported emerging artists as it became a leader in the field and a model for artists’ support across the country. Bob was there every step of the way with advice, encouragement, and generosity. He was passionate about photography. His enthusiasm for the work of individual artists was clear as he beamed about their work when he saw it in an exhibition or a publication. In many cases, his support made those projects possible, while his enthusiasm always gave us the encouragement to do our best. There would be no Light Work without Bob Menschel and we will dearly miss and long remember him.

Robert B. Menschel was an investment banker, avid art collector, and philanthropist. We extend our heartfelt condolences to Robert’s partner, Janet Wallach, his son, David, his daughter, Lauren, son-in-law Vance Jacobs, grandsons Adler Menschel Jacobs and Devin Menschel Jacobs, his former wife, Joyce Frank Menschel, his brother and sister-in-law, Richard and Ronay Menschel, and nieces Charis, Sabina and Celene. 

Menschel was an alum of the College of Business Administration at Syracuse University (’51) and an Honorary Trustee (’91) of the institution for more than twenty-three years. He provided significant support and leadership to the University and was a major sustaining supporter of Light Work and the Urban Video Project. 

Menschel joined Goldman Sachs in 1954. He became a partner in 1968 and continued at Goldman Sachs as a senior director until his retirement in 1988. Only Menschel’s passion for philanthropy and advocacy surpassed his brilliance for business and ingenuity. Light Work is honored to have benefited from his generosity and commitment to being a change agent through his Vital Projects Fund and numerous philanthropic initiatives. 

A recipient of the Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy, along with his brother Richard L. Menschel in 2015, Bob believed in Carnegie’s philosophy that wealth carries an inherent responsibility to contribute to the world’s betterment and a more just society. Reflecting on this shared vision in his acceptance speech, Menschel said,

“In the pantheon of American philanthropy, Andrew Carnegie stands out for his generosity in both deeds and spirit. His motto of doing real and permanent good in the world underscores my own commitment to charitable giving. From the time I established my foundation some fifty years ago, my goal has been to support vital projects with primary emphasis on nurturing photography as an art form in museums around the nation, healthcare, and strengthening the justice system, particularly working to end mass incarceration.”

Syracuse University facility management crew install dedication signage to Robert B. Menschel Media Center in 2001. The newly renovated space houses gallery spaces, a digital services lab, residency studios, and collection storage.

Jeffrey Hoone, former executive director of Light Work and the Coalition of Museum and Art Centers, spoke to the significance of Menschel’s steadfast support and championing of Light Work’s mission. 

“Bob Menschel was a friend and supporter of Light Work for more than thirty-five years,” said Hoone. “His love of photography and belief in Light Work’s focused mission to support artists working in photography has touched the lives of countless individuals and artists. We simply would not have been as successful as an organization without Bob’s encouragement, advice, and generosity. We thank him, and an entire generation of artists working in photography have him to thank as well.” 

The news of Menschel’s passing prompts fond memories of his visit to Syracuse in May 2001 for the dedication of the Robert B. Menschel Media Center. Menschel, his brother Richard, and other friends and family traveled to Syracuse to open a newly renovated Light Work facility that included three galleries, state-of-the-art darkroom and digital imaging equipment, residency studios, collection storage, and administrative offices. Menschel’s gift of $3.2 million to support the Center set a new standard for naming gifts at the University as well as set a high standard for design excellence. Menschel persuaded noted architect Richard Meier and celebrated artist and SU alum Sol LeWitt to contribute design elements and artwork to the Center, which  SU alum and architect Mike Wolniack designed. This renovation was a key moment in Light Work’s history that allowed us to offer unique access to photographic works through exhibitions, Contact Sheet periodicals, and support to countless emerging and under-represented artists from around the world.

The support that Robert B. Menschel provided to Light Work and a wide range of other arts organizations is humbling. His philanthropy enriched lives and significantly amplified underrecognized voices. It’s impossible to express our unending gratitude. On behalf of Light Work’s staff and board members, we express profound thanks to Robert B. Menschel and the Menschel family. He leaves behind a legacy of passionate lifelong advocacy, unwavering commitment to transformative change, and an immeasurable generosity that will benefit the world for years to come.

Robert B. Menschel exchanges a mini photo slide viewer with an image of the newly renovated Media Center with dedication event guest, Jane Hodgens.

Light Work Announces 2022 Grants in Photography

Light Work announces the 48th annual Light Work Grants in Photography. The 2022 award recipients are Carlton Daniel, Jr., Lacey McKinney, and Sarah Phyllis Smith. Additionally, judges awarded Honorable Mentions to Bridget Badore, Christine Chin, and Joshua Ives. The Light Work Grants in Photography are part of Light Work’s ongoing effort to provide support and encouragement to Central New York artists working in photography within a fifty-mile radius of Syracuse. Daniel and McKinney hail from Syracuse in Onondaga County and Smith from Utica in Oneida County.

Established in 1975, the Light Work Grants program is one of the longest-running photography fellowships in the country. Each recipient receives a $3,000 stipend and appears in Contact Sheet: The Light Work AnnualA group exhibition of grant recipients’ work will be on view in the Hallway Gallery as part of the opening exhibition for the Fall 2022 season. This year’s judges were Ryan Arthurs (visual artist, curator, and founder of Rivalry Projects), Tara Johnson  (Visuals Director at Vanity Fair), and Efrem Zelony-Mindell (curator, writer, artist, and contributor to DEAR DAVE, FOAM, Rocket Science Magazine, SPOT, and Unseen). 

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

Carlton Daniel, Jr. (Syracuse, Onondaga County)

Carlton Daniel, Jr. imagines Black futurity through his lens as a queer storyteller. Daniel’s multidisciplinary approach engages, interrogates, and is grounded in Afro-diasporic identity, sexuality, and Black love. He navigates storytelling through film, photography, and innovative technologies, using the camera to document the lived experiences of Black Americans. By using the past to inform our present, and the present to inform our future, he envisions worlds that center joy, healing, and care. 

Lacey McKinney (Syracuse, Onondaga County)

Lacey McKinney’s solo and duo exhibitions include the Everson Museum of Art (Syracuse), Mana Contemporary (Jersey City, NJ), and The University of North Carolina at Charlotte. She has shown her work throughout New York State, Virginia, and Washington, notably at NARS Foundation (Brooklyn), Novado Gallery (Jersey City, NJ), Pen & Brush (New York City), Schweinfurth Memorial Art Center (Auburn, NY), and Urban Zen (New York City). Numerous private collections hold her work, which has also appeared in ARTnews, Art Zealous, Cultured Magazine, and Huffington Post. Her residencies include Fremantle Arts Centre (Fremantle, Western Australia), McColl Center for Art + Innovation (Charlotte, NC), and Post Contemporary (Troy, NY). In 2020 the New York Foundation for the Arts awarded her a Keep NYS Creating grant.

Sarah Phyllis Smith (Utica, Oneida County)

Sarah Phyllis Smith is a photographer, educator, and assistant professor of photography at PrattMWP in Utica. Recent notable solo exhibitions include Respite at Whitespace in Atlanta, GA, and Where the Great Lakes Leap to the Sea at The Shed Space in Brooklyn, NY. She has also recently shown her work at Ground Floor Gallery (Nashville), Perspectives Gallery at the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design, Roman Susan Gallery (Chicago), Space 204 at Vanderbilt University (Nashville), Wedge Projects (Chicago), and Whitespace Gallery (Atlanta). Online and print publications featuring her work include Don’t Take Pictures Magazine, From Here On Out, Incandescent Magazine, Lenscratch, Light Leaked, Musée Magazine, Silver Eye Center for Photography, and Vulgaris Magazine. The Iranian literary magazine, Dastan, featured her work on their cover. Smith also curates Study Hall, a pedagogical project and contemporary photography gallery at PrattMWP, where she recently presented at the national conference for the Society for Photographic Education. Smith has been invited to give a workshop at the Tasmeem 2022: Radical Futures conference in Doha Qatar.

Artist to Artist: Light Work’s Fine Print Program

Rivalry Projects is sharing a new exhibition in collaboration with Light Work (Syracuse, NY) and their renowned Fine Print Program. In this exclusive partnership with Rivalry Projects, Light Work will be offering affordable photographs from leading contemporary artists including Keliy Anderson-Staley, Atong Atem, Doug DuBois, Lucas Foglia, Jason Fulford, Sharon Harper, Shane Lavalette, Wayne Lawrence, Irina Rozovsky, Miki Soejima, Rodrigo Valenzuela, and Vasantha Yogananthan. 

On view in Rivalry’s Project Space from May 13-June 30, 2022, Artist to Artist highlights artwork available through the Fine Print Program and makes collecting photography a very real possibility for everyone. Each artist has donated their pieces in support of Light Work’s mission, and through the generosity of these artists Rivalry Projects and Light Work are able to offer them at affordable prices. 

Artwork will be available to purchase from May 13 onward in-person at Rivalry Projects. You can also find participating artists and available work on our Artsy page. You can find all available works from the catalog of Light Work’s Fine Print Program through their website at www.lightwork.org 

As an added component of this partnership, Rivalry Projects will also offer issues of Contact Sheet, Light Work’s single photographer-focused magazine, which they publish five times per year. Rivalry will also be signing up those interested for Contact Sheet subscriptions. Please note: each subscription directly supports Light Work’s programs, including residencies, exhibitions, and publications. 

Rivalry Projects is a commercial art gallery and arts production space located at 106 College Street in Buffalo’s historic Allentown neighborhood.

Artist and curator Ryan Arthurs founded Rivalry to create an arts space that can function as both a site of exhibition and production of contemporary art. Rivalry exhibits emerging, mid-career, and under-represented artists working in all media.

Light Work is an artist-run, non-profit organization founded in 1973. Its mission is to provide direct support through residencies, publications, exhibitions, a community-access digital lab facility, and other related projects to emerging and under-represented artists working in photography and digital imaging. 

In 1991, Light Work began to offer limited-edition prints and signed books through their subscription program for the first time. This program remains a unique way for artists they’ve supported to give back to the next generation of artists coming through their programs. Over the past twenty-three years, Light Work’s Fine Print Program has included works by many important contemporary artists, including Dawoud Bey, Alessandra Sanguinetti, Mark Steinmetz, Carrie Mae Weems, William Wegman, James Welling, Deborah Willis, and Hank Willis-Thomas.

Light Work Congratulates 2022 Guggenheim Fellows

Five Light Work Artists-in-Residence among 2022 Guggenheim Fellows

Light Work offers enthusiastic congratulations to current Light Work artist-in-residence Gary Burnley (2022), former residency participants Kelli Connell (2008), Odette England (2021), Nancy Floyd (1998), and former AIR and Kathleen Ellis Gallery exhibiting artist Keliy Anderson-Staley (2010, 2011) for being named 2022 Guggenheim Fellows. The Guggenheim is one of the nation’s most prestigious awards for scholarly and artistic achievement, honoring individuals who have demonstrated exceptional capacity for productive scholarship or exceptional creative ability in the arts.

In all, this year’s recipients represent fifty-one scholarly disciplines and artistic fields, eighty-one academic institutions, thirty-one states and the District of Columbia, and four Canadian provinces. Many Guggenheim recipients respond directly to issues like climate change, pandemics, Russia, feminism, identity, and racism in their projects. The exceptionally rigorous application and peer review process selects each year’s recipients from almost 2,500 applicants on the basis of prior achievement and exceptional promise.

“Now that the past two years are hopefully behind all of us, it is a special joy to celebrate the Guggenheim Foundation’s new class of Fellows,” said Edward Hirsch, President of the Guggenheim Foundation and 1985 Fellow in Poetry. “This year marks the Foundation’s 97th annual Fellowship competition. Our long experience tells us what an impact these annual grants will have to change people’s lives. The work supported by the Foundation will aid in our collective effort to better understand the new world we’re in, where we’ve come from, and where we’re going. It is an honor for the Foundation to help the Fellows carry out their visionary work.”

We can proudly offer a signed fine print, photobook, and Contact Sheet volumes that feature works by this year’s Guggenheim recipients. Proceeds benefit and champion Light Work’s ongoing support of emerging and under-represented artists working in photography through residencies, publications, exhibitions, educational programming, and a community-access digital lab facility. Search all our offerings at lightwork.org/shop.


Odette England
2021 Residency / 2021 Photobook Award Recipient

Odette England, Dairy Character
Saint Lucy Books / Light Work
188 pages / First Editon
Signed by the artist

Odette England is an artist and writer who uses photography, performance, writing, and the archive to explore themes of autobiography, land, gender, and ritual. She edited the critically acclaimed book, Keeper of the Hearth: Picturing Roland Barthes’ Unseen Photograph (Schilt, 2020). Public collections holding England’s work include the Fort Wayne Museum of Art, George Eastman Museum, Museum of Contemporary Photography, New Mexico Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, and Texas A&M University. In 2021, Radius Books published her collaboration with Jennifer Garza-Cuen, Past Paper // Present Marks: Responding to Rauschenberg. England was an artist-in-residence at Light Work in 2021.


Keliy Anderson-Staley
2010 Residency / 2011 Kathleen O. Ellis Gallery

Keliy Anderson-Staley, Kevin, 2010
Pigmented inkjet print (from a wet-plate collodion tintype), 10 x 8″
Edition of 50, signed and numbered by the artist

[Hyphen] Americans
Contact Sheet 163: Keliy Anderson-Staley
Paperback: 48 pages
Publisher: Light Work (September 1, 2011)

For her series [Hyphen] Americans, Keliy Anderson-Staley created a vast, broadly diverse collection of portraits with the wet-plate collodion process, using nineteenth-century chemical recipes, period brass lenses, and large wooden view cameras. Each individual—identified only by a first name—asserts his or her self, resisting any imposed external categorizing system. At once contemporary and timeless, these portraits raise questions about our place as individuals in history and the role that photographic technologies have played over time in defining identity.


You can find works by and essays about 2022 Guggenheim recipients in Contact Sheet Annuals 102, 152, 162, and 163. Light Work designs and prints Contact Sheet in the tradition of fine art photography monographs and is completely commercial-free. We invite you to see first-hand the innovative and creative work of artists who are making important contributions to the field of photography.

Over Light Work’s nearly fifty year history, thirty-six of our artists-in-residence, photobook award recipients, and exhibiting artists have received the Guggenheim Fellowship. These include Sama Al Shaibi, Dawoud Bey, Doug DuBois, John Gossage, Elijah Gowin, Deana Lawson, Christian Patterson, Alessandra Sanguinetti, Cindy Sherman, Cauleen Smith, Mark Steinmetz, Rodrigo Valenzuela, and Hank Willis Thomas. We are humbled and honored to provide time, space, and resources for so many of these artists early in—and throughout—their careers. We extend our congratulations to all the 2022 Guggenheim recipients on joining this illustrious body of artists and the legacy that represents. 


See the list of new Fellows here.

Review: Carl Mellor on Melissa Catanese’s The Lottery

This review is written by Carl Mellor, a freelance writer. He covered visual arts for the Syracuse New Times from 1994 to June 2019. Mellor continues to write about exhibits and artists in the Syracuse, New York area.

The Lottery, Melissa Catanese’s solo exhibit in Light Work’s Kathleen O. Ellis Gallery, gathers together disparate and seemingly unrelated images from archival sources and the artist’s own work. Indeed, the show moves from a gray view of ocean waves to the striking color of poppy fields, from angry molten lava to a placid but ominous iceberg, from oil erupting from a derrick to rows of motor vehicles linked to no one.

Photos of humans also have no obvious connections at first glance. There are images of a man swimming furiously, of two men scaling a huge sand dune, of a crowd in the street celebrating the end of World War II, of a figure kneeling down by a prone individual. Perhaps he’s helping someone who fell from a bike or was injured during a sports event. We don’t know.

And yet, there’s no basis for assuming that the exhibition is focusing on life as random and absurd. Catanese is playing a very different game. She’s created a visual idiom to deal with a time of struggle and anxiety, a period of political strife, and an unprecedented environmental crisis. Global warming and climate change pose myriad threats: potential extinction of species including right whales, flooding of communities ranging from Pacific islands to New York City neighborhoods, and much more.

Catanese, for her part, isn’t erecting signposts listing reasons for alienation. Rather, her show hints, suggests, engages with the question of why so many people feel unhappy and confused. The images work together to influence viewers in a subtle way.

For sure, the show has key images that help develop central themes. Thus, a mushroom cloud speaks to nuclear weapons and the specter of nuclear war, while rocks speckled with gold color refer to radiation.

image: Melissa Catanese, Figure #2

In addition, The Lottery delves into our relationship with nature. Various photos portray an active volcano and lightning strikes, as well as oceans, the primal source of all life on earth. One of the best images depicts a large rock situated on water, framed by shadows.

Elsewhere, two cormorants stand on land, not far from each other. They aren’t near the fish they feed on. And kelp washed ashore makes its own point. Kelp forests underwater trap and store carbon dioxide. It’s estimated that such forests are declining at two percent a year.

Certainly, the show communicates a sense of people struggling with isolation. We see a lone figure mountain climbing and another solitary individual running aimlessly on a rock formation near water. In a third photo, two people embrace, but we barely see their faces.

Yet another direction emerges in a large photo of a crowd packed into an auditorium. Although their faces are visible, few smile, many look as they would prefer to be elsewhere, and there’s a sense of unease and discomfort. This may not be a mob, but it’s painfully close. At the very least, there’s no sense of community.

Beyond that, the photographer took great care in organizing the portfolio of images that appears at Light Work. She mixes black-and-white and color photos, large and small prints, and images from various decades. On one wall, the photos begin at eye level and descend almost to the floor, influencing viewers to look up and down.

Catanese also builds physical energy into the exhibition. In many of the photos, something active is happening. The swimmer and the climber are in motion, a volcano has erupted, oil is propelled into the air.

Melissa Catanese, Sunset #3

Finally, the exhibit’s title relates directly to Shirley Jackson’s classic short story, The Lottery, in which a small community goes through a yearly ritual of selecting an individual and then stoning him or her to death. No one knows when or why the ritual began.

Clearly, Catanese is working in a different medium and living in a society quite different from the United States in the 1940s. However, she, like Jackson, is exploring culture, examining how influences direct and indirect impact our lives. That exploration requires a subtle grouping of images, an ability to play photos off each other, and confidence that viewers will respond to a singular type of exhibit. Catanese is up to the challenge, and the show is well worth extended viewing.

The Lottery is on display through July 22, 2022, at Light Work, located at 316 Waverly Ave. on the Syracuse University campus. The gallery is open to the public from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays and Thursdays, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday, and from 1 p.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. For more information, call 315-443-1300 or access www.lightwork.org.

Retirement Reflection:
Mary Lee Hodgens

In 1995 I started working for Light Work a couple of days a week as an office assistant. Mostly I entered new Contact Sheet subscribers into a simple database on a computer the size of a mini-fridge. The office was cramped and pretty dodgy, filled with mismatched, used furniture and rickety, metal shelving. I remember the swivel chair I sat in no longer swiveled and the upholstery stuffing was bursting through the worn and shabby gold fabric of the seat and arms. After recording new subscriber names that came through the mail weekly, I stamped the back of the checks and then walked to the bank and handed them to a teller. Then I swung back around the block to Cosmo’s, a greasy diner and pizza shop, long gone, and purchased a grilled cheese sandwich for my quirky office mate, the director.

Next to the office was the Community Darkroom, also cobbled together with used equipment and furniture. Literally carved out of a former cafeteria in the basement of a dorm, the space included a black-and-white wet darkroom, a color processor, lighting studio, and a computer lab. The best thing about the Community Darkroom was its incongruous mix of members—professionals, amateurs, artists, professors, students—all coming together to create and celebrate the magic of photography. The buzz and energy of the space was palpable. The artists often seemed genuinely surprised and delighted by their contact sheets, humbly acknowledging their luck. They used the words “capture” or “take” while also hoping for the grace of being in the right place at the right time, as though a photograph is at least partially a gift or a collaboration with something capricious. They shared the disappointments and frustrations of a swing and a miss, an elusive and sometimes frustrating creative process that artists never give up on. And there were always the “happy accidents,” a chemical process gone wrong or a light leak that only enhanced or added deeper meaning to an image. But for all of us, there was the energy of making.

Light Work staff, c. 1998 
John Freyer, Gary Hesse, Jeffrey Hoone, and Mary Lee Hodgens
hold a photograph of Light Work founders, Phil Block and Tom Bryan, c. 1973. 
Photo by David Broda 

In this funky DIY space, a few things really stood out to me that I remember recognizing and puzzling over. Those rickety shelves in the disheveled office held pristine piles of Contact Sheets and Menschel Gallery catalogues. Exquisitely printed, these shiny, colorful publications were pure joy to thumb through. And the essays were accessible, sincere, unpretentious. When I looked through the publications, I understood the shabby upholstery. When we mailed Contact Sheet out to the gate-keepers of the art world (gallery directors, museum curators, collectors, educators, journalists), I understood the broken swivel chair—I admired this rag-tag organization and thought this might actually work.

The most dramatic thing about Light Work was the way we treated the artists as honored guests. Every month another artist arrived with a suitcase and a camera. Light Work gave each one a check (in the 90’s it was $3,000), a furnished apartment to stay in, keys to the building, and 24-hour access. I remember many of artists arriving and attempting to express gratitude for the precious gift of time, an entire month ahead of them—the luxury of it was overwhelming. And the financial support made it possible. The artists, who arrived after a highly competitive process from among hundreds of applicants, all had an intense work ethic. Coming up for air only occasionally, they disappeared into the Community Darkroom and/or the community. They understood the gift they had earned and made the most of it.

The residency program, the community space (now called the Light Work Lab), the publications, and the galleries all flowed from the same simple idea that art is important, life-affirming, essential. And that artists need to run this space, for artists. All the talented employees, lab members, students, and artists I’ve met and worked with over the years have

been in on this truth and worked hard to make this mode of expression accessible. We have endured many high points and struggles over the past twenty-seven years—to quote my former office mate/director, “That’s why they call it work.” Light Work has had to reinvent itself many times over (and so have I), but I still feel the same way about it that I did in the beginning. That it works to give to these artists, to elevate them instead of ourselves. To honor them for the risk they take and the truth they tell. Also, I now sit on a Herman Miller Aeron chair with the lumbar roll.

Jeffrey Hoone, the recently retired executive director, hired me twenty-seven years ago and then continued to offer me and the rest of the staff many more exciting opportunities to participate in pulling this off. He insisted on listening to artists, responding to their needs, giving generously to them, encouraging them. He insisted on a steady dedication to diversity, refusing to water down the mission or build something self-serving. I hope that Light Work will always be artist-run, because resourceful, undaunted, determined, and impossible artists always seem to find a way.

Mary Lee Hodgens
Associate Director
Retired 2022

Impact: Project Healthy Minds: Online Benefit Auction

Light Work is thrilled to participate in the Impact: Project Healthy Minds online benefit auction. Organized by Artsy, a portion of the proceeds from each print sale will benefit Project Healthy Minds. Participating artists and organizations have committed to donating a percentage of their proceeds to help destigmatize mental health and expand access to mental health care.

From textiles to abstract canvases to figurative paintings, this sale spotlights 43 exemplary works by a group of emerging and critically acclaimed artists, including Lucia Hierro, Hank Willis Thomas, Marc Dennis, Bea Bonafini, and more. The works were hand-selected by curators Aindrea Emelife, Claudia Cheng, Hall W. Rockefeller, Marine Tanguy, Mollie Barnes, Samantha Coven Ehrlich, Storm Ascher, and Susanna Gold.

Light Work is pleased to feature three signed, limited edition, archival fine prints by acclaimed photographers, including Paul Mpagi SepuyaRodrigo Valenzuela, and William Wegman. Hung gallery style or as a singular statement piece, every image is a wonderful addition to any collection. 

Bidding in the auction is open exclusively online through Artsy and will close on Tuesday, March 29, 2022, at 12:00 p.m. EDT 

Raise Your Paddle. Bid Today. To view the works available, visit www.artsy.net/auction/impact-project-healthy-minds


Paul Mpagi Sepuya

Figure (_2100799), 2017
Archival inkjet print, 13 x 10” image on 17”x14” paper
Edition of 50, signed and numbered by the artist

Rodrigo Valenzuela

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

William Wegman

Cross Training, 2005
Silver gelatin print, 14 x 12″
Edition of 100, signed by the artist

Light Work was founded as an artist-run, non-profit organization in 1973. Its mission is to provide direct support through residencies, publications, exhibitions, a community-access digital lab facility, and other related projects to emerging and under-represented artists working in the media of photography and digital imaging.

Call for Entries: 2022 Light Work Grants in Photography

Light Work is pleased to announce the 2022 Light Work Grants in Photography competition. 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, and their work will also be reproduced in Light Work’s award-winning publication, Contact Sheet: The Light Work Annual.

With the help of the regional grant, more than 130 artists have been able to continue long-term projects, purchase equipment, frame photographs for exhibitions, promote their work, or continue their artist goals.

Applicants must reside in 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 selections are based 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 2022 Light Work Grants is April 1, 2022, 11:59 p.m. EST

Apply online at http://lightwork.slideroom.com.