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.