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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.