The Light Work Grants in Photography program is part of Light Work’s ongoing effort to provide support and encouragement to Central New York artists working in photography. Established in 1975, it is one ofthe longest-running photography fellowship programs in the country. Three annual recipients receive a $2,000 award, an exhibit at Light Work, and an essay with selected images published in The Light Work Annual. Serving as this year’s judges were Larissa Leclair (Founder, Indie Photobook Library), Ryan Linkof (Assistant Curator, Los Angeles County Museum of Art), and Todd J. Tubutis (Executive Director, Blue Sky, the Oregon Center for the Photographic Arts).
The recipients of the 41st Annual Light Work Grants in Photography are Allison Beondé, Thilde Jensen, and Costa Sakellariou, all of whom use personal truth as a tool to better comprehend the world around them. Operating in very distinct modes, all three artists allow an awareness of space to guide their image-making.
Allison Beondé’s 1947, Roswell investigates the historic 1947 UFO sighting in Roswell, New Mexico, and how the event and its legacy straddles fact and fiction. Engaging various modes of photography—from constructing a camera to produce unique abstractions, to working digitally, and collecting found imagery—Beondé considers the ways in which a photograph can exist as an image, a piece of evidence, a physical object, and a falsehood, creating a narrative of her own. Her photographs whisper. The quiet scenes Beondé unfolds ask more questions than they answer: what is this fiery light creeping through this earth formation? What is above us that alarms this dog? In The Station, the reflective glass becomes a portal, an entrance to an otherworldly vehicle—or is it simply the entrance to a shopping center?
In her internationally acclaimed monograph The Canaries, Thilde Jensen (also a Light Work Grant recipient in 2006) photographs those living with Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS) and the spaces into which their illness requires them to retreat. Banished to remote areas, those living with MCS outfit tents, cars, and trailers, removing themselves from society at large in order to evade risk to their health. Jensen, also affected by MCS, was forced to leave her life in New York City and career as a documentary and editorial photographer. She confronts her subject matter with great sympathy, capturing the paranoia and forlornness MCS forces upon victims.
A similar sensitivity is present as Jensen photographs in her series, The Unwanted. Pointing to “America’s failed capitalist system, valuing profit over human welfare,” Jensen photographs the homeless community in Syracuse, entering their impoverished spaces of refuge—under highways or in abandoned buildings—to “uncover a complex underlying picture of neglect, impoverishment, loss and abuse,” while also exploring the dislocation and alienation of their circumstances. Few of the people Jensen photographs interact with the camera, but instead stay huddled together and wrapped in blankets in the vicious Syracuse winter. Jensen reveals small glimpses of the community her subjects have created for themselves, but also the alienation of their situation: Eric in the Bushes, with nowhere to go, lies in fetal position, staring off into the overgrowth. Jensen has recently expanded her project, now photographing in Las Vegas, which in many ways is a center for the gross underbelly of capitalism in its extremes: the lucky and the unlucky—the unwanted.
Before settling in Binghamton, NY, in 1998, Costa Sakellariou’s work had taken him to many places. From the mid-1980s until 1992, Sakellariou worked as a photographer for weekly news magazines in Athens, Greece; Islamabad, Pakistan; and New Delhi, India. In 1992, he began working on The Last Greeks of Istanbul (which would later be among the first photobooks published in Greece), a long-term project documenting the dwindling Greek population of Istanbul, a city their forebears had founded 2500 years earlier.
Sakellariou’s images have a grim sense of humor, many evoking the shy chuckle of the naughty joke. The public display of intimacy of Straddled Woman or the slight smile of the woman in Phallus and Girl seem to imply a moment of entanglement—with another, or within one’s own mind—of inner worlds. Sakellariou, operating as a fly on the wall, catches these moments. Similarly, in Woman in Derelict Room and Undertaker in Waiting (both photographs of elderly subjects, presumably among the Last Greeks Sakellariou speaks of), large swaths of light fill a noiseless space as a woman looks out the window; the sleeping man in full dress almost seems to disapprove of the scene in dreamstate.
Rather than simply tell a story, these artists work to generate complex narratives. Beondé, Jensen, and Sakellariou all challenge the audience to explore every possibility of image in reading their photographs.
Sean D. Henry-Smith
Sean D. Henry-Smith is a poet and photographer intrigued by their intersections. He is the Communications Coordinator at Light Work. www.seanhenrysmith.com