Confronting a primal beast tightens the breath. This sensation is referred to as 'zero at the bone'. Emily Dickinson wrote of this, alluding to it as both a danger within nature and an encounter with nothingness. These pictures, made in the Everglades, trade in the world of feeling, symbolism, and the haptic: Moons hover in blackness, sky and water merge. The roles of predator and prey entangle, dissolving into one another; glinting eyes stare back. Here, the darkness, co-occupied by highly adaptive animals, is felt in its fullness: as the beguiling, the bottomless, the sublime.
“Bunda” is a celebration of a complicated life. It centers around the role of women and motherhood in the midst of societal struggle for inclusion and diversity. Enlisting family members, students and youths from a local organization in Indonesia, I set up stages in their homes, temple, and school. Employing the large format photography process, I invite them to act out their traumas, fears, frustrations, and pessimism in hopes for a more hopeful rendering of the future, without disregarding the mess of the past and present.
When I found a suitcase of unprinted negatives that once belonged to my grandmother, I uncovered a story of a young woman who left her life in the Northeast in the mid-1940s to live a carefree life in Hollywood, Florida. With only her photos as my guide, I return to Hollywood to retrace her steps. I also photographed myself and my mother as we sought to find out more about her past and reflect on the paths our own lives have taken.
The breadth of work submitted to this year’s CENTER Awards, is testament to the manifold ways in which photography enables us to tell stories. The expression of life, evident in the work shared, varied from the poetic, to the urgent - from self-exploration and familial life, to the examination of issues playing out on the global stage. In all cases, a spirit of inquiry was evident and the results of these visual dialogues, were inspiring to review. I was struck by the vibrant stage-settings of Leonard Suryajaya’s project, “Bunda”: a celebratory series addressing the role of women and mothers “in the midst of societal struggle for inclusion and diversity”. By enlisting local family members, students and youths from a local organization in Indonesia, and inviting his subjects to collaborate with him on the elaborate staging of their own portraits, Leonard Suryajaya has created environments in which women enact a narrative of their own choosing, in which they are unbounded by the strictures of social-conformity. Balarama Heller’s project, “Zero at The Bone”, presents an eerie view of primordial, reptilian life in the Everglades. An oft-documented area, Heller’s project is altogether unique: choosing to shoot in the darkness of night, when the outline of the familiar is dimmed, Heller draws on “symbolism and the haptic” to present the relationship between predator and prey as nebulous. Under a pink moonlight and between silky spider webs, the photographs oscillate between the real and the imaginary. Sara Macel’s discovery of her grandmother’s unprinted negatives, led her south to Hollywood, Florida, to retrace the life her grandmother led there. The result of that trip is her poignant project, “What Did the Deep Sea Say”. Documenting herself, her own mother, and interweaving her grandmother’s photographs, Macel creates a lasting, tender portrait of three women bound together, by their embrace of one another and a curiosity in how one person’s life can shape those of consequent generations.