digital prints, each approximately 13 x 10 inches
I was emerging from a long period of withdrawal from society due to multiple chronic illnesses, freshly divorced and moved back across the country, when COVID19 required us all to isolate. But this time, incredibly, the illness was not mine. I was alive and thriving for the first time in nearly a decade. I had healed in miraculous ways, essentially and entirely reborn. Slowly climbing out from severe food allergies and sensitivities, a few simple things prepared at restaurants had just been successfully reintroduced. It was thrilling, it truly opened up my world. I could see friends easily, and enjoy nourishment for the first time possibly ever.
Lockdown wasn’t devastating, it was my default mode. I was completely alone and 3,000 miles from family, aside from my cat and dog but the euphoria of recovery made the entire world sparkle. The desolation of daily walks allowed me to stop and look at these spaces, so ordinary in my youth that I did not take them in, and then for so long entirely verboten from my experience. Alone on the street, I carefully slipped my phone through roll down grates, pressed the lens tightly to darkened and unwashed windows, setting long exposures to reveal the gems of Still Life hidden inside. Stacked chairs representing the people I longed to be with, interior details that in the rush of life would never be fully appreciated, evidence of lives upended in ways to which I could truly relate, my heart aching for them. Surreal little vignettes behind glass. Right there, so close, but still off limits. The self-made prison of isolation that is chronic illness still echoed in my exterior reality. But my presence there, newly gifted freedom from pain, reclaiming my ability to point the lens was proof that it could and would be overcome.
It was an honor to be asked to review the submissions for CENTER’s Personal Award category. The quality and diversity of the work was striking. Of course, the pandemic, quarantine, and resulting isolation impacted artists working in the personal realm and who would apply to this category.
Many of the responses were introspective, a means of coping and communication. The resulting photographs allowed a momentary peek into someone else’s experience at a time when so many of us have been languishing, isolated in our own homes. In “Window Peeps” by Lizzy Cross, the images were created using long exposure times and taken peering into vacant storefront windows that seemed to capture this isolation and desire for connection with eloquence. The images meld the unoccupied interiors with the reflections of the photographer and street scene behind creeping into the image from the corners. This use of materials and technique to further the intent of the images was most impressive in all the submissions I reviewed. I saw work by photographers working in the style of traditional black and white street photography as well as complex amalgamations of chemical and digital processes. Each using their chosen media to further their project. Most impressive were the groups of images which made clear the overarching message the photographer is transmitting to the viewer.
The range of expression and of media was very impressive, making the selection difficult. These photographers were making political statements, identity declarations, and meditations. Alternative processes and alternative perspectives suggest the global breadth of the applicants. It was a delight to see so much new work and I look forward to seeing more work from many of these photographers, especially actual prints, in the future.