"Why do we put so much time, passion and effort into putting on the free New York Portfolio Review every year? Because we believe that only the quality of your work should matter — not who you know, how much money you have, nor your race, gender, ethnic background or sexual orientation.” wrote James Estrin, The New York Times LENS Blog co-editor.
The Fifth Annual New York Portfolio Review, sponsored by The New York Times LENS Blog and the City University of New York’s Graduate School of Journalism, again gathered 150 photographers, juried from 2900 entries, and 75 of the most influential editors, curators, gallerists and book publishers for two days of private photo critiques on April 29 and 30, 2017. The Reviews are completely free for all photographers chosen to attend. The organizers, and producers, include James Estrin and David Gonzalez, Co-Editors of The New York Times LENS Blog; Andrew L. Mendelson, Associate Dean, CUNY Graduate School of Journalism; Co-Producers Laura Roumanos, of United Photo Industries, and Ania Bartkowiak, Producer of The New York Times LENS Blog.
The Reviews were held at the impressive CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. On Saturday, photographers 21 years and older were reviewed, while Sunday was devoted to young photographers between ages 18 and 27, with portfolio reviews in the morning and free workshops in the afternoon. From a Reviewers standpoint, the quality of the work, having been screened by top professionals, is extremely high. I’ve shared the photographers I reviewed on Day 1 with L’Oeil de la Photographie readers here:
Documentary photographer, Biko Wesa, had just arrived from Kenya the morning of his review. He explained his soulful project, KAYA, to me, “To present day Mijikenda people, a Kaya site is where their ancestors were buried and holds spiritual importance to them. However, the lack of respect for these sacred ways and the degradation caused by abrasive foreign cultures has led to great encroachment of their sacred forests. It follows that these forests were a symbol of identity to the Mijikenda people who now struggle to keep their traditions. The Makaya, inscribed by UNESCO as a world heritage site in 2008, were only used for the collection of medicinal herbs, any other activities were forbidden. My story is about the Kaya and the community that protects it.” Biko was one of 12 participants selected for The 2016 World Press Photo East Africa Masterclass.
Eloghosa Osunde is a Nigerian photographer and writer whose work explores human relationships. She just arrived from Lagos for the Reviews when I met her. Her current gallery describes her series, “And Now We Have Entered Broken started when Eloghosa traveled through ten states in Nigeria photographing and documenting diverse human stories and people. Propelled by the encounters and stories documented on that journey, she began the series with subjects bordering on “intergenerational cycles, internal inheritances, isolation, inseparability, and enduring love” using stories of addiction, mental illness, spiritual resistance, and surrender. Her work in photography bends towards the surreal; shifting subjects from the environment in which the photograph was originally made to fictitious arrangements in order to build a tight cohesive narrative with a sense of introspection and relatability, and a painting aesthetic.” Her current exhibition at the Rele Gallery, Lagos runs through June 7.
Adriana Loureiro Fernandez brought her series “Paraíso Perdido.” “This is a story that chronicles the cycle of violence in a decaying country. In the face of current state of affairs, when fear and resentment seem like the prevailing emotions of humanity, comes a story to remind the world how a society built upon hatred and resentment looks like. It is composed by several chapters that represent one character, and each character represents a cause and effect of this situation. Each one embeds it's own story that, in one way or another, collides with the next one. They are all occurring in the same place, at the same time and they build one upon the other in a melting pot that leads to 28.000 deaths annually in a country that has not more than 35.000.000 inhabitants.
This is the story of how a promise became a jinx, or how Venezuela came to be the land of the lost. Fernandez earned her bachelor's degree at Andres Bello Catholic University in Caracas, Venezuela. She recently moved to NYC to start a MS in Journalism at Columbia University.
Bastienne Schmidt explores through photography and mixed media concepts of identity and place. In her series, Measured Threads, she explains, "I use conceptual photography as a tool to document a series of created installations, where the sense of scale becomes a riddle. I photograph these objects in the snow from a bird’s eye perspective, using the white environment as my blank canvas. The installations were built with recycled fabrics and colored threads." Schmidt was born in Munich, Germany, raised in Greece and Italy, and has lived in New York for the past 20 years. She spent her childhood surrounded by her father’s archeological work, which instilled in her a desire to organize, map, and attempt to understand systems through her artwork. Her art work is included in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the International Center of Photography, the Brooklyn Museum, the Corcoran Gallery in Washington D.C. the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris among others.
During his 30-year long career, Cape Town, South Africa based photographer, Per-Anders Pettersson, has covered a wide range of international news events, including the first Gulf War, as well as conflicts in the Balkans, Afghanistan and Haiti. He has worked in over thirty African countries, covering stories on hunger in Ethiopia, civil wars in the Democratic Republic of Congo and the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Botswana and South Africa. His pictures have won international praise and awards. His first book, Rainbow Transit, was a look at democracy in South Africa. In 2016, African Catwalk, a look at the fashion industry in Africa, was published. He brought to the Review both his African Catwalk work as well as his latest series, The Sapeurs of Kinshasa. Sapeur, as coined in Francophone Africa, refers to one who dresses with the highest elegance, sophistication, and class. It also represents the acronym for the “Société des Ambianceurs et Persons Élégants,”which loosely translates as the Society of Entertainers and Elegant People.
Francesco Mastalia’s project, Yoga: The Secret of Life, is a powerful photo-documentary about the spiritual and physical journey of yoga, exploring the personal experiences of 108 of today’s leading practitioners and how this ancient practice has transformed their mind, body, and spirit. Included are world renowned yogis Radhanath Swami, Sharon Gannon, David Life, Gurmukh Kaur Khasla, Sri Dharma Mittra, Krishna Das, Tao-Porchon Lynch, Shiva Rea, Rod Stryker, Seane Corn and Rodney Yee. Their portraits taken using the wet plate collodion process, a photographic technique developed in the mid-19th century. Mastalia’s first book Dreads, is now in its eighth printing, and includes an introduction by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Alice Walker. His recent book Organic: Farmers & Chefs of the Hudson Valley published by powerHouse Books is a photo documentary of the Hudson Valley’s organic sustainable food movement. powerHouse Books is publishing Yoga: The Secret of Life in September 2017
Elise Kirk is a photographic artist, visual storyteller from the Midwest. She describes her body of work, MID–, as exploring “a personal and cultural tension between rootedness and restlessness, set against the backdrop of my native Midwest. The large-format portrait and landscape photographs reflect a paradoxical longing to pull up stakes and put down roots, and the liminal state we often dwell in as a result. Playing on the conception of the Midwest as a transient zone to be passed through en route to somewhere else, the work refers to the pervasive belief that our greatest hopes and potentials can only be realized in some other place, at some future or past time. The Midwest becomes not just my centripetal anchor, but also my stage — a metaphorical intersection between movement and stasis drawing from observation, experience, memory and fantasy.”
Harvey Finkle is a documentary still photographer who has produced a substantial body of work concerned with social, political and cultural issues. His work has been extensively exhibited and published, including four books entitled, “Urban Nomads,” “Still Home: Jews of South Philadelphia”, “Reading”, and “Independent Living: The People Behind the Movement”. His recent work includes a documentation of the Kensington Welfare Rights Union (KWRU), a poor people’s movement emanating from the poorest neighborhood in Pennsylvania; “The Jews of South Philadelphia,” interviews and photographs of the remnants of what once was among the largest Jewish communities in the nation; and an Independent Living series for Liberty Resources, Philadelphia’s Center for Independent Living for people with disabilities. His ongoing work includes documenting the activities of many progressive organizations including a death penalty abolitionist group, ACT-UP, ADAPT (disabled activists), KWRU, and other groups concerned with housing and homelessness. Also, his work includes an extensive inventory of images depicting all aspects of life in Deaf culture, plus a substantial collection of photos dealing with education. Works in progress are about the new wave of immigrant and refugee families who have settled in urban areas and the evolving Transgender community.
Marie-Laure S. Louis was born on the island of Mauritius and is based in Quebec City, Canada. She studied semiotics and American culture in France. Her photographic project Laissez les Bons Temps Rouler is a unique look at New Orleans. She visited the city aiming to describe it in photographs but discovered New Orleans to be unfathomable. What emerged was a poetic series that encompasses New Orleans’s atmosphere.
Anja Matthes developed a passion for documentary photography as a way of telling the stories of marginalized groups. Over the past three and a half years, Anja has worked with LGBTQ youth of color in NYC. Her collaboration with June, a homeless transgender teenager, in the exhibit "Out-Sight-In In-Sight-Out" at Open Source Gallery introduced Anja to the Kiki Ballroom scene. After becoming involved in the scene, Anja was eventually initiated into The House of Bangy Cunts. Working with members of the House, Anja has documented the struggles faced by those involved in the Kiki Ballroom scene, which include racism, homelessness, sex-work as a method of survival, frequent arrests, and rising HIV rates.
Myriam Abdelaziz is a French/American photographer born in Cairo. As a work in progress her project ‘We the People’ is a catalog of Americans photographed throughout the whole country from all paths of life, background, age, gender, ethnicity, religion, social class, political affiliation and sexual orientation, just as they are, trying to understand them, trying to see them as ONE by bringing them together instead of separating them and labeling them because “We are only as strong as we are united, as weak as we are divided”. “I wanted to find out who were the Americans and what it meant to be an American. I drove 10000 miles over the course 3 months and photographed the people I randomly met during the trip.”Abdelaziz is a winner of the Magenta Foundation Flash Forward prize, the Lens Culture Emerging Talent prize and American Photography #24, as well as a finalist of La Bourse du Talent and PhotoEspana.
Elizabeth Avedon is an independent curator, book and exhibition designer, and writer on photography.