2015 Winners - Lisa Elmaleh
The purpose of the Aperture Portfolio Prize is to identify trends in contemporary photography and highlight artists whose work deserves greater recognition. When choosing the first-prize winner and runners-up, Aperture’s editorial and curatorial staff look for innovative bodies of work that haven’t been widely seen in major publications or exhibition venues.
For more information about the Aperture Portfolio Prize, please visit aperture.org/portfolio-prize.
History resonates in Lisa Elmaleh’s American Folk series. She’s using the mid-nineteenth-century tintype photographic process—slow, chemically dangerous, and incredibly cumbersome—to record glimpses of an Appalachia that appears as an echo from the dawn of photography, a century and a half ago. Only the most minute clues, such as a belt buckle or style of shoe, give these pictures away as products of the twenty-first rather than nineteenth century. We presume Elmaleh identifies with her humble artist subjects, and with the idea of an art, or of folk, unpolluted by the rush of modern society. There’s even something about the artist’s name, “Elmaleh,” that suggests a character out of the deep past, perhaps someone who wandered out of a James Fenimore Cooper or Herman Melville novel.
Of course, entering the mystery of her pictures, we recognize that everything in them we initially take to be authentic expressions of cultural isolation are in fact no such thing. Everything here is conscious, arranged, constructed. This is an elaborate romance, in which photographer and subjects are all performers; rather than unwitting country folk left behind by time, they are all political actors, staking their identities and purpose in a defiant rejection of contemporary mores. The beauty of Elmaleh’s photographs needs no commentary: her pictures are mesmerizing and exquisite.
Lisa Elmaleh (born in Miami, 1984) is based in West Virginia and New York City. Using a portable darkroom in the back of her truck, Elmaleh photographs using the nineteenth-century wet-plate collodion process. Elmaleh is an educator at the School of Visual Arts and the Penumbra Foundation’s Center for Alternative Photography. She has been awarded the Aaron Siskind Foundation IPF Grant, Ruth and Harold Chenven Foundation Grant, Tierney Fellowship, and Everglades National Park Artist Residency, and was named one of PDN’s 30 New and Emerging Photographers to Watch. Her work has been exhibited nationally and internationally, most recently in a solo show at KMR Arts, Washington Depot, Connecticut; and in a group show, Imaging Eden: Photographers Discover the Everglades at the Norton Museum of Art, West Palm Beach, Florida. Elmaleh’s work has appeared in Harper’s, PDN, and Rangefinder, among other publications.