2016 Winners - RaMell Ross
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. The winner receives $3,000 and an exhibition at Aperture Gallery in New York. All finalists are featured on Aperture’s website, accompanied by a brief statement written by Aperture staff and will also have the opportunity to participate in the Aperture Foundation limited-edition print program. Past finalists include Amy Elkins, Bryan Schutmaat, Jessamyn Lovell, LaToya Ruby Frazier, Michal Chelbin, and Sarah Palmer.
“To be Black is the greatest fiction of my life,” RaMell Ross reveals in his statement for South County, AL, a body of work created over the past six years in Hale County, Alabama. While the series is focused around a specific location, it exceeds the scope of a geographic portrait. Combining quiet landscapes and carefully composed scenes, the photographs are bizarre, playful, weighty—simultaneously inquiry and ode.
By invoking the surreal romance of Southern light and motifs of hanging moss and colonial architecture, Ross examines the way blackness is part of the landscape of the American South. In his photographs, however, physical history turns metaphoric, and the psychological and emotional intricacies of identity and heritage become manifest. Ross’s subjects are often partially or mostly concealed, and his models are more in dialogue with the landscape than with the camera. In one picture, a woman in a black dress lies supine on a bare wooden porch while a child plays nearby, barely visible amongst the rich grass and slanted shadows. In another, titled Brothers Z, someone lies in the back of a pick-up truck, only his legs visible, hanging over the side. On the ground, a second pair of legs sticks out from under the car, a recurrence of mirrored yet dissociated bodies, seemingly unaware of the camera as well as of each other.
While these images hold quiet tensions, other photographs suggest starker narratives. In Giving Tree, a girl’s body is draped over a low tree branch. The scene seems simple, but of course it’s not, as it is impossible to ignore its historical implications. Together, the photographs create a fabric of delicately intricate moments, in which Ross makes explicit that the body was, and continues to be, a shifting political landscape.
About RaMell Ross:
Ross received a BA in English and sociology from Georgetown University and an MFA from the Rhode Island School of Design. His photographs have been exhibited in the U.S. and internationally, and published in the New York Times, the Washington Post, Oxford American, and on CNN, while his writing has appeared in the New York Times, Huffington Post, and ESPN. His feature film Idiom; Hale County This Morning, This Evening, has received funding from the Sundance Institute, Tribeca Film Institute, and a Garrett Scott Documentary Development Grant. In 2015, he was part of Filmmaker Magazine’s “25 New Faces of Independent Film.” Also in 2015, he was a Sundance Institute New Frontier Artist in Residence in the MIT Media Lab.