Tommy Kha, Assemblies I (or Me Crying in Three Takes), 2020, from the series Facades
This summer, Aperture and Google’s Creator Labs teamed up to launch a new initiative, the Creator Labs Photo Fund, aimed at providing financial support to photographers in the wake of COVID-19. Selected by Aperture’s editors, the twenty winning artists are recognized for their exceptional vision as well as the strength and originality of their portfolios, and will be awarded a prize of $5,000 each to sustain their work and practice.
The winners of the Creator Labs Photo Fund are:
Daveed Baptiste, Adraint Bereal, Shawn Bush, Jasmine Clarke, Matt Eich, Arielle Gray, Naomieh Jovin, Priya Suresh Kambli, Tommy Kha, Sydney Mieko King, Miguel Limon, Sophie Lopez, Giancarlo Montes Santangelo, Alana Perino, Jade Thiraswas, Bryan Thomas, Maximilian Thuemler, Allie Tsubota, Aaron Turner, and Jasmine Veronica.
Aperture serves as an essential platform for artists, fostering critical dialogue in the photographic community—in print, in person, and online. “We are honored to partner with Google on the Creator Labs Photo Fund,” says Aperture’s creative director, Lesley A. Martin. “Aperture’s team of editors has selected a dynamic and diverse group of photographers, whose talent, vision, and promise are truly inspiring. We all communicate with images today—and we encourage all photographers to continue their practices ensuring a more rigorous, more expansive range of expressions to the field. Together, Aperture and Google are proud to offer these twenty photographers our support, which we hope will be meaningful for their work and careers.”
In a series of built environments, photographer and fashion designer Daveed Baptiste examines social dynamics in Haitian American life. Drawing from his experience immigrating to and growing up in the US, Baptiste collects and rearranges materials into domestic scenes. “The common home is composed of a series of objects and surfaces within their own state of being, at times symbolizing financial status, choice, and personality,” says Baptiste. Brought together in his series Haiti to Hood, Baptiste’s layered tableaux showcase his subjects as individuals, while speaking to the evolution of their Haitian American identity.
Adraint Bereal’s The Black Yearbook combines images and interviews in an effort to share the experiences of Black students at the University of Texas at Austin—where only 5 percent of students identify as Black on a campus of 52,000. Since 2017, Bereal has carried his camera around, photographing moments of communal gatherings and making portraits of his peers. In one image, band members stand in formation with their backs turned to the camera, a choice Bereal explains as an act of “affirming we could hold that space and choose not to face anyone. I like to think of it as giving yourself grace.” For Bereal, this series aims to examine not only the adversity faced, but “the joy of existing in such a place that has historically gone out of their way to keep Black students outside the institution.”
Through the lenses of the natural landscape and propaganda imagery, Shawn Bush examines the intersections of power, sustainability, and whiteness in the US. Working in his studio, Bush draws from propaganda imagery from the 1900s, 1960s, and 1970s to create his starkly lit, almost surreal black-and-white photographs. Throughout his process, Bush has considered the impact of the fossil-fuel industry on the natural environment, local economy, and future prospects of those left behind by corporations. The resulting series, Angle of Draw, considers the ways framing imagery impacts the national imagination—upholding systems of social, political, and economic control. “I was thinking about the photographic frame and the ability to crop as a form that censors and advertises,” Bush says.
“Myths, like photographs, exist somewhere between truth and fabrication, exactly where I want to stand as an artist,” states Jasmine Clarke. Inspired by a wide range of artists, from novelist Haruki Murakami to filmmaker Djibril Diop Mambéty, each of Clarke’s photographic vignettes transports the viewer into a dreamscape. A shadowed figure stands ominously behind patterned curtains, smoke rises against a fence, an obscured Ludi board’s “Home” is alit with a harsh flash, a single eye peers through shuttered doors. Walking the line between dreams and reality, Clarke’s lushly colored, uncanny images bring together her own disparate strands of familial identity and history. “I see memory and family history as fragmented, pieced together through images, telling multiple overarching narratives of cultural identity,” says Clarke. “Family is also mythology, passed down through generations.”
Since 2015, Matt Eich has photographed his home state of Virginia in the ongoing series Bird Song over Black Water. Working with medium- and large-format cameras, Eich documents the natural beauty and brokenness of the landscape, exploring the ways humans have left their mark on the environment. Describing his process as largely intuitive, Eich’s black-and-white photographs simultaneously hold a quality of intimacy and detachment. Informed by the state’s colonial history, the resulting body of work presents a disarming portrait of life in Virginia. As Eich states, “I’m interested in pictures that elicit questions rather than pretend to hold answers.”
Arielle Gray’s photographs beckon to a near mythical surrounding. Her series Exodus 3:14 takes its name from the scripture in which God tells Moses, “I am that I am,” followed by the instruction to state: “I am has sent me to you.” For Gray, this passage is particularly meaningful, as it nods “to a situation in which a group of people are struggling to find peace and salvation.” Photographing her close friends and family as they sifted through ideas of mortality and guilt—from her grandmother burning a catheter, to her uncle Otis’s bedroom and serene portraits of her loved ones—Gray’s work gives us a glimpse into how a group finds everyday deliverance in each other. After all, as Gray notes, “This is a story of many.”
The title of Naomieh Jovin’s series Gwo Fanm translates to “Big Woman” in Haitian Creole, alluding to women whose impact on those around them radiates outward. After the passing of her parents, Jovin found herself coming back to this phrase as she explored her family’s origin story. She combines found and original images, audio interviews, and installations into richly multilayered photographs—often featuring the artist’s own direct intervention through colored paper, cutouts, or writing. “I kept in the parts that still complete the narrative and give context to what is taking place in the image while accounting for loss,” she notes. “I’ve always been able to recognize whose body part belongs to who and create this fuller perspective. It impresses me each time, because the picture becomes richer, more vibrant—almost to the point of me being able to imagine the sounds and voices.”
Priya Suresh Kambli
Pulling from her family’s photographic archive, Priya Suresh Kambli’s series Buttons for Eyes explores cultural hybridization, identity, and migration. Working intuitively, Kambli combines photographs and family heirlooms—such as a letter she and her sister wrote to their father—before concealing elements of the images or drawing out certain features. Through the inclusion of natural light and rainbows created through the use of a prism, Kambli infuses playful experimentation throughout the series. She had asked her husband for the prism for her fortieth birthday, but she initially had difficulty using it. “I literally couldn’t make it work,” she says. “It sat in my studio for two years, and when I picked it up again, it worked, like magic.”
For Tommy Kha, picture-making is tied directly to fragmentation. His series Facades incorporates this concept of fragments in an exploration of Asian American identity and otherness in today’s social landscape. Kha’s playfully experimental images incorporate cardboard cutouts, jigsaw puzzles, paper masks, temporary tattoos, and more, straddling the line between still life, portrait, and self-portrait. Without the use of Photoshop, Kha builds all of his scenes in-camera using a combination of fabricated props, available light, and performance. Leaning into moments of awkwardness, Kha views his work as an aesthetic device to decode, confirm, and validate Asian American identity, stating, “at the moment, there’s quite a bit of space to visualize Asian American narratives and archives, and what that can look like. There’s excitement to see what those pictures can look like.”
Sydney Mieko King
Sydney Mieko King fuses the two- and three-dimensional in her abstracted images layering family archival photographs against plaster molds of her body. Through this intersection, King’s body acts as a container of personal and ancestral memory, as well as a means of exploring her own identity as a mixed-race woman. The plaster molds she creates are attempts at evoking movement and breath, such as a “bend in the stomach, legs wrapped around each other, the overlapping parts of the body.” Ironically, the task of molding herself is an exercise in stillness, in order to prevent the plaster from falling off of her body. “Photography allows me to invent overlaps between my own body and experiences and those of my family. The medium flattens and resolves space,” says King. “The camera’s way of equalizing presence and nonpresence allows me to capture a shifting space in which present and past moments are suspended in time and thus able to interact.”
When Miguel Limon visited the steel mill where their grandfather worked on the South Side of Chicago, they recalled feeling overwhelmed: “Having known the impact the steel industry has had locally and nationally, it’s a lot to consider how many different histories are tied to the space.” Limon’s series Hogares Perdidos highlights the impact of Latinx and Chicanx immigrants in the Midwest, reconnecting members of the community to their work and grappling with familial memory. Citing LaToya Ruby Frazier and Laura Aguilar as influences, Limon utilizes self-portraiture to insert himself into scenes of family life and labor. Limon reflects, “As a whole, I believe being both in front of and behind the camera allows for an assertion of identity outwardly but also inwardly, providing the liminal space to define my histories and their worldly contexts.”
Inspired by I Spy books, Sophie Lopez combines family photos, household objects, and other ephemera into richly layered tableaux. Certain recurring motifs appear throughout her images, from fruit peeled or cut open, to the artist’s hand intervening into the frame, to washi tape—which Lopez uses to represent nonlinear thinking and history-making. Grounded in postcolonial theory, Lopez’s work explores concepts of belonging, power in agency, and the vernacular photo as evidence. “I named this series Productions of Chimera because it felt as though I was rewriting as I saw fit,” says Lopez. “Chimera is defined as an object that is aspirationally longed for but is ultimately illusionary or impossible to achieve.”
Giancarlo Montes Santangelo
In an ongoing series, Giancarlo Montes Santangelo traces the effects of colonization in Puerto Rico and Argentina, mapping the relationships between memory, the body, race, and history. Montes Santangelo’s collaged photographs bring together the artist’s own body and staged scenes against archival images from the two countries. “These two archives offer an index of divergent histories that cemented the ways in which many—my family and I included—have had to negotiate with the past, present, and future,” says Montes Santangelo. “Collaging offers me a way to recontextualize archival images and position queer world-making as a method of renegotiating with colonial pasts.”
Alana Perino’s family has often expressed a concern around the “strangeness” of their work. Their stepmother, Letty, was known to ask, “Why don’t you take pictures of birds?” and eventually, Perino accepted her suggestion. “Everything became a bird to me,” they say. “The plants were birds of paradise; my father is a snowbird.” Depicting otherworldly Floridian scenes that confront disparate ideas, Perino’s photographs possess an uncanny quality that collapses the boundaries between the naturally occurring and the staged. Nativity figures shrouded in plastic stand abandoned on the sidewalk, shells gather in memorial around a bathtub, their father floats in a pool with only his face breaking above the surface. Perino finds their images feel most successful when conceptions of “abundance and scarcity, vitality and despair, acceptance and critique become porous or indistinguishable.” Ultimately, Pictures of Birds serves as a remarkable and bitterly affectionate attempt to find strength in the insecurities of heritage.
Since 2017, Jade Thiraswas has documented a tight-knit community of refugee youth from Myanmar who have resettled in Rochester, New York. The men in Thiraswas’s series are Karen, an Indigenous ethnic minority from Southeast Asia. Thiraswas photographs her subjects in their homes, in the backyard, in traditional clothing and soccer uniforms, offering an intimate look into systems of care and belonging. Yet for Thiraswas, these everyday moments balance against the subtle and apparent effects of globalization, assimilation to American society, and the preservation of an endangered Southeast Asian culture. The series title, Young Cash Karen, refers to the self-chosen name the men formed together. “They proudly use the name to express a sense of belonging and solidarity amongst each other and with the global Karen refugee diaspora,” says Thiraswas. “They retain a sense of unapologetic pride of their identity and history.”
Each day seems to bring a new alarming statistic about the impact of climate change. Bryan Thomas’s ongoing series The Sea in the Darkness Calls documents the Florida coastline, depicting rising sea levels against present and future changes to its landscape. Rather than exclusively focusing on foreboding research findings, Thomas describes his work as speaking “to the more elemental ways in which our lives—and our physical and spiritual relationship to nature—are being permanently and detrimentally affected.” Photographing the land and sea, and people whose livelihoods depend on them, Thomas searches for the somber truths about the inevitability of loss and the shame of inaction in the face of climate change, asking us to consider how we will respond, not so much in the distant future, but in our present moment.
Maximilian Thuemler’s Born from the Limb uses the landscape of the US South as a means of exploring relationships between labor, land, and migration. Working in the natural world, Thuemler finds “physical traces of the past . . . in the form of ruins, marks, imprints, vacancies.” Approaching his photographs with a balanced mix of directness and obscurity, these traces materialize as the backdrop for his performances. Throughout his images, Thuemler droops over a tree, wrestles with mud, or repeatedly moves around in circles. These movements highlight a cyclical exhaustion that Thuemler views as analogous to the relationship between the US and its history, stating, “The topic of Blackness and its representation is exhausting, because it is in part infinite.”
Weaving together archival imagery of maps detailing sites of Japanese American incarceration during World War II with black-and-white portraits and seascapes, Allie Tsubota examines how the camera can recall and recover historical relics and psychic refuse embedded in both the landscape and the body. Deploying ideas of migration, racialization, and assimilation, Tsubota’s series This Brilliant Flash of Light traces racial melancholia through the past and present. “How do we resist closure in a society that fetishizes resolution? How do we advocate for reparations while refusing to forget the injustices that warrant them?” Tsubota asks. “To stand in an open wound is to resist the neatening of history—to honor the oceans that continue to live in our bodies, and to adopt a temporality through which our pasts, presents, and futures remain intimately entwined.”
Aaron Turner asks: what is the role of the color black and what is considered Black art? Working in the studio, his constructed scenes consider how the past, present, and future interact in issues of abstraction, race, and history. Influenced by the work of Frank Bowling, W. E. B. Du Bois, and Adrienne Edwards, among others, Turner’s series Black Alchemy explores what “Black art” is and the representation of the Black experience. In discussing the color black, Turner notes “There are different tones, hues, values of black, just like blue or red. Why treat it as secondary?” Seeing it as both material and metaphor, Turner identifies a duality (or double consciousness) that Blackness can inhabit.
Jasmine Veronica’s Guide to a Healthy Body critiques societal assumptions around health and wellness. Layering imagery of the body, nature, food, and movement, Veronica’s compositions bring into conversation the ways our health is often blindly defined by outward appearance. In one image, Veronica contrasts two photos—one of herself wearing a waist trainer; and in the second, holding the stomach the trainer is meant to hide—interlaying them against images of food and workout gear. Presented in a uniform black and white, each image has an almost rhythmic quality, reflecting the ways body positivity, diet, and workout culture continuously consume our day-to-day lives. Veronica’s series wonders aloud what it means to be seen as healthy, while reflecting on her own journey through body positivity. “This is something that I’m still trying to find the answer to,” Veronica says. “I would say that I resonate more with body neutrality or anything that allows someone to love themselves without fear of critique and harassment.”
The Creator Labs Photo Fund is presented by Aperture and Google’s Creator Labs. Artist statements by Allie Monck.