2017 Winners - Kris Graves
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.
Kris Graves’s portraits from The Testament Project (2014-2016) are captivatingly vibrant; the images pulse in hot pink, electric yellow and green, twilight blue, and cool cyan. They feel alive—one can imagine a breath about to be exhaled—and ready to be inscribed in our memory. The subjects in the photographs are asked to pose but also to share authorship in these collaborations. Graves invites them to select their own colors, making each portrait unique from the next one, creating a spectrum that is evocative and challenges the preconceptions of what it means to be identified as black today.
In A Bleak Reality (2016), a series that stands in stark contrast to the energized portraits in The Testament Project, Graves documents eight sites of the murder of unarmed black men at the hands of the police. While each one represents a single life and death, the photographs speak to the greater epidemics of institutionalized racism and violence against the black community, and black men in particular. These social divisions and a startling lack of empathy are compounded by the perpetuation of denigrating and dangerous stereotypes. Graves is able to evoke a person—a life—by the absence of the figure, and creates a powerful, disquieting statement: this is a reality not only measured in numbers or statistics but in individual lives.
While vastly different visually, The Testament Project and A Bleak Reality are thematically connected. In each, Graves elevates the individual figure in his work to create a point of access for the viewer—one that is personal and demands accountability—to affect the way we see the subjects’ commonality, a humanity that is shared with the viewer. Both bodies of work address the larger concerns of black representation in America and seek to both complicate and create a new standard and new vocabularies for dealing with these issues.
About Kris Graves:
Kris Graves (b. 1982, New York City) is a photographer and publisher based in New York and London. He received his BFA in visual arts from SUNY Purchase College. He has been published and exhibited globally, including the National Portrait Gallery in London; Blue Sky Gallery in Portland, Oregon; Bryn Mawr College in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania; and ClampArt Gallery in New York.