2019 Lenscratch Student Prize: Honorable Mention: Nick Drain
It is with great excitement that we honor Nick Drain, Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design, BFA – 2020, with an Honorable Mention in the 2019 Lenscratch Student Awards. Thank you to our jurors Aline Smithson, Brennan Booker, Daniel George, Julia Bennett, Drew Nikonowicz, Sarah Stankey and Shawn Bush.
Nick has dedicated his photographic practice to investigating black identity, training his lens on the cultural and physical elements that influence that experience. His work isn’t made to be part of any formal series with a beginning and end, rather, each image is crafted to tell its own story. When viewed together, the images form a collection of windows each with its own vantage point onto the lived experiences of black people.
Nick Drain is a fine artist born and raised in Chicago, IL and currently based in Milwaukee, WI. His work centers around investigating and understanding blackness, identity, and representation as they intersect and diverge from one another. Nick has exhibited work both locally and nationally, most notably showing work at the International Center for Photography in New York City, NY and the Colorado Photographic Art Center in Denver, CO. Nick will graduate from the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in 2020.
I have come to understand my studio practice as a process of echolocation. Each work is a signal that, through its existence in the world, helps me locate myself in relation to the facts, theories, and experiences that govern my existence as a black person. Because of this, I almost always support my practice on the power of the single rather than the serial. My work does not resemble the structure of the traditional photographic project, but is instead brought together by its organization around the same central theme; the exploration of blackness in all of its facets. This selection of my work are explorations within the representation, materiality, and lived experience of black people and the black body. These approaches include straight photography, social practice, a topographical reimagining of the black body, utilization of corporeal materiality as an arena for language via screen printing, and conceptual interpretations of the object that is a “flag”. In centering my practice as I have, I find that the embodiment of blackness is no longer something that simply is, but something that actively done. In that newfound autonomy, I create a space for a level of exploration, interrogation, and self-determination of the black identity that I have seldom felt anywhere else.
Congratulations on your Lenscratch Student Prize! What’s next for you? What are you thinking about and working on?
First off, thank you! I am incredibly honored to be mentioned amongst all of the submissions received. The next thing on the horizon for me is entering my senior year. Having just returned from a residency a few weeks ago, I’m looking to use my first semester to continue to tackle and push some of the ideas that I began there as I build up to the push towards thesis. Beyond that, I’ve had a solo show in the works for a few months, which I am excited to bring to fruition this October. Lastly, this year’s midwest SPE regional conference is being hosted at my institution, and with that I am just looking to be involved and make myself useful in whatever way possible.
Tell us about your growing up and what brought you to photography….
Recently, when I’ve been asked about my experience growing up, the one word first comes to mind is “dichotomy”. I was born and raised in Oak Park, a primarily white middle-class suburb of Chicago, but during my youth, I spent the majority of my summer days at my Grandmother’s house on the Westside of Chicago. Thus, in my most formative years I spent a lot of time oscillating between spaces both physical and cultural. This had an immense impact on how I grew to understand and navigate my blackness, as well as the whole of who I am.
I began making images when I was a senior in high school. As someone with no representational painting or drawing skills I was attracted to the ease of pressing the shutter. Photography made art-making accessible, and ever since it has always found a way to hold a place in my life.
We are always considering what the next generation of photographers are thinking about in terms of their careers after graduation. Tell us what the photo world looks like from your perspective. What you need in terms of support from the photo world? How do you plan to make your mark? Have you discovered any new and innovative ways to present yourself as an artist?
As someone who has always preferred to work with the single image rather than in series, I always feel excluded when it comes to applying for competitions, grants, or any other kind of submission built around the serial format. I think quite a lot of the photographic world operates around common photographic conventions of working, a lot of which I’d like to see shaken up. I most commonly look for— and benefit from— support from individuals and organizations who are willing to try to push the boundaries of those conventions.
Yet, the position that I have described has not been all bad. Working outside of conventional formats has forced me to become much more proficient at creating bridges between elements of my work that may not be explicitly connected. This ability has grown out of the need to adapt, and I identify it, as well as my willingness to work in mediums outside of photography as two of my greatest strengths as an artist. They are what I lean on to keep my work exciting to make, and hopefully exciting to view.
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2019 Lenscratch Student Prize: Honorable Mention: Nick DrainJuly 28th, 2019
2019 Lenscratch Student Prize: Third Place: Reuben RaddingJuly 24th, 2019