Amrita Stützle: The 2020 Lenscratch Student Prize Winner Honorable Mention
It is with great pleasure that we announce the 2020 Lenscratch Student Prize Honorable Mention Winner, Amrita Stützle. She was selected for her outstanding project, Maiden, Mother, Crone. She is currently pursuing her MFA at the University of Pennsylvania.
The jurors included Guanyu Xu – 2019 Student Prize Winner, Zora Murff- 2018 Student Prize Winner, Shawn Bush – 2017 Student Prize Winner, Drew Nikonowicz – 2016 Student Prize Winner, Elizabeth Moran – 2013 Student Prize Winner, Aline Smithson – Lenscratch Founder & Editor in Chief, Brennan Booker – Lenscratch Director of Special Projects, and Daniel George – Lenscratch Submissions Editor. We had a record number of submissions and the competition was fierce.
Amrita Stützle’s work draws me in with its ability to use familiar lexicons to tell unexpected stories. Her use of iconography- ravens, religious symbols, unexplained lights in the dark- offers an easy entry-point into her photographic studies on witchcraft, almost daring you to assume you already know how the story goes. You would quickly be proven wrong, however; her images convey a far more complex and personal narrative, interweaving this visual shorthand with self-reflective explorations of her relationship with her mother and the Wiccan spiritual beliefs she does not share.
Compelling connections between larger notions of gender and the practice of witchcraft she describes as a “wildly feminist act” add another layer of complexity to Stützle’s work. Here she cleverly employs another familiar set of tropes in the project’s title- Mother, Maiden, Crone- to provide a framework for these investigations even as it conjures an image of female identity that will not be easily contained within any single prescribed definition of gender.
Maiden, Mother, Crone
In my work, titled Maiden, Mother, Crone, I have been photographing my relationship with my mother through the lens of the history of witchcraft. My mother, has self-identified as Wiccan, reclaiming the role of the witch for all of my life. Growing up, I cast aside this aspect of identity as trivial and kitsch. Throughout the past several years, I have begun to realize the radical significance of this history of women in relation to spirituality and power. In this work, I have been making connections between various aspects of spirituality that have influenced me—ranging from Alpine Folklore, Christianity, Paganism, and New Age spirituality—where the connections between and departures from each other form a complex web of historical and phenomenological ideologies.
In my research-based practice, I have been exploring both oral and written representations of Witchcraft. While historical texts such as the Malleus Maleficarum were used as a brutal treatise on witchcraft, Western folklore created and perpetuated fear-mongering tales about witches. Witches, whom were considered outsiders––through age, possession of land, solidarity, paganism, lack of Christian virtues, sexual deviancy, the list goes on. I am interested in reimagining the ever-present horror deeply rooted in these tales as a way of deconstructing the violence toward women therein––a demonization of women that continues to perpetuate within contemporary society. My mother, a single woman, chose to reclaim this role of outsider. Thusly, I believe the contemporary practice of witchcraft can be viewed as a wildly feminist act. I am interested in creating an imaginary world alongside my mother where I reference this history while reclaiming the power of magic as a radical and restorative act. – Amrita Stützle
In your artist statement you speak a lot about the way your mother inspired you to start this project. Has she continued to play a role in the work as this project unfolds, and has it impacted your relationship?
Yes, she definitely continues to play a big role as the project unfolds and I think she always will since that is where I began with this series. Our relationship of mother and daughter will always be an unavoidable part of making work together, sometimes that can be a bit difficult and at other times it can be really exciting. I do think my interest into such an important part of her life that I had previously dismissed has given us both a deeper understanding and appreciation of our relationship. There is an immanence to our bond that has come to surface. Her physically being in the pictures may change over time since I hope the work functions on a multitude of levels that is not necessarily dependent on the presence of our bodies. Lately, I have been thinking more experimentally of how to manifest this bodily presence through non-body objects.
It sounds like your perceptions about witchcraft have evolved over time. Do you identify as Wiccan or incorporate witchcraft into your personal life?
I do not personally identify as a Witch or Wiccan or would even consider myself a deeply spiritual person for that matter. Yet, I am completely fascinated by spirituality and ritual. I have been thinking a lot about how the making of art in and of itself is ritual and how the history of photography is deeply rooted in magic. I like to think about my approach of making as a different kind of magic that parallels that of my mother’s as a way to remain genuine in my approach.
How does this series relate to other bodies of work you’ve made? Do you see similar themes emerging throughout your creative practice?
While this work is quite different in regard to form, I think there are certain through lines I am noticing of what I am drawn to. In one of my classes we were asked to make a list of words to describe our practice and we would keep editing, reworking, reconsidering, and adding nuance to these words throughout the semester. As simple as it sounds it is really difficult! I thought this was a great exercise and I think it is extremely helpful to keep doing this throughout ones’ artistic career. I’m not sure if I have nailed it yet but here are some words on my list: ritual, labor, desire, magic, power and feminism.
Tell us about your growing up and what brought you to photography?
I was born in Austria and before moving to the states as a child I would spend summer vacations with my American grandparents. We went on camping road trips across America, five little Austrian kids in one van exploring Americana for the first time. They gifted me a toy camera that took 4 frames within one 35mm neg. Since these were the days before digital, it was perfect because it allowed me to take many more pictures per roll, 144 instead of just 36. It sounds cliché, but my camera served as a travel exploration tool. I guess I must have known intuitively it was a way to frame and preserve things that I was drawn to, many of which were foreign to me. At the time, prairie dogs, buffalo, and decapitated family members…I was too short to get the top of their heads in the frame. I still love these pictures as a reminder of what it is like to have the brilliant unhindered perspective of a child. I realize now I would like to re-harness some of that raw energy and spontaneity within my photographs.
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?
This is a great question and tough to answer considering the many unknowns we are all facing in the years to come due to the pandemic and imperative calls for social justice. I do think that in many ways the playing field has been leveled, in the sense that all artists, established and emerging, are figuring out how to make and show work in new creative ways. Now is truly a time that many artists, including myself, are questioning what work is important to make right now, who is making it, and what opportunities are being given to whom. I would love to be present in a photo world where these considerations continue to evolve as a means to create a more equitable photo culture. We all know, or should know rather, there is still so much work to do. Not just in terms of the way an organization outwardly presents itself but internally is structured as well. Who holds the power is the real question. More financial support for emerging artists and free entry fees are some simple ways to create more equity. The financial barriers that so many organizations place on emerging artists need to be reconsidered.
In terms of my role as an artist, I would hope that the opportunities I am given will align with what feels important. Right now, I am still in the midst of getting my MFA which I think has offered me a big push to consider experimentation within my work. Perhaps most importantly, I have been reflecting on intention within my practice much more deliberately which I hope will carry out in my work in a way that resonates with people.
Congratulations on your Lenscratch Student Prize! What’s next for you? What are you thinking about and working on?
Thank you Lenscratch for the incredible support! This summer I have loved spending time gardening, growing vegetables from seed and just figuring out ways to cope and be mindful. I have been thinking about ways I can incorporate herbalism and plants sculpturally into my work as a form of healing. In dealing with such a violent historical subject matter, I also want to give space to allow for restoration. I’m excited about this direction since I am trying to break down the definitive walls of what my practice is. I am also itching to make a book. I think there are loads of ways I can incorporate elements of my research and writing in a book format that would really benefit the work.
Amrita Stützle is an Austrian born artist and educator with a focus in lens-based media. Her practice dissects contemporary and historical aspects of her identity, exploring themes of femininity, labor, and power. She was a participant of the 2018 NY Times Portfolio Review and is a 2018 Saltonstall Artist-in-Residence fellow. She was a 2019 Magenta Foundation top 100 Emerging Photographers winner and has recently had her work published in the NY Times and Ain’t Bad publications.
After receiving her BFA in Art Photography from the School of Visual and Performing Arts at Syracuse University in 2014, Stützle worked at Light Work, a non-profit photography organization supporting artists since 1973. As Lab Manager, she oversaw the organization’s educational programming and community engagement in the arts. She worked with numerous renowned lens-based artists on perfecting their exhibition and book production.
She is currently teaching photography workshops at the Philadelphia Photo Arts Center and pursuing her MFA at the University of Pennsylvania.
You can follow her work on Instagram at @amritastutzle
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