Fine Art Photography Daily

Lenscratch Student Prize Award Honorable Mention: Lois Bielefeld


©Lois Bielefeld

We are thrilled to share the 2021 Lenscratch Student Prize Honorable Mention Winner, Lois Bielefeld. Bielefeld received her MFA from the California Institute of the Arts. Bielefeld’s still images, videos, and participatory readings in, To Commit To Memory all speak to how the mundane habits in life magnify both our differences and similarities. I was struck by the video of Bielefeld’s mother planking while reciting a bible chapter. These routines of a daily physical activity or recitation of a prayer or verse from a holy scripture are the everyday actions of countless lives. Yet, this particular combination made me stop and pay attention. Her work allows us unusual access to a family’s daily patterns and belief systems. Through this honest and seemingly unfettered, although partially staged, view, we begin to understand the vast difference between the artist and her parents.

Still images from this series are similar in their honesty and unbiased documentation. Differences in lifestyle from daughter to parents are vast, yet tenderness and understanding permeate the work. On view are the chasms between people with the tenderness and commonalities that remain.

Bielefeld’s work explores the worlds she knows but is still learning to comprehend and another world she has embraced that reflects her own belief systems. In this complex mixing of worlds, I find a path to understanding this world we inhabit with others unlike us and yet exactly like us.

The Honorable Mentions Winners receive: $250 Cash Award, a feature on Lenscratch, a FUJIFILM X-E4 Body with XF27mmF2.8 R WR Lens Kit, Silver (MSRP $1,049.95 each), and a Lenscratch tote.

An enormous thank you to our jurors: Aline Smithson, Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Lenscratch, Educator and Artist, Daniel George, Submissions Editor of Lenscratch, Educator and Artist, Kellye Eisworth, Managing Editor of Lenscratch, Educator and Artist, Alexa Dilworth, Publishing Director, Senior Editor, and Awards Director at the Center for Documentary Studies (CDS) at Duke University, Kris Graves, Director of Kris Graves Projects, Photographer and Publisher based in New York and London, Paula Tognarelli, Director of the Griffin Museum of Photography, Hamidah Glasgow, Director of the Center for Fine Art Photography, Fort Collins, CO, Raymond Thompson, Jr., Artist and Educator, winner of the 2020 Lenscratch Student Prize, Guanyu Xu, Artist and Educator, winner of the 2019 Lenscratch Student Prize and Shawn Bush, Artist, Publisher and Educator, winner of the 2017 Lenscratch Student Prize.



©Lois Bielefeld

To commit to memory

To commit to memory is work in progress as I delve deeply into my parent’s life, particularly their conservative Evangelical traditions and how this plays out within the home. The genesis for this series was a video piece, “Thank you Jesus, for what you are going to do,” I made of my mom’s daily practice of planking while reciting memorized Bible verses. After completing the video in March 2020, I questioned what does it mean for me, a queer and atheist artist, to share work about deep devotion/faith? Being on different ends of the political spectrum, my parents and I constantly straddle a wide ideology chasm yet somehow, we negotiate and bridge our differences through this project. I’m interested in how the labor of looking can be a type of active listening that leads to understanding. This has led to this in-depth series looking at their complex personhood while wading through my own position.

Through photographic re-enactments, I examine domesticity, power relations, ritual, faith, aging and memory. I look at the house as a container and how it has been marked and manifested through their everyday movements, aesthetics, and use. I’m interested in both the imprint they’ve made on the house but also the imprint the house has made on them.

Within the series, there are 4 video pieces, and audio installation, and over 150 portraits and house studies. Each portrait is dually titled. My parents and I each developed our own caption for each photograph. The top title is my parents and mine follows.


©Lois Bielefeld

Lois Bielefeld is a queer series-based artist working in photography, audio, video, and installation. Her work continually asks the question of what links routine and ritual to the formation of identity and personhood and the development of meaning-making.

Currently living in Chicago, Lois was born in Milwaukee and has lived on both coasts. After her daughter went off to college, Bielefeld decided to pursue her graduate degree and is working on her MFA (2021) at California Institute of the Arts. Besides photography, she feels passionate about traveling, hiking, eating, swimming and bicycling adventures with her wife.

Her work is in the permanent collections of the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art in New York City, the Museum of Wisconsin Art, Saint Kate Arts Hotel, The Warehouse Museum and The Racine Art Museum in Wisconsin. Bielefeld has shown at The International Center of Photography in New York City, The Museum of Contemporary Photography in Chicago, The Charles Allis Art Museum, and Portrait Society Gallery.


©Lois Bielefeld

Tell us about your growing up and what brought you to photography?

I grew up in an Evangelical home where everything was focused on Christianity. There were neighborhood Bible camps, Youth Night, Christian camps (all seasons), and Sunday school on top of church. Fortunately I also went to public school and had another window on the world. I gravitated towards photography pretty young as I remember regularly using our family’s point and shoot camera to photograph my friends dressing up and posing. We’d take the film to Walgreens 1 Hour photo and wait in the shampoo and conditioner aisle smelling the different products while it processed. My parents were really supportive of my interest in photography and helped me get my first SLR (Pentax K-1000) and set up a darkroom in the basement when I was in high school. It wasn’t until an instructor, Al Balinski, at my pre-college summer camp at Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design, told me I could follow photography as a career path that I ever considered it as something more than a hobby.


©Lois Bielefeld

Congratulations on your Lenscratch Student Prize! What’s next for you? What are you thinking about and working on?

There is so much transition within this moment. I moved twice across state lines in the past year on top of graduating and finishing my thesis (not to mention the pandemic)- so a big part of me is just settling. I am working on a self-published book for To commit to memory to come out in conjunction with a solo show of the work to open this September at Portrait Society Gallery in Milwaukee. We also just bought a house (both my and my wife’s first) and are overwhelmed by the learning curve. Seeing that the figure of the home is central to my practice I’m finding this period of new home ownership to be especially curious and provocative. This has led to me just starting to make a series of flags both for decor but also to think critically around the ideas of property & ownership while digging into a flag’s purpose (of staking claim/ownership, signaling, and overt messaging). I intend for these flags to both signal and claim queerness and also ideas of domesticity while I grapple with what it means to own land and property and consider the system that I’ve bought into. I haven’t sewn since I was a teen so we’ll see how this goes!


©Lois Bielefeld

We’re always considering what the next generation of photographers is thinking about in terms of their careers after graduation. Tell us what the photo world looks like from your perspective; what do you need in terms of support? How do you plan to make your mark? Have you discovered any new and innovative ways to present yourself as an artist or connect with others?

Honestly everything was turned upside down with the pandemic. I was maintaining a few commercial clients while in school and pretty much lost them due to the difficulties hitting the fashion retail market coupled with Covid. I shoot commercially to support my art practice and now I’m trying to reimagine this connection that I’ve always kept fairly separate. I think artists that live in smaller markets find it very difficult to become a career artist without an exterior job. I think we need to foster a culture that supports artists financially through collecting, more grants/ paid residencies/ proper show honorariums and assistance with printing & framing / and awards that make it possible for artists to focus on their practice.

I’m not sure how I’ll make my mark… I just know that I have to make work for my own mental health. I think this has been an immense time in finding creative ways to connect with others and ideas remotely. I took a class with Gabrielle Civil, Performing the Self, and was astounded with her innovative ways to use the zoom platform to curate live performances, writing, and teaching. Also for me connecting to others through reading/research has been immense fuel to my practice over the past two years.


©Lois Bielefeld

Are there any instructors or mentors you would like to acknowledge?

Kaucyila Brooke- California Institute of the Arts (my incredible mentor)
Abigail Collins- CalArts, Pepperdine University
Ashley Hunt- CalArts
Jo Ann Callis- CalArts


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©Lois Bielefeld


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©Lois Bielefeld


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©Lois Bielefeld


©Lois Bielefeld

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