THE CENTER AWARDS: Social Award: Debe Arlook
Congratulations to Debe Arlook for being selected for CENTER’s Social Award recognizing her project, one, one thousand…. The Social Awards recognize work engaged in social issues. All projects exploring social topics or themes were eligible.
JUROR: Jess T. Dugan, Artist & Co-Founder, Strange Fire Collective shares their thoughts on this selection:
I was impressed by the quality and diversity of the work submitted to the Social Awards. Seeing projects from around the world that address a variety of meaningful social issues, such as climate change, immigration, activism, systemic racism, socioeconomic inequity, chronic illness, neurodivergence, aging, family systems, the effects of the pandemic, and LGBTQ+ rights was very moving. In addition to the subject matter, the formal and technical execution of each project was critical to my selection; I was looking for cohesive bodies of work comprised of strong individual images and was most drawn to projects where the artists spoke about social issues from a highly personal vantage point, using their own stories as a point of departure. As I was viewing all of the submitted work, one of my favorite quotes by Diane Arbus came to mind: “The more specific you are, the more general it’ll be.”
The two Honorable Mentions, one, one thousand… by Debe Arlook and A Permanent Home in the Mouth of the Sun by Hannah Altman also embody a combination of personal storytelling and socially-engaged content. one, one thousand… tells the story of Arlook’s 28-year-old nephew, David, who has Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome, an incurable seizure disorder, and severe autism, rendering him non-verbal and in need of full-time care. Arlook’s images show David and his mother, Lori, alongside her handwritten text describing aspects of their lives and relationship. A Permanent Home in the Mouth of the Sun explores Jewish diaspora, world building, and sacred time through photographic narratives that build from interpreted rituals and motifs in Yiddish folklore. Using herself, her friends, and her family, Altman creates formally compelling photographs that explore themes of time, ritual, memory, and ancestry through the lens of her own experiences with Jewish identity and culture.
Jess T. Dugan is the co-founder of the Strange Fire Collective, a group of interdisciplinary artists, curators, and writers focused on work that engages with current social and political forces. Strange Fire’s collective practice is centered around increasing the visibility of meaningful work made by women, people of color, and queer and trans artists and creating dialogue and community through publications, exhibitions, and events. Jess is an artist whose work explores issues of identity through photographic portraiture.
Their work has been widely exhibited and is in the permanent collections of over 40 museums throughout the United States. Their monographs include Look at me like you love me (MACK, 2022), To Survive on This Shore: Photographs and Interviews with Transgender and Gender Nonconforming Older Adults (Kehrer Verlag, 2018) and Every Breath We Drew (Daylight Books, 2015). They are the recipient of a Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant, an ICP Infinity Award, and were selected by the Obama White House as an LGBT Artist Champion of Change.
Debe Arlook is an American artist working in photography. Through color and diverse photographic processes, Arlook’s conceptual and documentary work is a response to her surroundings and the larger environment, as she seeks to understand the inner and outer worlds of human relationships. Studies in filmmaking and psychology inform these views.
Arlook’s awards include the 2022 CENTER Social Award, Honorable Mention; 2021, 2020 Critical Mass Finalist; 2021; and 2020 Photo LA Top 20 Finalist. She exhibits nationally and internationally including at the Lishui Art Museum and Lishui Photography Museum (China), Griffin Museum of Photography (Massachusettes), Lancaster Museum of Art & History (California), Foley Gallery, and Rick Wester Fine Art, (New York), Center for Photographic Art and California State University (California), Center for Fine Art Photography and Colorado Photographic Arts Center (Colorado). Arlook’s work has been featured in Lenscratch, Frame Magazine, Fraction Magazine, L’Oeil de la Photographie, Rangefinder, Shots Magazine, What Will You Remember, and One Twelve Publishing amongst others. Books include California Love, Perceive Me, and Emptiness Defined.
In addition to her studio practice, Arlook is an educator with the Los Angeles Center of Photography; an advisor with Pasadena Photography Arts curating for FORUM and Open Show Pasadena/East Los Angeles, and; contributing editor and resource manager for the PhotoBook Journal. In a transition from the darkroom to inkjet printing, she founded Arlook Printing Services in 2016, working with fine art photographers providing project consultation and archival printing. She is based in Los Angeles, California.
one, one thousand…
I suppose you have received many letters from desperate mothers. Here is mine.” My sister wrote these words to a neurologist in 1997 when my nephew was two years old.
one, one thousand… is a love story and an unconventional documentary exposing the impact a rare and incurable form of epilepsy, Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome, has on a mother and son’s experience of life-long care. This is a family caregiver’s story of devotion and perseverance.
At 28, David is non-verbal, experiences daily seizures, has scoliosis, severe autism, and requires 24-hour care. After years of pursuing conventional approaches to stop my nephew’s seizures, Lori turned to nonconventional healers, working in energetic and mystical realms. Seeing beyond their circumstances fuels her dedication to David’s care and her own personal growth.
Multiple artistic interpretations convey realms of David’s unknown perception of the world and Lori’s spiritual practice. Herein lies the intersection between what is “real” and what is outside our realm of understanding. Color references the likelihood he experiences synesthesia, a condition in which one sense is experienced through another, such as seeing color when hearing a sound. Because David’s communication is minimal, we will never know what his internal experience is. The title, one, one thousand…, references Lori counting how long the seizures last. Image captions are Lori’s handwritten narrative.
When I asked David’s permission to make this project, I did not know if he would respond. In a rare and astonishing gesture, he leaned toward me with sustained eye contact. I got my yes. David would allow me to enter his vulnerable world.
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