The 2022 Lenscratch Student Prize Honorable Mention Winner: Daniel Hojnacki
It is with pleasure that the jurors announce the 2022 Lenscratch Student Prize Honorable Mention Winner, Daniel Hojnacki. Hojnacki was selected for his project, No Solid Body is Lighter Than Air, and has recently received his M.F.A from the University of New Mexico. The Honorable Mention Winners receive: a $250 Cash Award and a Lenscratch T-shirt and Tote.
While looking at Daniel Hojnacki’s series, No Solid Body is Lighter Than Air, I couldn’t help but think of a concept I once heard described by Neil Degrasse Tyson. After explaining that the same four chemically active atoms in our bodies (hydrogen, oxygen, carbon, nitrogen) are also the top ingredients of the universe, he said, “…while we live in this universe, the universe lives within us. We are special because we are the same.” (and yes, that is from a Hot Ones interview—you sometimes learn things from the most unlikely places) Daniel’s photographs bring this phenomenon in front of our eyes. Through performance and a chemical process, we see breath and body becoming indiscernible from the cosmos—suggesting that in order to understand that which is beyond, we must first look inward. After all, we are made of the same stuff.
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, Linda Alterwitz, Art + Science Editor of Lenscratch 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, Elizabeth Cheng Krist, Former Senior Photo Editor with National Geographic magazine and founding member of the Visual Thinking Collective, Hamidah Glasgow, Director of the Center for Fine Art Photography, Fort Collins, CO, Allie Tsubota, Artist and winner of the 2021 Lenscratch Student Prize, 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 and Educator, winner of the 2017 Lenscratch Student Prize.
Daniel Hojnacki recently received his M.F.A from the University of New Mexico in May 2022. Hojnacki’s practice uses experimental techniques in photography as a way to be a mindful observer within the world. His work uses material that pushes against traditional approaches to the photographic printmaking process. Daniel is a recent recipient of The Patrick Nagatani Photography Scholarship, The Phyllis Muth Arts Award and will be an Artist in Residence with the Penumbra Foundation in NYC (August 2022). He has exhibited work at the Museum of Contemporary Photography and The Chicago Cultural Center. Daniel has hosted public workshops and lectures with the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago and the Smart
Museum of Art. His work has been featured in Phases Magazine, Aint-Bad and Southwest Contemporary Magazine’s fall issue “Inhale/ Exhale”.
Follow Daniel on Instagram: @d_hojnacki
No Solid Body is Lighter Than Air
In my recent photographic collection “No Solid Body is Lighter Than Air ”, my toenail becomes a moon, the soot from an oil lamp flame forms the substrate for negatives, and specks of dust on paper become the cosmos. I employ a variety of approaches to the camera apparatus and darkroom printing techniques to slowly and poetically situate ourselves within the universe.
This work is an on-going investigation into ways of recognizing and observing the passage of time between my body and the celestial bodies above. Photographing the cosmic space in connection with my body, I perform acts of mindful observation. I speculate on the origin of dust that is around us and within us.
By using an early printing technique of cliché verre, I apply smoke soot to glass that leaves residues of my volatile body and breath in ash upon the page. This series of works are attempts at creating acts of suspension, momentary pauses, of finding the breath and being present in the vastness of contemplating time. “No Solid Body is Lighter Than Air” is a collection of visual stillness, of being one with the universe, to quietly celebrate the mortality and interconnected-ness of the human body to the cosmic world.
Congratulations on the honorable mention! To start off, tell us about your beginnings in photography. What brought you to the medium?
Thanks so much! My first photography class was a darkroom course in high school. I remember building a pinhole camera for the first time and using liquid emulsion (which failed terribly), but the experimental nature of the medium grabbed me immediately. And I really haven’t stopped working in an analog film format since then. As an undergraduate at Columbia College in Chicago, I worked with some incredible staff that encouraged honing my experimental interests. Finding a way around the confusion of not really being a photographer at times, a painter or print maker at others, but that’s what has always excited me most about the medium, its versatility.
How about No Solid Body is Lighter than Air, specifically? When and how did that work start?
This collection of work came about after a long struggle with depression and anxiety. While discovering mindfulness practices, I needed my art practice to also be a place that was nourishing and allowed ways for me to be present within the studio process. In New Mexico I am gifted with the stars of the night sky and the moon, there’s ways to observe celestial bodies here that coincided with my mindful practice at the time, and the art work I created followed suit.
I was also exploring the cliché verre printing process using smoke soot on glass to create the substrates for my work. Building up my “negatives” under the light of an oil lamp flame is a kind of meditation in and of itself. The process is a product of dust, hovering, suspended delicately on the surface momentarily.
The title of the exhibition comes from early observations of the moon by Leonardo Davinci, who wrote that if the moon were a solid body of mass in air, that it would crash into the earth and consume us. The title had such a poetry to it in regards to wanting to feel lighter, as I contemplated the dust of my body, observing the moon, and the interconnected-ness between my body and the cosmic dust all around us. I began focusing on ways to visualize acts of becoming lighter than air, speculating on how to combine my interest in science, mindfulness and the alchemy of the photographic process.
What interests you in the abstract/non-representational?
The material takes precedence, a way of creating a mark is a way to animate a story that holds greater meaning than expected. I’m always excited by more questions elicited from a work of art, not by finding answers, and not being exactly told what to see right away. I’ve never been drawn to just one way of seeing the world with the photographic medium, the versatility of evoking emotion in a more visceral way is what’s most exciting to me.
What kind of research did you do for this project?
I was inspired by astronomical observations, writings on mindfulness and meditation, the history of dust, and the historical process of cliché verre printing techniques.
You write, “there are ways to dissolve with(in) the space of recognizing time, to be an observer of that which can not be fully explained.” While looking at your photographs, I felt that you were attempting to do this—to help us observe, at least to a degree, unexplainable phenomena. Would you expand on your statement?
I want my work to reveal something more through the viewer’s own curiosity and act of looking. For this exhibition, I really wanted a feeling of quiet suspension in the space. Capturing acts of becoming lighter than air, dissolving into or with the moon and dust. To recognize and become friends with my own mortality.
Being in constant questioning and curiosity adds fuel to the flame of my inspiration, I don’t ever want to figure anything out entirely. I love the consistency of the photographic medium to abstract ways of observing and recording time. I am finding ways to elicit a record or artifact of time’s passing by blurring expectations of what is being seen.
In your images, you are creating relationships between self and the universe. Could you talk about your performative process and the significance of visualizing this connection?
A Thich Naht Hahn quote that I continue to go back to is “If this speck of dust did not exist, the entire universe would not exist.” I continue to find a poetic solace in contemplating the soot and dust of the body to that of the cosmos. I try to use my materials and processes as a way to visualize these relationships; whether it’s turning my breath into the moon, or wiping the soot of my body away upon a cliché verre glass plate. I love speculating on the interconnection between myself and things at great unseen distances, both near and far.
I’d like to hear more about your educational experience. How did your creative practice evolve while you were in school?
Grad school gave me the opportunity to make a lot of work very quickly. I was able to fail in the best ways. Allowing me time to learn how to really love what it is I do as an image maker. I had a lot of false starts, went down rabbit holes of research that led to dead ends. And really developed a holistic way to approach my art practice that is far more nourishing than it was at the start of my graduate degree.
Was there any advice that you received (in the form of a critique, or something else) that you feel had a significant impact on the trajectory of your work? Would you mind sharing?
A few notes I like that I have in my notebook, that I return to are;
“Research is work, but does not have to be the (art) work.”
“Language can be a hindrance”
“Have trust in your audience, they want to be interested in engaging and finding understanding within the work.”
“Don’t throw away your past works, or you throw away those lessons learned too”
Being a student can be exhausting, and burnout is real.What motivates to keep creating?
Knowing there’s always more to learn in a process and technique. And failure keeps me wanting to come back. Also, I want to be a professional practicing artist for the rest of my life, I have nothing else that demands my attention the same way as creating and developing my art practice does. Alongside my studio practice being a photography educator is endlessly challenging and inspiring. Being able to continue teaching new courses encourages me more to get back in the studio the next day.
To wrap things up, is there a mentor that you’d like to acknowledge?
Yes! Meggan Gould, my committee chair while a student at UNM. Their diligence and skills as an educator, artist and writer has been a true inspiration to where my practice is today.
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