Penumbra Foundation / Image Threads LTP: Tim Carpenter on Courtney Allen
When we make books, we want to share them; not just with our peers and community but also with a wider audience. One way to achieve this goal is to work with an established publisher. Photographer, writer, and LTP faculty Tim Carpenter recounts Courtney Allen’s (class of 2021) path from the LTP to her first monograph.
Tim Carpenter: “The Penumbra Long-term Program opened up the world for me; it was a really pivotal point in my life.” These are the words of Courtney Allen, a member of the class of 2021, whose debut monograph – a meditation on our expectations of nature and the man-made environment – is soon to be published by Deadbeat Club Press.
“The book is about the tension between our notions of the Romantic sublime, and nature as a means to transcendence, and the reality of our own human contributions,” Courtney says. “While out making photographs, I found that man-made landscapes could sometimes manifest a similar, and therefore complicated, sense of the sublime. We have such varied expectations of nature: to be nurtured, to conquer, to stand atop, to be held within. These expectations can of course be rewarded or thwarted, and that’s what I want both the photographs and the structure of the book to evoke.”
Courtney graduated from Boston University in 2010 with a Photojournalism degree, but always knew that she wanted to do something different. In 2018, during some time off after a consulting job, she got her first medium format camera and devoted a month just to photography. “I started making the pictures I wanted to make,” she says – and thus was born the project that has been her primary focus ever since.
The natural next step to evolve and hone the work seemed to be an MFA; Courtney lined up some grad school options, but then fortuitously saw some information on the Penumbra program on Instagram. After some exploration, she decided that the LTP would be a more accessible way to get the community and the time that she was needing to move forward. And just as important: she had become interested in thinking about her project as a book, which aligned perfectly with the photobook-focused structure of the LTP.
“With the Penumbra program, I was really thrown in the deep end; I had to speak for myself as an artist for the first time,” Courtney says. “It was terrifying!” She quickly rose to the task. Her cohort (a group which has fostered lasting friendships) proved to be both nurturing and challenging, bringing out the best in each other. She met one-on-one with faculty members Jenia Fridlyand, Kevin Kunstadt, and Tim Carpenter throughout the year; that long-term work was complemented by the short-term assignments of the guest artists: “Terri Weifenbach had us sequence our pictures to mirror the structure of a song. Adam Meeks helped us to understand the flow of filmmaking, and to apply those learnings to our work. And with Curran Hattleberg, we added the element of text. His artists’ talk felt revolutionary.”
During the course of the LTP, Courtney produced various edit and sequence iterations, and multiple maquettes, to really get at the gist of her project. Her year of careful work was put to the test in the three final critiques with Grégoire Pujade-Lauraine, Mike Slack, and Raymond Meeks. She used their feedback to further refine her maquette, and took it (along with other LTP students and faculty) to show at the ZonaMaco Art Fair in Mexico City – another major learning experience.
Finally, she felt ready for the Chico Review in 2022; it was her first portfolio review. “I’d always assumed I wasn’t qualified,” she said. But now, she had a maquette and a statement that she was confident in. Among the reviewers she met was Clint Woodside of Deadbeat Club, who took an immediate interest: “I could see how well thought out her work was. I felt an instant relationship with the work and knew there was something there worth pursuing,” he recalls. “This is one of the best things about the Chico Review,” says Jesse Lenz, the director of the event, “getting people to meet and share work and make things happen. We couldn’t be happier for Courtney.”
Experiences like Courtney’s aren’t unusual in the Penumbra Long-term Program. “Honestly, anyone interested in working in the photobook form should take a look at the LTP,” she says.
Courtney Allen is a photographer based in Brooklyn, NY. Her work centers on our relationship with the natural world – our hopeful expectations meeting the reality of our contributions. In 2014, she co-founded Austin, TX-based curatorial project and art gallery, Magic the Gallery.
Follow Courtney on Instagram @courtneyreams
Tim Carpenter is a photographer, writer, and educator who works in Brooklyn and central Illinois. He is the author of several photobooks, among them A month of Sundays (TIS books); Christmas Day, Bucks Pond Road (The Ice Plant); Local objects (The Ice Plant); township (TIS/dumbsaint); Still feel gone (Deadbeat Club Press); and The king of the birds (TIS books). Tim received an MFA in Photography from the Hartford Art School in 2012. He is a faculty member of the Penumbra Foundation Long Term Photobook Program and serves as a mentor in the Image Threads Mentorship Program. Tim’s book-length essay To photograph is to learn how to die was published by The Ice Plant in Fall 2022.
Follow Tim on Instagram @timcarpenter
LTP Photobook Program is a year-long online course which combines seminars, critiques with guest artists, and one-on-one sessions. Working with several instructors throughout the program, while also receiving assignments and feedback from guest critics, participants will have both continuity and variety of support. The learning process is based on regular production of physical maquettes, which helps participants deepen their understanding of the book form and allow them to continue redefining it for themselves. Reading and writing assignments, as well as individualized exercises throughout the year will develop the skills and knowledge necessary for a photobook maker. While the objective of the course is to have, at the end of the year, an artist book or a physical maquette to present to publishers or to self-publish, participants also establish a practice and a community to support them going forward. The course is presented in collaboration with the Penumbra Foundation in New York City, and Image Threads Collective.
Applications for the 2024 session of the Penumbra Foundation / Image Threads LTP are open until October 6th, 2023. It is free to apply. Learn more and apply here.
Follow LTP on Instagram @photobookprogram
Penumbra Foundation is a non profit organization that brings together the Art and Science of Photography through education, research, outreach, public and residency programs. Its goal is to be a comprehensive resource for photographers at any level, artists, students, professionals, historians, researchers, conservators and curators.
Follow the Penumbra Foundation on Instagram @penumbrafoundation
Image Threads Collective brings together artists, teachers, and bookmakers who are passionate about photographic projects and books, for the mutual exchange of ideas and critical feedback. They partner with students and working artists to produce collaborative workshops, public exhibitions, and long-term mentoring relationships. They are committed to working with and for the communities who host their programming.
Follow Image Threads Collective on Instagram @imagethreads
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