CENTER’s Director’s Choice 1st Place Award: Agnieszka Sosnowska
Agnieszka Sosnowska received 1st Place in CENTER’s Director‘s Choice Award. Her project, A Year Book, uses pictures of home, job place and new family to document a path in life she never planned or expected. Kim Sajet, Director, National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian selected Agnieszka’s work for this award and her statement is below.
The Choice Awards recognize outstanding photographers working in all processes and subject matter. The Awards are divided into four categories: Curator’s Choice, Editor’s Choice, Director’s Choice and Exhibitor’s Choice. Winners receive recognition via exhibition, publication, portfolio reviews and more. The Choice Award winners are invited to participate in an exhibition in Santa Fe, New Mexico during Review Santa Fe.
Kim Sajet was appointed director of the National Portrait Gallery in 2013. Presiding over a national collection of American portraiture is an extraordinary role for the Nigerian-born Sajet, who was raised in Australia and is also a citizen of the Netherlands, and her global perspective is welcome and refreshing. She perceives how many of the notable Americans depicted in the Portrait Gallery collection are viewed outside the United States and offers us a deeper understanding about their accomplishments and influence.
These exquisite portraits immediately seemed Icelandic to me—tenderly showing beautiful, stoic people coolly remote from each other set within haunting landscapes of moors and volcanic rock. It isn’t often that a set of photographs convey such a strong sense of place that also speaks to larger universal issues of love, longing, and loss. To quote Henry David Thoreau, “this World seems to be a canvas to our imagination.” I began to think about the differences between The Field Trip and the fabulous The Arrival: Self Portrait with Arnar, showing all the anxieties and longing of youth, in contrast to the stoicism and guardedness of middle age. The series of six images was really well curated, with the photographer building a “collection” of stories we can relate to in our own way. I imagine Alfgerour Playing House, with the sitter clutching her lacy white dress, as a companion work to Fall Harvest: Self-Portrait, where the artist is clutching cabbage stalks, as ways to reveal or hide the female body, both as a promise of pleasure and a return to nature. Similarly, many of the hands are fascinating; tucked under arms to protect emotional vulnerabilities, gripped in the lap to support an open gaze, and clutching the lapels of an oversized suit—less to ward off the cold it would seem, as to perhaps ward off a viewer’s deeper scrutiny.
A word to the artists
I honestly believe that art can change the world, and as artists, you lead that change. So when choosing what to create, it’s important to start from your own personal wellspring of emotion and experience and then find a way to convey that to the rest of us. One great picture is worth more than ten, so take time to curate your submissions with an eye to developing a journey for the viewer. Just like each chapter in a book makes a great story, each work of art contributes to make an impactful body of work. Many times I loved someone’s photograph, but one bad picture—or too many—put the entry out of contention.
Similarly, if you want your viewers to identify with you, don’t use long, overwrought, and verbose language to talk about it! So many of the explanations just seemed incomprehensible and/or pretentious. Curators love artists who have a simple and elegant turn of phrase—trust me on this. At my museum we call it “art-speak flapdoodle”!
And finally, ask yourself if what you are presenting will be of interest to someone else in a new and imaginative way? Many of the submissions talk of personal experience, documenting autobiographical people and places that no doubt resonate with family and friends. But do they have a transcendent quality that could appeal to complete strangers sometimes living on the other side of the world? Similarly, are your pictures unique, or are you taking another famous artist’s ideas or style and adapting them with little change? Artistic appropriation, unless it’s extremely sophisticated and “additive” to the original idea, isn’t fair to the person whose work you admire—or, to be honest, yourself.
Agnieszka Sosnowska was born in Warsaw Poland in 1971. She immigrated to Boston, Massachusetts at the age of three with her parents. She grew up in Dorchester. She graduated Massachusetts College of Art with a B.F.A in Photography and completed a M.F.A in Studio Teaching from Boston University. She was awarded a Fulbright Fellowship and an American Scandinavian Fellowship in photography. She currently calls East Iceland her home and teaches English in a small countryside school.
A Year Book
My home is a farm in East Iceland. I immigrated to Iceland 12 years ago. I teach at a small countryside school called, “ Brúarásskóli.” These photographs are of my students. By taking pictures of my home, job place and new family I am documenting a path in life I never planned or expected.
The school is comprised of roughly 40 students ranging from preschool to grade ten. As a teacher from another country I have found tolerance, acceptance and caring from this small community of young people. Through the years I have watched them learn, grow, love, and grieve as they leave childhood to become young adults.
As a woman I do not have children of my own. Since arriving to this school I have realised the power an adult can make in a child’s life. It is immense. I am fulfilled as both a woman and a teacher in this very small community. It is a privilege.
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