Fine Art Photography Daily

The CENTER Awards: Project Development Grant Winner: Justin Maxon

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©Justin Maxon

Caption by Tim: [My aspiration is] being in business as an electrician. [My dream looks] powerful, sparkly, [with] stars and comets.

Congratulations to Justin Maxon for being selected for CENTER’s Project Development Grant recognizing his project, Livin’ the Dream. The Project Development Grant offers financial support to a fine art, documentary, or photojournalist’s WORK-IN-PROGRESS. The grant includes a cash award to help complete a project as well as platforms for feedback and professional development opportunities for the work’s final stages. This grant is awarded to projects that are still in progress and have not been exhibited or published.  The award includes a $5,000 Cash Award, a Winners Exhibition at El Museo Cultural de Santa Fe, free admission to the pre-Review Professional Development Workshop, complimentary participation and presentation in Review Santa Fe,and an online exhibition at

Juror Erin O’Toole, Baker Street Foundation Associate Curator of Photography, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, shares her thoughts on her selection:

It was my great pleasure to serve as juror for CENTER’s 2020 Project Development Grant, which offered me the opportunity to review over 550 fascinating projects in progress. There were many deserving submissions tackling a diverse array of subjects, and it was difficult to choose just one. I selected “Livin’ the Dream,” by the photographer Justin Maxon in collaboration with the artists Leslie Castellano and Laura Montagna, because I was moved by its belief in the power of art to change lives. The work was made with prisoners in the Humboldt County Corrections Facility in Eureka, California as part of their rehabilitation. Using positive visualization techniques, the prisoners enact an aspiration they have for the future. The photographs depicting these enactments, complete with wonderful handmade props, are paired with preparatory sketches and collages made by the participants. The portraits are clearly the product of deep trust between the photographer and his subjects, as the men felt safe to openly express their desires. As a nation we are failing to prepare incarcerated people to succeed on the outside after they have served their time, and this project gave me hope that creative people such as Maxon, Castellano and Montagna can use photography and art to improve the outcomes for people currently behind bars.


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©Justin Maxon


© Justin Maxon

Caption by Michael: [This] is a dream for my family and myself. A dream of liberation and financial freedom and happiness along with peace… The saying never judge a book by its cover couldn’t be more real to me then a time like now. It’s time to open that book and see what’s truly inside. You might have a completely different perspective once you take a chance to see the actual story. Illustrations included. lol. [My hopes/dreams] are to one day be reunited with all my children. To be married and live a happy and peaceful life without hatred and jealousy playing any role therein. And to travel the world on my yacht and enjoy life.

Erin O’Toole is the Baker Street Foundation Associate Curator of Photography at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA), where she has worked since 2007. Recent exhibitions she has organized include Thought Pieces: 1970s Photographs by Lew Thomas, Donna-Lee Phillips and Hal Fischer (2020); April Dawn Alison (2019); New Work: Erin Shirreff (2019); and Anthony Hernandez (2016).


© Justin Maxon


© Justin Maxon

Caption by Chris: My dream is to fix things… The first thing I ever fixed is a remote control for my Aunt Tami. I love positive action. My Dad was good at construction. He built a few houses before he was murdered in 1990. What motivated me… [was] to… show the community that I am a productive member of society and a hard worker… I cut wood for the elders around Eureka who aren’t able to physically go get it themselves… I struggled with drug addiction for 12 years. Drug court helped me like a guard rail to keep me on track… While working on myself, I learned that I like to help others. I love our elders… I envy old school. Our elders got us here today, what a better way to repay them than keeping them warm during the winters… When drug court helped me find my way, I hired several males that got out of jail to work for me to start my business. A few are still clean today.

Livin’ the Dream

Livin’ the Dream is a participatory media project in Humboldt County, California, undertaken in collaboration with artist’s Leslie Castellano and Laura Montagna, that engages incarcerated individuals being held at the Humboldt County Correction Facility in Eureka, CA. The program is one chapter of three that navigates substance abuse recovery for the currently and formerly incarcerated in Humboldt County.

Of the roughly $81,000 California spends annually to house each of its prison inmates, just $2,478 (3%) goes toward rehabilitation programs (2018-2019 fiscal year). Individuals who participated in prison-based treatment followed by a community-based program post incarceration were 7 times more likely to be drug free and 3 times less likely to be arrested for criminal behavior than those not receiving treatment.

In 2015, the Journal of Consulting Psychology released a study on visualization techniques in goal achievement, proving that believing in an outcome can greatly increase the capacity for achievement. The project centered around the participants identifying an aspiration they wish to pursue upon being released and constructing handmade objects, utilizing material available to them, symbolic of their goal. Each participant acted out the corresponding movements that embody their aspiration, as we documented the enactment. Additionally, collages were constructed by each participant that allowed them to further experience the landscape of their aspiration.


© Justin Maxon

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The making of Cesar’s collage

Caption by Cesar: To be %100 honest my inspiration on the piece that I did was all the commercials that I would see on TV when I was little about PG&E… As an artist, I would help people find good, positive paths to go down in life instead of the rough paths that I went down… I would like to see a society where people get along and help each other and don’t involve people to use drugs. I hope to succeed and find a career that I could find happy doing for the rest of my life. I feel like I can succeed, but I am scared because I don’t know where it’s going to be like when I get out. I will surround myself with positive influxes and take all the good advice that I receive from others and create my own way with what I am given.”

 Justin Maxon (1983) was born and raised in a number of small towns in the woods of northern California, where he grew up part-time on the Hoopa Valley Indian Reservation. He is an award winning visual storyteller, arts educator, and journalist influenced by social practice: an interdisciplinary approach that acknowledges the socio-historical context from which issues are born and the inclusion of multiple voices that texture stories. His praxis rests in the relentless pursuit of the many unfolding variables of truth and how they build inclusivity, community participation and the value of person and place.

He has received numerous awards for his photography, from competitions UNICEF Images of the Year, and American Photo. He has won two 1st place awards from World Press Photo. He won the Deeper Perspective Photographer of the Year at the Lucie Awards. He was named one of PDN’s 30 Photographers to Watch. He was selected to participate in World Press Photos Joop Swart Masterclass. He received the Cliff Edom “New America Award” from NPPA. He was also selected as one of Magenta’s Flash Forward Emerging Photographers.

His 8-year transmedia project in Chester PA, examines the physical, psychological, and spiritual repercussions of unresolved trauma from unsolved murder. The project, titled, Heaven’s Gain, materialized into many different visual forms: hand made mock murder case files which incorporated photography, archival material, and historical narratives; a trans-media installation, a short documentary, and a published investigative story in the Mother Jones Magazine. The different components of the project have been award the Aaron Siskind Foundation Fellowship, a Magnum Foundation Emergency Fund Grant, the Alexia Foundation for World Peace Professional Grant, the Visura Grant for Outstanding Personal Project, the Reminders Stronghold Photography Grant, the Cliff Edom “New America Award” from NPPA, and a Salute to Excellence Award from the National Association of Black Journalists.

He has worked on feature and cover stories for publications such as TIME, Rolling Stone, Newsweek, MSNBC, Mother Jones Magazine, Bloomberg Businessweek, Fast Company, Fader Magazine, The New York Times, and NPR.


© Justin Maxon

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The Making of Raymond’s collage

Caption by Raymond: I don’t know where to start. The inspiration for making art is to strengthen myself in the process. This first time that I have ever gotten into a project. This project has helped me realize things I didn’t know about myself. I didn’t recognize the strength I had… and also the beauty in the other people as well as myself. My art is different type of art- it isn’t drawing or making shit… it’s like a form of art of the mind. Thought is endless. There is more than one possible way to think. For myself, I hope to spread strength and love.

Caption by Chad: [My aspiration is] to get to move to a warm surf community after winning my case. Surfing double overhead waves and working or owning a small bar on the beach. Making surfboards on the side.

© Justin Maxon

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© Justin Maxon

Caption by Chad: [My aspiration is] To get to move to a warm surf community after winning my case. Surfing double overhead waves and working or owning a small bar on the beach. Making surfboards on the side.


© Justin Maxon

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©© Justin Maxon

Caption by Gabriel: My dream is to teach my kids and others and their family how to fish/hunt/live off the land like we are meant to be, not chemicals or plastic rapping on our food, to get away from being dependent… [on] big companies that make life “easier” for some but there is no learning in going to the store to get our food. We need to farm and harvest the land… I have fished since I was 2 years old and it never gets old. It doesn’t matter fresh or salt, I love to get my line in the water, it gives me time to clear my head and think about the Father and what needs to be done in my life. I have started teaching my daughter… She loves to fish and picked it up quick like I did.


© Justin Maxon

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© Justin Maxon

Caption by Johnny: Johnny Randal is a loving, compassionate (person) father, loyal friend. I am caring and forgiving. My dream is to be a motivational speaker for youth. Painting a picture of the life I grew up in and how it can be different than what I experienced. I experienced violence, drugs, bullies, gangs and prison. Though life doesn’t have to be this way, we all get to make our own choices. Not allowing negative influences to overtake one’s life. Speak up when it’s right even [if] it’s not the popular opinion. I believe by sharing my experience of what I went through it may help others not make the same mistakes I did. Being able to get married and have a family that I’m fully committed to is one of my life goals. My life couldn’t change until I was able to fully commit to both feet in.

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© Justin Maxon


© Justin Maxon

Caption by Richard: I created, with help, a drum set, basic 3pc kit with one symbol paper mache. I’ve seen some drums being built and painted, and many pro drummers play drums writing piano themes. I’ve played a lot of drum sets and other drums, making music. I have had thoughts of music… I have seen the Mona Lisa which inspired me to be a good painter. I’ve painted murals and played in bands. I can see myself continuing to be an artist when I get out. The role of art in society is to express the creative imaginations of as many people as possible in the community.


The making of Richard’s Collage

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