Lenscratch Student Prize Third Place Winner: André Ramos-Woodard
We are thrilled to share the 2021 Lenscratch Student Prize Third Place Winner, André Ramos-Woodard. Ramos-Woodard received their MFA from The University of New Mexico. Their work, BLACK SNAFU, acknowledges a shared history of blackness in America that’s often over-simplified and minimized. How can we learn from a past that is whitewashed, hidden, or lost to our ancestors? How do we celebrate the culture we’ve created when our pride is mocked? It can be hard to reconcile our experiences of Black joy against a backdrop of antagonization. Ramos-Woodard grapples with this reality in their work with imagery that is equal parts whimsical and disconcerting. Combining modern photographs with caricatures of blackness in animation, Ramos-Woodard offers up a visual language for this disjunction. The caricatures play dual roles as cynical commentators and knowledgeable docents, guiding the viewers through the work in an unassuming way while making stark the difference between individual experiences, and the expectations surrounding them. BLACK SNAFU is a statement on the individual and irreducible experience of being Black in America, and a call to community across these experiences.
Andre Ramos-Woodard, the Third Prize Winner receives: a $500 Cash Award, a FUJIFILM X-E4 Body with XF27mmF2.8 R WR Lens Kit, Silver (MSRP $1,049.95 each), a mini exhibition on the Curated Fridge, and a Lenscratch T-shirt and Tote.
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, 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, Paula Tognarelli, Director of the Griffin Museum of Photography, Hamidah Glasgow, Director of the Center for Fine Art Photography, Fort Collins, CO, 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, Publisher and Educator, winner of the 2017 Lenscratch Student Prize.
BLACK SNAFU: Situation Niggas All Fucked Up
I’ve been told all throughout my time as an academic that in order to understand the present, I’ve got to know the history. I find that funny as a Black man born and raised in America. It’s not that I disagree—it’s just that I know that my history on this land, Black history, has been distorted and fucked-up in order to perpetuate the racist repercussions of European colonialism and white privilege in this godforsaken country. Anti-Blackness at the hands of racist America seems inescapable no matter what context I place it into; literature, science, government, health, art… look into any “field” and see for yourself. My people have had to cry, scream, and fight for respect throughout all these fields of study for centuries, and we still haven’t gained the rightful respect we deserve. Even in the visual arts, the field of study I’ve chosen to dedicate my life to, the history of racism against Black bodies runs rampant. In order to move on from this shit, we must acknowledge the many ways this country has implemented a racial hierarchy since these lands were first colonized and stripped from indigenous peoples, and Black people were stolen from their native land and brought here. BLACK SNAFU (Situation Niggas: All Fucked Up), gets its name from “Private Snafu”, a series of cartoon shorts made in the 1940s by Warner Bros. in order to educate American WWII soldiers on the military and their warfare tactics. In BLACK SNAFU, I appropriate various depictions of Black people that I find throughout the cartooning of American history—from the 20th century racist characters in Don Raye’s “Scrub Me Mama with a Boogie Beat” to more contemporary, uplifting, and pro-Black characters like Huey and Riley Freeman from Aaron McGruder’s “The Boondocks”—and juxtapose them with photographs that line up more authentically with a (my) Black experience. These photographs are made by my hand and come from my camera, allowing me fight back against the historical racist tropes I reference with my own authentic Blackness. By combining these ambivalent visual languages, I intend to expose to viewers America’s deplorable connection to anti-Black tropes through pop-culture while simultaneously celebrating the reality of what it means to be Black.
Raised in the Southern states of Tennessee and Texas, André Ramos-Woodard (they/ them/ theirs) is a contemporary artist who uses their work to emphasize the experiences of the underrepresented: celebrating the experience of marginalized peoples while accenting the repercussions of contemporary and historical discrimination. Working in a variety of media—including photography, text, and illustration—Ramos-Woodard creates collages that convey ideas of communal and personal identity centralized within internal conflicts. They are influenced by their direct experience with life as being queer and African American, both of which are obvious targets for discrimination. Focusing on Black liberation, queer justice, and the reality of mental health, Ramos-Woodard works to amplify repressed voices and bring power to the people. Ramos-Woodard received their BFA from Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas, and is earning their MFA at The University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, New Mexico. IG: @andreduane
Tell us about your growing up and what brought you to photography?
I was born and raised in Nashville, Tennessee by my beautiful parents along with my two identical brothers (we’re triplets) and little sister. I’m blessed to say that my parents together have over a dozen amazing siblings, so I got to learn from and be loved on by a bunch of close people from a really young age. I have super vivid memories of drawing Dragonball Z characters with my cousin P.K. who would come over all the time, so I even had a best friend who I could make art with (he’s a professional painter now). I’d love to go back to being a little kid with no worries. Just enjoying family get-togethers in the South and redrawing anime characters. That’s the clean synopsis of my early art life until high school.
I moved from Nashville to Beaumont, Texas during the summer before my sophomore year of high school. By the time I had the opportunity to sign up for classes, the art class I wanted to take was already full in all my available periods. I was NOT about to take gym, so I took photography since in that class I could at least do something artsy, right? I hated it at first, y’all. I was the kid who just wanted to make art and hated learning the technical stuff. I couldn’t wait to get out of that class. But towards the end of the semester, I think I had an assignment to look on Flickr and find some images I liked… anyways, I ended up on Flickr because of this class and I just fell in love with it. I would take photos, then surf through that website for hours just looking at images, then go take some more. Ever since then, I’ve been using photography to convey and explore my thoughts and ideas, and I don’t think that’s going to be changing anytime soon.
Congratulations on your Lenscratch Student Prize! What’s next for you? What are you thinking about and working on?
Thank you so much!!! I couldn’t believe it when I opened the email and I’m still in disbelief while writing this!
Well, now that I’m finished with school, I’ve moved back to Beaumont, Texas to be around close family and focus on myself. I went straight from undergrad to grad school so since I’ve never really had a long break from academia, I’m really looking forward to the extra time I’m going to have. As far as my artwork is concerned, I like having different bodies of work going at the same time so I can bounce back and forth when one feels more pertinent. I’m going to try to take a little break from “BLACK SNAFU” to focus more on my personal work, “a mediocre-ass nigga”, which I’m hoping will be a bit therapeutic. A lot has changed for me in the past two months and it’s been a bit of a roller coaster. I find that working on something personal can help me get over the hurdles that life throws at me.
We’re always considering what the next generation of photographers is thinking about in terms of their careers after graduation. Tell us what the photo world looks like from your perspective; what do you need in terms of support? How do you plan to make your mark? Have you discovered any new and innovative ways to present yourself as an artist or connect with others?
I feel like the photo world is in a very nice state of flux. I’m seeing more diversity in the photo world in a lot of ways, from subject matter to conceptual ideas to the very makers themselves. It’s nice to see people stirring the pot! Actually, I was talking recently to my friend Efrem Zelony-Mindell—who is a bad-ass artist and curator—about this, and I brought up the fact that sometimes I feel that my photo-based, mixed-media work doesn’t seem to fit into the “photo world”. Their response was, “The future of photo is not just photo, André”. Girl, that hit me! When they said that to me, I guess it all just clicked! It felt so good knowing that there are other people who recognize and enjoy the fact that the photo game is changing and making room for more. More BIPOC, queer, and womxn artists are going to keep breaking down barriers.
And on that note, we need institutions (most specifically the ones with the most eminence and influence) to make room and push for that sort of growth. We need people to recognize every single one of their privileges and use their power to really amplify the stories and artwork of peoples who haven’t had that sort of spotlight. Marginalized peoples to the front, y’all, it’s too long overdue. That’s what support looks like.
As for me, I’ve just recently started an art space/ initiative with my best friend and partner-in-art-crime, Jennifer Marion, called “the space in between”. We plan to use that platform to make space specifically for artists who don’t have representation or work collected by museums. It’ll definitely be an amazing way to connect with other artists and art fanatics like ourselves, plus I’m really looking forward to that keeping us busy!
Are there any instructors or mentors you would like to acknowledge?
Oh, yes!! Shout outs to my thesis committee at The University of New Mexico: Patrick Manning, Ed Brandt, Kirsten Buick, Karsten Creightney, and Kevin Mulhearn. Also, the entire photo department at UNM was incredibly helpful: Meggan Gould, Noah McClaurine, Jim Stone, Michelle Murphy, and Mark McKnight (and Patrick too). And last but absolutely not least, the incredibly skilled and equally as hilarious Justin Nighbert. These mentors truly helped me survive the damage of graduate school, as Kirsten would say!
And a huge thank you to all the mentors that helped me survive undergrad at Lamar University, too: Prince V. Thomas, Keith Carter, Chris Troutman, Xenia Fedorchenko, Zach Dubuisson, and Stephanie Chadwick.
If any of y’all are reading this, I love you and thanks for helping me find myself as a maker!
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