Lenscratch Student Award Honorable Mention: Vanessa Leroy
We are thrilled to share the 2021 Lenscratch Student Prize Honorable Mention Winner, Vanessa Leroy. Leroy recently received her MFA from the Massachusetts College of Art and Design. Finding space to consider our past and our future takes place in the present, as artist Vanessa Leroy shares in her multi-approach project, as our bodies lift up slowly. There is a slowed-down pursuit of self-knowledge that comes with the revisiting of familial artifacts, absorbing family histories, and finding truths in large and small details. This knowledge and contextualization of the past brings a freedom to dream, as she recovers what has been left behind through “archival family photographs, text, collages, environmental portraits, and the use of both grayscale and color.” By taking multiple paths, simultaneously, from different directions, this project considers perspectives from as many angles as possible and becomes a vehicle for healing that begins to carve out space for for the future, a future with room to dream.
The Honorable Mention winners receive $250 Cash Award, a feature on Lenscratch, a FUJIFILM X-E4 Body with XF27mmF2.8 R WR Lens Kit, Silver (MSRP $1,049.95 each), and a Lenscratch 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.
as our bodies lift up slowly
There isn’t a lot of space for dreaming in an oppressive world, so I use photography as a tool to create worlds where I freely navigate the various facets of my life experience and identity as a black woman. In my senior thesis project titled “as our bodies lift up slowly,” I weave the viewer between the past and present using archival family photographs, text, collages, environmental portraits, and the use of both grayscale and color. Heavily inspired by Octavia Butler’s novel Kindred, in which the young black protagonist Dana Franklin navigates a shifting timeline to uncover truths about her family lineage, I employ non-linear visual storytelling as a method to arrive at similar discoveries. I reflect upon my Haitian Catholic upbringing, the effects of generational trauma, and the relationships that have nurtured my growth. I create photographs that speak to and comfort my younger self, and the versions of myself that struggled to carry the weight of having poor mental health and low self-esteem. In revisiting the past and imagining the future, I have created space for myself to heal in the present.
Vanessa Leroy (b. 1996) is a photographer from Waltham, Massachusetts. She is currently completing her Bachelor of Fine Arts in Photography at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design. She remains on the hunt for new ways of seeing, remembering, and altering the world through photography. She is drawn to image-making because of the power it holds to create nuanced representation for marginalized people and uplift their stories. She sees photography as a tool for social justice, and with it, she hopes to create worlds that people feel as though they can enter and draw from, as well as provide a look into an experience that they may not personally recognize. Her work has been featured in The Washington Post, NPR, and exhibited at Gallery Kayafas in Boston, MA. IG@vanessaleroyphoto
Tell us about your growing up and what brought you to photography?
I was born in Cambridge, MA, and raised in Waltham, MA which is the city I still reside in. I was raised in a Haitian Catholic household with three other siblings, and I attended Catholic school from pre-K until 6th grade – the year photographic journey began. My uncle bought me a digital camera in the 6th grade for either my birthday or Christmas. The year before, I had written in my diary that I wanted to become a photographer and a florist. I was drawn to photography at the time because I’d always been interested in having the ability to create new worlds to enter into. Before photography, but also during, I’ve always loved to draw because of being exposed to the Japanese animated film Spirited Away when I was 5 years old. Watching that film so early on made me want to become an artist so that I could create worlds that were just as expansive as what I had witnessed on screen. I daydream often, especially so as a child and teen, and it was my biggest joy to be able to visualize my daily imaginations onto paper or through a camera. I primarily turned to photography at the end of high school going into college, because this medium turned out to be the best fit for my urge to both capture life as it happens and create mini-universes. Photography continues to help me find my voice and carve out space for myself in this world.
Congratulations on your Lenscratch Student Prize! What’s next for you? What are you thinking about and working on?
As of right now, I am currently in Atlanta continuing my photography project in which I interview and collaborate on images with queer couples in their home spaces and amongst the landscape as a way to shed light on the importance of interpersonal support in our communities in light of the oppression that is faced at societal and governmental levels. I also plan to continue expanding my other ongoing body of work “as our bodies lift up slowly” that I hope to turn into a published book, and I aim to create more editorial and fashion work. I hope to begin taking on photographic assignments for newspapers and magazines, and ultimately, I would like to become a photo editor so that I can extend photographic opportunities to other marginalized people who want to have their voices heard and communities uplifted.
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 am witnessing the photo world expanding to include more photographers of color, but black women photographers are statistically still the least booked for work and the least hired for photography positions across the board. In terms of support: access to mentors/established photographers/photo editors and photography facilities would be most beneficial to me and other black women photographers who want to succeed with primarily photographic careers. As a black and queer woman, I think the best way for me to leave my mark is to continue to care about the communities that I’m a part of and create work out of love. Connecting with others is one of the main reasons why photography leads the way for me, and I want to use the camera as a tool for community collaboration, elevation, and healing. Innovation is born when we share our experiences and ideas with each other, and I’ve been able to learn about (and possibly even develop my own) photographic languages through being present in these moments.
Are there any instructors or mentors you would like to acknowledge?
I would like to thank the professors I was taught by at Massachusetts College of Art and Design: Pamela Pecchio, Kathya Landeros, Robin Myers, Amani Willett, Claire Beckett, Matthew Monteith, and Billie Mandle. I would also like to thank my first-ever art teacher that encouraged me to become an artist, Mrs. Pinto.
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Lenscratch Student Prize Honorable Mention: Chantal LesleyJuly 22nd, 2021
Lenscratch Student Award Honorable Mention: Vanessa LeroyJuly 20th, 2021