The 2022 Lenscratch Student Prize Third Place Winner: Alana Perino
It is with pleasure that the jurors announce the 2022 Lenscratch Student Prize Third Place Winner, Alana Perino. Perino was selected for their lyrical and haunting project, Pictures of Birds, and is pursuing an MFA at the Rhode Island School of Design. The Third Prize Winner receives: a $500 Cash Award, a mini exhibition on the Curated Fridge, and a Lenscratch T-shirt and Tote.
Seashells wash ashore when their inhabitants depart. Like a fossil or a photograph, an empty seashell forever recalls the irrevocable goneness of its referent. Alana Perino’s ongoing series, Pictures of Birds, contends with the same domiciliary ghostliness present in these oceanic exoskeletons. The project is a stunning exploration of selfhood, family, and home within the Longboat Key retirement community in which members of Perino’s family reside.
In viewing Pictures of Birds, I experience the sensation of entering one image and exiting through another. Each of Perino’s photographs offers an opening that leads somewhere else: a calcified shell becomes the spiral of an ear, a feather wreath becomes long, dark tresses, the topography of sand becomes the curve of a belly. Perino’s images transgress and confuse the bounds of the anatomical and the ecological, and invite consideration over their cohabitation and exchange.
Alongside acts of transubstantiation (a process that constitutes photography itself), Perino explores the spatial and psychological infrastructure of a specific Floridian retirement community. Perino draws attention to material affirmations of wealth and health among the ever-present nature of privilege, illness, and mortality. They offer insight into the everyday mundanities and aspirations of a community preoccupied with death. Through photographs of porcelain figurines, familial gestures of care, and a permeating motif of water, Pictures of Birds invites attention to the material, psychological, and spectral spaces that precede one’s final return home.
Perino has spoken elsewhere of the cyclical nature of death and regeneration–an act of collaboration between the terrestrial and the airborne. Birds carry bones just as effortlessly as they carry seashells; they serve as ghostly conductors for the departed and the reborn. Perino invites the notion that–like migrating birds carrying earthly remains–the journey home is often a journey with ghosts. Amid their own search for home, Perino writes, “[I] ask the ghosts to tread gently as we simultaneously die and are reborn as something else entirely. Some of the ghosts are my ancestors. Some are angels. All are birds.”
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, Linda Alterwitz, Art + Science Editor of Lenscratch 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, Elizabeth Cheng Krist, Former Senior Photo Editor with National Geographic magazine and founding member of the Visual Thinking Collective, Hamidah Glasgow, Director of the Center for Fine Art Photography, Fort Collins, CO, Allie Tsubota, Artist and winner of the 2021 Lenscratch Student Prize, 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 and Educator, winner of the 2017 Lenscratch Student Prize.
Alana Perino was born in 1988 and grew up in New York City, the North Fork of Long Island, and the stretch of highway between the two. They studied European Intellectual History and Photography at Wesleyan University, where their questions concerning the nature of belonging were only further problematized. After working as a photojournalist in the Israeli-Palestinian territories, skeptical of the privileged nature of their stay, Alana returned to the United States. They lived in California for eight years, crisscrossing the country to photograph “American” heritage sites. In the summer of 2021 they returned to the East Coast to photograph the people and places that raised them. Alana resides on the unceded land of the Pokanoket, Wampanoag and Narragansett in Providence, Rhode Island where they are currently pursuing an MFA at RISD. They are still searching for home.
Follow Alana Perino on Instagram: @lanapino
Pictures of Birds
“Pictures of Birds” is an ongoing series examining selfhood, family, and home. Longboat Key, a Floridian island of condos and snowbirds, became the strange backdrop of my parents’ fading health and their children’s mourning process. This project is a deeply personal investigation of the ancestral traumas and privileges that shaped my family’s values and my concept of self. In this study of a specific family in a specific circumstance I aspire to question the nature of whiteness, class, and inheritance.
During my visits to Longboat Key, I immerse myself in the fears and aspirations of people preoccupied with death. I am drawn to how posture and gesture reveal the psychological. I call attention to the arrangement of a retirement community landscaped to affirm health and wealth and attempt to show the ways that this façade is compromised by the ever-present nature of illness and mortality. I search for the entanglement of the mundane and strange in domesticity, trying to reveal how birthright is conditioned on pedigree by highlighting the physical and cultural tensions of a mixed family. I feel that my photographs are successful when the boundaries between abundance and scarcity, vitality and despair, acceptance and critique, become porous or indistinguishable.
The photographs are a hybrid of the naturally occurring and the staged. Some scenes are drawn from memories, both real and imagined. Many are collaborative reconstructions of exposed emotional states. Others are stolen in moments of confusion, usually followed with the subject’s suggestion, “Why don’t you take pictures of birds?”
In this project I embrace the reality that my camera is always looking inward at who I am, what I fear becoming, and how I want to be remembered. It is a bitterly affectionate attempt to find strength in the insecurities of heritage.
Congratulations on being a 2022 Lenscratch Student Prize Winner! You mention growing up between New York City and Long Island (not unlike birds who migrate across the two). Can you tell us a bit about your experience moving between these landscapes?
Thank you so much, Allie! It is such a thrill to be recognized amongst so many talented photographers and I am incredibly grateful for this opportunity to talk about my practice and engage in community building.
Yes, I often say that I spent most of my formative years on the Long Island Expressway. It’s a joke, but it’s a joke that’s deeply rooted in my experience of home. My parents separated when I was very young and I was shuttled weekly between their homes for much of my childhood. These houses and apartments were exchanged for new ones so often that I have little to no recollection of many of them. Even when my parents settled into homes that became permanent, my instinct was that these homes weren’t mine and that it would take a lifetime to cultivate a home of my own. Because of this instability, I feel that I was never able to entrench myself in a particular place. In this way I have never felt that I “belonged” anywhere. My art practice emerged out of a distinct lack that I have always characterized as a longing to be “from” somewhere.
How did you arrive to photography, and what is your relationship to it now? Do you have relationships with other disciplines or mediums?
I began photographing when I decided to move full time to the East End of Long Island with my father. I was thirteen and had been living for some time mostly with my mother in Manhattan. I was beginning to feel pangs of nostalgia towards a city that I had largely grown to resent. As a way to work through that dissonance, I borrowed my mother’s camera and attempted something like street photography in the familiarly unfamiliar neighborhood I was supposed to call my home. I think I was using the camera to search for myself in the place I was leaving. Later I would use the camera to find myself in Long Island, in Connecticut, in the Israeli Palestinian territories, in California, and in Longboat Key. Recently I’ve been searching for myself again in my mother’s home. I find myself in my attachments to objects, sounds, and my somatic experience of the space. These considerations have ushered me to work in new disciplines such as sculpture, installation, and performance. These explorations are mostly nascent and I am unsure as to how they function in my practice, whether they can stand alone, or if they only serve the process of picture making.
What kinds of spectatorial responses do you hope Pictures of Birds evokes? Are there certain realms of sentiment or experience, or lines of inquiry you hope arise?
Many members of my family see ghosts, or communicate otherwise between the world of the living and the world of the dead. This has never been a gift of mine. Pictures of Birds became a way for me to communicate with the dead, not just those who predeceased me, but also my past selves, my sister’s past selves, and the selves that we constantly imagine and reimagine in response to life’s disappointments. If my instinct is right and my practice serves as a search for myself within place, then Pictures of Birds is a search that acknowledges the many versions of myself that have been created, destroyed, and reborn within the confines of my familial and ancestral bonds. Longboat Key happens to be the backdrop of these regenerations and encounters because my father chose to live and die there. In this way I encounter the inevitability of his death (and in turn my own) when I encounter Longboat Key, even while he is still alive. Perhaps this is the primary function of photography and therefore not unique to my images, but I hope that people who view my work have an experience communicating with something ghostly, something or which is simultaneously here and not here.
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