Amy Elkins Black is the Day, Black is the Night

The Diane Marek Visiting Artist Series presents photographer Amy Elkins (Los Angeles, CA). Public Lecture Tuesday February 09, 5:30pm, Derthick Hall, 624 Vine Street, followed by an opening reception, Fine Arts Center, 752 Vine Street. Diane Marek Series activities February 08-12. Amy Elkins explores the human condition through intense strategies of portraiture. This exhibition centers on personal correspondence and extensive research surrounding several men serving life and death row sentences in prisons across the U.S. between 2009-2014. In addition "Parting Words", Elkins monumental visual archive incorporating the last words of some 530 prisoners executed in the state of Texas appears alongside. together these projects earned Elkins the highly competitive and prestigious 2014 Aperture Portfolio Prize.

February 09, 2016 - March 23, 2016

“Black is the Day, Black is the Night” is a conceptual exploration into the many facets of human identity using notions of time, accumulation, and distance. The five men featured in this exhibition had served between 13 and 26 years in maximum-security facilities by the time of Elkins’ contact. Spending an average of 22-1/2 hours a day in solitary cells roughly 6 feet by 9 feet in dimension, they faced their own mortality in total isolation stripped of personal context. Wondering how such an environment would impact one’s notion of reality, self-identity, and memory, Elkins developed formulas to create unique photographic portraits, landscape compositions, and place and object documentation, all specific to each of her correspondent’s recollections, age, and years incarcerated. Video and audio components included in the exhibition provide additional sensory access to the thoughts and emotions these men expressed in their correspondence.

Within the first three months of that project, one of the initial men Elkins wrote was executed in the state of Texas.  Going online to search for more information on the day of his execution, she discovered the Texas Department of Criminal Justice website and archive which provided the last recorded words and mug shots of those executed since 1976. Using this material, Elkins constructed “text field” portraits for her project titled “Parting Words”; 530 of these portraits appear in her exhibition in the Cress.

Elkins hopes that these projects brings some light to topics and issues about capital punishment and juvenile incarceration, the inequity that bears upon their application from state to state, and the legal and social debate about race and economic level that surrounds this discussion today. Two men were executed during their correspondence with Elkins after serving 12 and 15 years respectively on death row while still maintaining their innocence. In 2015, a man with whom she had corresponded since the project’s beginning was released from a sentence of life without parole given to him at the age of 16.  He had served 22 years in an adult super max prison, 17 of those in solitary confinement.  Had the Supreme Court not recently ruled that sentencing youth, who have committed non-homicide offenses, to life in prison without the opportunity for review is unconstitutional, his case may never have been reopened.

Yet ultimately, Elkins’ sensitive, poetic, and elegant imagery conjures associated complexities. Like metaphors, these powerful components of existence, life and death “are things that haunt us” Elkins remarks. “We’re scarred of living life to it’s full capacity because we don’t know what that experience can be like all the time, and it’s kind of terrifying what life can provide you. But we are all also scared of death. We don’t want to die. I wanted these two polar ends to be present in the project.”

Amy Elkins (b. 1979 Venice, CA) is a photographer currently based in the Greater Los Angeles area. She received her BFA in Photography from the School of Visual Arts in New York City. Elkins has been exhibited and published both nationally and internationally, including at Kunsthalle Wien in Vienna, Austria; the Center for Creative Photography, Tuscon, AZ; the Minneapolis Institute of Arts; North Carolina Museum of Art; Light Work Gallery, Syracuse, NY, Aperture Gallery and Yancey Richardson Gallery, NYC; the DeSoto Gallery in Los Angeles; and the Houston Center for Photography, Houston, TX, among others.  Elkins has been awarded with the Lightwork Artist-In–Residence, Syracuse, NY (2011), the Villa Waldberta International Artist- in-Residence, Munich, Germany (2012), the Aperture Prize and the Latitude Artist-in-Residence (2014), and the Peter S. Reed Foundation Grant (2015). Elkins also engages an active free-lance and commission practice as a photographer and recently finished a photo project on artist Ed Ruscha for the Financial Times Weekend Magazine. Elkins is represented by Yancey Richardson Gallery, NYC.

Amy Elkins Nine Years Out of a Death Row Sentence (Forest), inkjet print