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Aperture Foundation Announces the Grand Prize Winner and Five Runners-Up of the Third Annual Aperture Portfolio Prize
2009 Portfolio Prize Winner: Alexander Gronsky: The Edge/Pastoral.

NEW YORK, NY.- Over one thousand artists submitted their work to the third annual Aperture Portfolio Prize competition, which concluded in November 2009. A team of Aperture judges has awarded the top prize to Russia’s Alexander Gronsky for his projects The Edge and Pastoral. This year, five runners-up were selected: New York–based Keliy Anderson-Staley, Alejandro Cartagena of Mexico, Brooklynite Maureen Drennan, San Francisco–based Jason Hanasik, and Mark Lyon of Marlboro, New York. Aperture is showcasing the work of each artist on the foundation’s website for one year; the winner will also receive a $2,500 cash prize.

Now in its third year, the Aperture Portfolio Prize fulfills Aperture’s ongoing mission to champion new trends in contemporary photography and support the work of emerging artists. An exhibition by the 2008 winner, Australian photographer Michael Corridore, entitled Angry Black Snake, is currently on view at Aperture Gallery through April 8, 2010. Proceeds from the sale of the prints will benefit Corridore and Aperture’s Emerging Artist Fund.

Additionally, all Portfolio Prize winners are given the chance to participate in Aperture’s limited-edition print program, whereby Aperture offers to market, publicize, and sell one or more of the photographer’s prints at Aperture Gallery and online through Aperture collaborates with the artists on the selection of the work(s), the size of the edition, and the price point, and all proceeds from the sales go to the artist and Aperture’s Emerging Artist Fund. All the 2009 winners are participating in Aperture’s limited-edition print program.

Following are details on the 2009 winner and runners-up:

2009 Winner:
Alexander Gronsky photographs areas of Moscow that are neither entirely urban nor rural, revealing the ambiguous spaces in which city dwellers relax and find solace in nature. Far from idyllic settings, the edge of the city looms in the background of the photographs with its faint skyline and construction cranes, leaving the viewer aware that these natural settings exist within a vaster urban context. The people in the photographs are detached even in their revelry, interacting with each other and with the land, but not particularly connected. Snow appears to unify the landscape and connect the figures, covering and abstracting every surface while obscuring the distinctions. Even so, here it serves more to highlight the perimeters of the figures—ducks appear as a group of individuals in the snow, rather than a flock. Such separation is emphasized again and again between the figures themselves, as well as between them and the environment they inhabit. Just as Gronsky’s work observes these types of boundaries and divides, it also explores the human drive to transgress them. We are reminded that the most delicate and intricate creatures often exist within bleak, abstract landscapes. The city dweller’s quest may be impossible, but it is deeply human in its searching. In Gronsky’s visual world, and in ours, the world and its inhabitants can be experienced, but not fully comprehended.

2009 Runners-Up:
Evocative of a sort of survivalist Dada—part log cabin and part Merzbau—the dwellings in Kelly Anderson-Staley’s (b. 1977) Off the Grid series are testaments to the lives and values of the people who built them. Blending a documentary approach with topographic style, architectural interiors and exteriors accompany nuanced portraits to provide a fresh look at a lifestyle that is as progressive as it is atavistic. Rooted in personal experience, these photographs are part of an ongoing project documenting the lives of a number of families who have—for political, economic, religious, or environmental reasons—chosen to make their homes in the Maine woods.

The photographs in Lost Rivers by Alejandro Cartagena (b. 1977), which are part of a larger body of work entitled Suburbia Mexicana: Cause and Effect, interrogate the interdependence of humans and landscape in the face of urban expansion. Although artists and activists alike have placed intense focus on the negative impact of urban sprawl since the 1960s, Cartagena’s work is unique in its preoccupation with the subtler effects of suburban expansion, largely overlooked but indicative of significant, irrevocable change within a local ecosystem. Formally, Cartagena’s photographs recall the monumental images of Minor White and Ansel Adams, while simultaneously reaching further back to the landscape paintings of the Hudson River School.

Maureen Drennan’s Meet Me in the Green Glen considers marijuana grower Ben as he goes about life and work on his farm in California. Ben occupies an ambiguous position in his community; growing pot in California is legal, but still carries a sense of social and cultural stigma. Drennan’s photographs register a subtle sense of isolation amid Ben’s watery fields, clapboard home, and greenhouse, all deeply insulated from the clamor of the outside world. The artifacts of Ben’s existence—a pin-up poster in his barn, a set of binoculars perched awkwardly on a picnic table—feel like the traces of someone who looks in on the world rather than participating in it. Drennan’s approach to the contentious matter of marijuana harvesting is striking in its quiet intimacy—a pleasant counterpoint to the primarily photojournalistic coverage of the issue.

Despite commonly held assumptions, complex visual treatments of straight male masculinity are hard to come by. One could even argue that artists avoid the subject, perhaps for fear of veering uncontrollably into the realm of homoeroticism, a trap of sorts that presents itself at both the most and least overt ends of the masculine continuum. In light of this trend, Jason Hanasik’s (b. 1981) He Opened Up Somewhere Along the Eastern Shore is quite remarkable. Invoking the Soldier—commonly a tired, shop-worn masculine trope—Hanasik upends expectations, creating a beguiling portrayal of a gender (and military) in limbo, where individual men struggle to navigate the cultural expectations put upon them.

Mark Lyon's (b. 1979) series Landscapes for People is organized around a simple hook—photographic wallpapers in situ—but the resulting images are strangely riveting and visually disorienting. These wall-sized murals feature stereotypical nature images of ür-beauty: pristine forests, waterfalls, mountains, brightly colored flowers in full bloom—in other words, classically kitsch representations of the picturesque. Most frequently found in functional spaces like waiting rooms, dentist offices, laundromats, and baggage claims, these murals offer a false promise of escape from the tediousness of the reality at hand. Lyon’s work is an enjoyable meta-meditation on the inescapable presence of the photographic image in our lives, the disconcerting pull that an idealized image exerts on us despite being identifiably fictitious, and the unexpected pleasure that comes from being drawn into these contemporary trompe-l'oeils.

The deadline for the summer 2010 Aperture Portfolio Prize is Wednesday, July 14, 2010, at 12:00 noon EST. All entrants will be contacted with final results by November 1, 2010.

Aperture Portfolio Prize | Alexander Gronsky | Jason Hanasik | Maureen Drennan | Alejandro Cartagena |

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