Each month the Vita Art Center exhibits the art of outstanding contemporary artists. On the First Friday of each month the Vita Art Center along with other venues in Ventura hosts a free community reception open to the public,
Black is the Day, Black is the Night
Preview Champagne Reception: Saturday, March 30, 4-7pm
$10. (members free)
First Friday Opening: April 5 from 6-9 p.m.
Exhibit Dates: March 30 thru April 20
Of the 2.3 million people incarcerated in the United States, an estimated 100,000 of them are kept in solitary confinement, often for years on end. Black is the Day, Black is the Night, a project spanning from 2009-2016, explores how that type of long-term isolation and incarceration can affect an individual's psychology, sense of self, and perception of reality. Through personal correspondence with men serving life and death sentences, I created images that attempt to showcase the unexpectedly vulnerable aspects of my pen pals' incarcerated lives. Using appropriated material, I created composite landscapes of memories shared in letters, overlaying them to account for the number of years each had spent in prison as well as pixelated portraits using an image loss ratio of years behind bars to years alive. I constructed objects with instruction from my pen pals like jump ropes made of bedsheets and paint sets made of dissolved candy and tap water. I sent these images to them. This went on for years. Of the seven men I originally wrote with: one man was released in 2010 at the age of thirty after spending 15 years in prison. Three men eventually opted to move on from the project. One man was executed in 2009 after spending 12 years on death row, another executed in 2012 after spending over 15 years on death row, both of which maintained their innocence throughout their sentences. And most recently, one of the men was released early from a life without parole sentence that had been given to him at the age of 16. Leading up to his release, he had served twenty-two years in an adult super max prison, seventeen of which were spent in solitary confinement.
Amy Elkins is a visual artist primarily working in photography whose work explores the multifaceted nature of masculine identity as well as the psychological and sociological impacts of incarceration. Her approach is series-based, steeped in research and oscillates between formal, conceptual and documentary.
Elkins received a BFA in Photography from the School of Visual Arts in New York City. She has been exhibited both nationally and internationally, including at The High Museum of Art in Atlanta, GA; Kunsthalle Wien in Vienna, Austria; the Center for Creative Photography in Tucson, AZ; the Minneapolis Institute of Arts; North Carolina Museum of Art; among others. Her work has been featured in numerous publications including Aperture, Harpers, Newsweek, New York Times Magazine, PDN and Vice. She received the Lightwork Artist-in-Residence in Syracuse, NY in 2011, the Aperture Prize and the Latitude Artist-in-Residence in 2014 and The Peter S. Reed Foundation Grant in 2015.
Her first book Black is the Day, Black is the Night won the 2017 Lucie Independent Book Award. It was Shortlisted for the 2017 Mack First Book Award and the 2016 Paris Photo-Aperture Foundation Photobook Prize as well as listed as one of the Best Photobooks of 2016 by TIME, Humble Arts Foundation, Photobook Store Magazine and Photo-Eye among others.
"Every image, most pronouncedly the portraits of the men themselves, is marked by compromise — pixelation or blur or another form of indeterminacy. The amount of "image loss," as Elkins describes it, reflects the proportion of years the men have served to total years lived. Erosion of the self and suppression of spirit are utterly clear, just as the pictures are not." - Leah Ollman, Los Angeles Times
"Through rendering their portraits and the images of places they told Elkins they would never see again into something vague and indecipherable (the portraits are digitally distorted based on the ratio of how much time the men had spent in prison, so the longer, the hazier), she somehow humanizes them. Seeing these elusive, immaterial images of real people living life in prison is powerful, the visual significators reminding us that just as memory cannot sustain itself when it is pulled from place and time, even a person’s self gradually evaporates when isolated for so long." - Joel Beers, OC WEEKLY
"As viewers, we are invited to puzzle over an assortment of clues, including reenactments, exhibits submitted for our considerations, partial evidence, and statements both leading and misleading. The work is elegiac and provocative, asking the viewer to engage above and beyond a simple, cursory viewing of these images." - Leslie A. Martin, Aperture Foundation
"Photographer Amy Elkins offers an unflinching contemplation of capital punishment and identity in a culture of mass incarceration." - Mass Appeal
"Elkins ponders the psychological impact incarceration has on inmates, using blurry and pixelated photos to imagine how life on the inside shapes and distorts an inmates’ perception of reality and awareness." Pete Brook, WIRED Magazine
"Rather than a documentary angle, Elkins has chosen artifacts and scenes that reveal both the preponderance of time on death row (enough time to become a poet, learn calligraphy, read voraciously) and it’s corrosive qualities as it ineffably moves these prisoners toward the end. It’s a tough project, but one that reveals Elkins’ profound sensitivity to the shades of gray in this potentially black-and-white issue." - Arts and Culture, TX
"Elkins’ imagery of the darkness in the lives and deaths of these men may be morose, but optimism is intrinsic to her determination to see the world from their perspective." - Artillery Magazine