I was thrilled to hear my photography series, Visions of Johanne – The Aging Female Body, a 15-year exploration of a woman’s life in her 70s and 80s, was selected by Olivier C. Laurent, former Editor of LightBox, TIME’s photography website, as a winner of the New Orleans Photo Alliance’s 2017 Michael P. Smith Fund for Documentary Photography.
The exposure I received from the social media announcement and online exhibition expanded the audience familiar with this photographic series and drove traffic to my website, www.ambershields.com. Then, participating in the artist talk held at NOPA gallery in July was a great opportunity to meet New Orleans Photo Alliance’s former executive director, Amy Williams, Grant Program Chair, Zack Smith and the NOPA community. I was also excited to connect with the other two recipients, Stacy Kranitz and Marisa Chafetz – photographers whose work I have admired.
I used the proceeds from the Michael P. Smith Fund to purchase fine art inkjet paper and framing supplies to make exhibition prints for a two-person exhibition, Body is a Bridge, I participated in at the Visual Arts Center at the University of Texas at Austin.
After working on Visions of Johanne – The Aging Female Body for over 15 years, which included scanning hundreds of rolls of 120mm film, I was excited to finally see the images outside of a computer as large format pigment prints. Not only was it satisfying, it reassured me that Johanne’s story needed to be told. Her pale pink and blue skin tones and fragile stature took on a whole new gravity.
The framed photographs gave gallery visitors the ability walk up to an image of Johanne and look into her eyes, which was impactful and moving in ways I had not expected. For example, many men came up to me during the exhibition opening, with tears in their eyes, to express the power the photographs had on them. The images also gave college students an insight into the female-specific aging process, a phase of a woman’s life often ignored by western mainstream media.
All this was made possible in part from receiving a grant from the Michael P Smith Fund for Documentary Photography.