First Place Winner: Alison A. Smith: Cut Hair & Hydrangeas
N.Y. Photo Curator: Global Photography Awards- 'Where Photography & Philanthropy Meet' First Place Winner: Alison A. Smith: Cut Hair & Hydrangeas  (Click on image for larger view)
CUT HAIR & HYDRANGEAS by Alison A. Smith
(Click on image for larger view)

Curator Yorgos Efthymiadis' review: " In Alison A. Smith’s photograph, the cut hair, still held together by a tight white bow and delicately kept in a wooden box, acts as a reminder of growth and change, a remnant of a past life.

This mournful ritual denotes the loss of innocence, a transition; but at the same time it respects and treasures the years that were left behind. The pair of scissors activates the scene. A decision was made to let go of the past, move on, and become someone else.

This sense of passing of time is amplified by the half burned candles on the bruised candlesticks, and the dry, lifeless, but still beautiful hydrangeas that surround them. Smith’s arrangement is meticulous, subtle and quiet—a masterful composition."

Efthymiadis says, "Your arrangements are very well composed. Can you walk us through your process? 
Smith says, "Accessibility of my arrangements makes a big difference. It allows me enough time for the concept and composition to emerge and be revised over time.  I work in a small, natural light studio in my home – a converted solarium of sorts – that has floor-to-ceiling windows on one side and a row of skylights.  Because the workspace is in my home, I am able to observe the changing light and build the arrangements as quickly or slowly as I need.  As my studio is right in the middle of my living space, I am constantly aware of changing light and other conditions.  Staying engaged is more dependent on other demands on my time. As a faculty member, the academic calendar pulls me away at times, but also provides concentrated time for my artistic practice over breaks.  
I keep an on-going sketchbook journal of ideas and a running list of objects I’m in pursuit of finding.  The most inspirational objects are individual items to which I have a personal connection.  These are objects inherited from family members, natural items grown on my home property, or objects I’ve found at auction and shops, or even items I use on a regular basis. Most objects fall under the category of “vintage.”  As I choose objects, I make a point to include a mixture of natural, man-made, new and old. 
I often build the compositions around one key object, with other supporting or opposing objects to echo, emphasize or contrast the concept.  When I find the best positioning given the time of day and season of the year, natural light activates the otherwise inanimate objects in a way that transforms and accentuates certain characteristics and textures.
When composing the concept, as in Still Life with Cut Hair and Hydrangeas, I reference symbolism of objects used historically in the Still Life genre. For example, the extinguished candles commonly represent the passage of time. The theme of preservation, in this particular piece, can be interpreted through reading the objects and their placement. The bundle of cut hair is placed in a keepsake box, laid open for viewing, surrounded by dried and preserved hydrangea blooms. One artificial bloom in the background contrasts with the others, perhaps calling into question our own perception. A pair of scissors in the foreground alludes to the act of cutting as in the bundle of hair. Long hair is often synonymous with youth and femininity – the cutting of the long hair, an act of defiance."
Efthymiadis says, "How do you treat the discoveries you make while adjusting and rearranging your still life?"
Smith says, "Given that I am a planner and I like order, the arrangement component of this kind of work appeals to those sensibilities. But like life – things don’t always go as planned despite our best preparations – it is the uncertainty in this work that brings the photograph to life. Rather than implementing artificial strobe lighting, for the near total control it provides, the constantly changing sunlight is my collaborator.
But the sun is a demanding partner. Despite a great deal of planning and observation in tracking the placement of the light and its impact on the placement of objects, I am often forced to revise or reimagine the piece.  
While the genre sometimes carries the connotation of being stuffy, boring and slow – in other words “Still Life” – I’ve found it anything but. I’m often hurried and stressed when the light is low or moving fast and I only have a window of a few minutes to capture a few exposures before the alignment disappears. 
For some pieces, I may have the installation and arrangement loosely mapped out in my sketchbook. When I’ve set up on the day of the shoot, something about the light may compel me to try something else, and I swap out or add a different object.  This change of direction often happens when I’m “in the flow” and completely focused. It isn’t something I could have planned for ahead of time – the composition simply demands the pressure of the moment to reveal what was or wasn’t working.   
There’s no way around the constant finessing or obsessing – as some people would call it – over the most minute placement details.  As I’m working, I contrast what I am seeing live in front of me with what it looks like under the dark cloth of a 4x5 large format camera, through the inverted view on the ground glass.  Aside from that maneuver and the digital test snap-shots, I never quite know if I’ve got it right until the film is processed.  While these are all lessons in patience, the process is exciting and engaging every step of the way."
Alison Smith says, "The works in the series, Vestige: Still Life, capture arranged, small-scale domestic scenes inspired by the classic and contemporary still life genre.  Using “antique” objects -- purchased or inherited, cultivated or wild plantings from the land around my home or newly produced goods, I create a subtle tension between the natural and artificial. The tensions created by the various objects serve as a metaphor for clashes between personal and societal expectations and the ambivalences such tensions create.  Serving both symbolic and indexical functions, the objects and the use of ambient, natural light also point to the passage of time, changing of seasons, growth, aging and loss.
I use a hybrid workflow, which results in a different balance of preparation and control of the process, while also allowing some chance.  All images are captured with a 4x5 large format view camera and color negative film, scanned, then edited and outputted as large-scale, digital archival pigment prints."
Alison A. Smith is a photographer who is interested in the built environment -- particularly the suburban landscape -- including domestic spaces and arranged still life.
Alison earned an MFA in Studio Art - Photography with Distinction from the Lamar Dodd School of Art at the University of Georgia in Athens, Georgia in 2010. She earned a BFA in Studio Art - Photography with a minor in Women's Studies from Miami University, Oxford, Ohio in 2006. Her work has been exhibited in national photography galleries, centers, university galleries and museums including most recently: Midwest Center for Photography - Wichita, KS, The Center for Fine Art Photography - Fort Collins, CO, The Hite Institute, Schneider Hall Galleries at the University of Louisville, and the Fort Wayne Museum of Art - Fort Wayne, IN.  
Alison is currently serving as a senior lecturer and photography lab manager at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, in the Department of Cinema & Photography, College of Communication and Media Arts.

instagram: alison_a_smith