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Aaron Vincent Elkaim: 2016 Finalist

Meandering 1600 km before connecting to the Amazon River, the Xingu River has been home to Brazil’s indigenous people for millennia. In 1961, the famous Brazilian activist and anthropologist trio the Villas-Bôas brothers succeeded in protecting the entire upper Xingu basin through the establishment of the first Indigenous Park in Brazil. Fifteen years later, under military dictatorship, a new plan would seal the fate of the lower Xingu. The original plans for the Belo Monte Dam Complex included six dams and would flood 1,225 km² of Rainforest. In 1989, indigenous groups led by the Kayapó mounted a massive public campaign to oppose its construction due to fears that their river would be destroyed. International financiers soon pulled their support, and the project was shelved.

In 2007, then Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva announced the Accelerated Growth Program, the largest investment package to spur economic growth in Brazil in the past forty years. A cornerstone of this program is the industrialization of the Amazon, with a reworked plan for Belo Monte at the forefront of a proposal to construct over sixty major hydroelectric projects. Now nearing completion, the Belo Monte Dam is considered the third largest dam in the world and is displacing over twenty thousand people.


Hydroelectric dams are touted as clean and renewable sources of energy, yet hundreds of square miles of land are flooded and complex river ecosystems permanently transformed while new infrastructure and population growth open the forests to increased logging, mining, and agriculture. Environmentalists believe Brazil’s energy demands could be solved with solar and wind investment; meanwhile, Brazilian corruption scandals have been connected to what is now the largest infrastructure project in South America.

When a river is dammed an entire region is changed forever. Where the River Runs Through explores the lives of those living within Brazil’s dam boom. Indigenous and riverine people who depend upon their environment for survival are facing new realities as the Belo Monte Dam nears completion; at the same time programs meant to compensate the impacted people remain unfulfilled. On the neighboring Tapajos River, the Munduruku Tribe of thirteen thousand people, are fighting against government plans to build the next mega dam, the San Luiz do Tapajos, that would flood their traditional territory and destroy the river that is their sacred home.

The impacts of hydroelectric energy are severely misunderstood around the world; the realities of this “green energy” fall on the remote communities who are directly impacted. Where the River Runs Through seeks to recognize their voices so we can better understand what is lost when a river is dammed. —Aaron Vincent Elkaim

Andy Richter: 2016 Finalist

Serpent in the Wilderness is an ongoing visual meditation on yoga. While this ancient Indian science has deep roots in Hindu mythology and doctrine, today it is mainstream, global and growing in popularity. In Sanskrit, the word “yoga” is used to signify connection or union and is associated with heightened awareness of oneself. It is both a series of techniques for realization and state of being. While the external form and the context may vary—from turban-wearing Sikhs of the Kundalini tradition, to chanting Bhakti yogis of the Krishna Consciousness movement, to spandex clad urban yogis sweating in the studio—all practices point to greater awareness, a peaceful mind, a healthy body and a compassionate heart.


Today in the United States, over twenty million people practice yoga. Soldiers returning form conflict zones are practicing Transcendental Meditation to deal with Post Traumatic Stress. Prisoners are transforming their relationship to anger and violence through yoga. Scientific research continues to support the mental, emotional and physiological benefits of yoga and meditation. Over five years, I have traveled to places that are historically relevant to its past and others that embody its present. From living rooms across America to ashrams and caves throughout India, the work reveals hidden layers and rarely seen dimensions of yoga.

Despite yoga’s worldwide growth and appeal, understanding and media attention tends to be superficial, focused on celebrity yogis, or the physical, youthful and commercial aspects of the practice. Yet this project suggests it is something more: a profound spiritual path and way of life that is both accessible and transcends cultural barriers. —Andy Richter

Janet Pritchard: 2016 Finalist

Yellowstone National Park is an iconic American landscape that helped to define national character in the 19th century and remains a place of wonder and the embodiment of landscape preservation as an ideal. In More Than Scenery: Yellowstone, an American Love Story I follow three threads of inquiry, a form of visual triangulation where each inquiry surveys the Yellowstone story from a different vantage point.

Views from Wonderland depicts visitors in our time. Many feel wonder when visiting this landscape, and these photographs capture that experience, giving the viewer a taste of what it is like to be there. Collecting Yellowstone depicts objects in archives and expressions of popular culture. Here reminders of the special role Yellowstone plays as a national symbol, as an ideal, are made visible. Stories from the Ecosystem depicts Yellowstone’s natural history wonders and sites of management complexities. People are drawn to Yellowstone to see its wonders, but the notoriously complex management and resource issues keep Yellowstone safe.


When the threads are woven together, viewers will see wonders layered with present day realities, while historical treasures and popular culture push against preservation and management complexities; the voices of many are present. My methodology—termed historical empathy by a colleague in history—grounds my image making in historical and archival research and helps me see the landscape with new eyes. These visual strategies yield a fuller, more complex, and nuanced picture of Yellowstone.

More Than Scenery photographically maps the terrain of Yellowstone National Park as a real and ideal landscape, as a public and a personal landscape across generations, weaving diverse images with original text, quotations, and maps to create a community of observations and ideas, much like a visual ecosystem, supporting my thesis that Yellowstone National Park is indeed more than scenery. —Janet Pritchard

Joshua Dudley Greer: 2016 Finalist

Early settlers imagined the New World as a pristine, uninhabited wilderness—a landscape of unparalleled beauty, magnitude, and possibility. Yet the driving impulse of expansion was rarely to commune with nature, but more often a desire to carve a garden from these wilds and create a new civilization, unique from all others. Lines began to be drawn, initially through agriculture and settlements, then railways and cities, and eventually the road.

Today the American landscape is carved up by nearly 4,000,000 miles of roadways that lead us from the city to the wilderness and all spaces in between. The Interstate Highway System in particular has permanently altered the way we experience the surrounding landscape. By leveling mountains, mowing down forests and circumventing rivers, we have created an easily accessible, anonymous space that allows us to enact our fantasies and freedoms, but is also forcing us to reconcile a new and deeper understanding of place. While some may view this infrastructure as nothing more than a necessary evil of modern existence, it can also be seen as a manifestation of our collective consciousness—our failures and aspirations. The ideas of mobility, prosperity, community, and growth, cornerstones of the American Dream, still seduce many of us to strike out on the road in search of something beyond what our daily lives provide. For some it may be a job or a lifestyle, for others an escape. Whatever the motivation may be, we are all visitors somewhere.


The photographs that comprise Somewhere Along the Line have been made on an extensive series of road trips taken throughout the United States over the past six years. Drawing on references from history, film, and literature, the contemporary American landscape is depicted as a stage where narratives play out and opposing forces intersect. The boundaries that line this landscape, whether real or imagined, are examined by looking at the separations between public and private space, privilege and need, the individual and the collective, and the countervailing ideas of home and escape. The sites and people depicted are all united by the influence of the road, by our shared history, and by my attempts to reconcile the past with the present. —Joshua Dudley Greer

Jamie Diamond: 2016 Finalist

Mother Love and the Reborn Doll explores the Reborn community, an international group of self-taught female artists who hand-make, collect, and interact with hyper-realistic dolls. Practitioners are divided principally into makers and collectors, who meet at annual conventions to buy and sell their work. Doll purchases are considered adoptions, and outside of the conventions take place online via the maker’s eBay nurseries.

After initially struggling to make contact with the community, I decided to go to the first annual Reborn convention, which took place in North Carolina in 2011. This was my introduction to the Reborners. The community is much misunderstood and has, over time, been exploited in the press—their practice deemed by some as curious or fringe behavior. As a result, they were understandably suspicious of outsiders bearing cameras. After the convention, I spent the following year traveling across America investigating and recording their practice, working with makers and collectors, and photographing them with their dolls in their homes.


As I got to know more about the Reborners themselves, I became fascinated by their practice—not only in the degree of artistry involved in their doll making, but in their engagement with and interest in the extended mother-child paradigm. The relationship between artifice, representation, reality, and memory is an essential part of this work. After over a year of collecting material, I found the dolls, the totems of the community’s shared behavior, created with such skill and dedication, to be the most fascinating aspect. Subsequently, I realized the only way I could ever fully understand the community and the art making that went into it, was to become a Reborner myself. I spent months travelling across the country learning the craft from the most skilled Reborn doll artists, and documented the process in the first part of the Mother Love series, Nine Months of Reborning.

Two related bodies of work from the Mother Love series explore the process of artistic customization from a common source material. The Amy Project captures the way in which artists individually interpret and idealize the same doll and the Jesus Series explores the presentation of an artist’s personal, ideal representation of the singular Christ Child figure. ­—Jamie Diamond

Cody Bratt: 2016 Finalist

Growing up in the California foothills, I was captivated by the Gold Rush ruins and historical marks left on the land. As an only child raised in a rural area, I spent much of my childhood alone, left with plenty of time to indulge in imaginative, fictional histories for these lost places that entranced me.

Love We Leave Behind consists of two intertwined threads: landscapes and portraits. The combination represents and merges two distinct image making processes. The landscapes were made by traveling—day and night—through thousands of miles of seemingly unbound spaces in California and Nevada. In contrast, the portraits were shot in short (one to two hour) sessions in small and confined spaces; the only variables being the room, the model, and myself.


Once home, I tried to find image pairs which conversed with each other and allowed for the exterior and interior elements of both to blend together. A similar thing occurs when we actually   inhabit a space—we aren’t independent actors—we’re fused with the space while we’re present. I wanted to ask two questions: As we build places into the land and pass through them, what sorts of marks do our interior emotional lives leave behind? And, as those places age and disappear, does that emotional residue continue to persist in a detectable fashion?

In the end, by fusing both documentary and fictional narrative approaches, I aimed to open enough ambiguity in the realness of the story for the answer to those questions to be dependent on the viewer’s own relationship with the images. In other words, it’s likely that our longevity is entirely dependent on the stories we choose to tell ourselves about the places we’ve been. —Cody Bratt