The Denis Roussel Award was started in 2018 to help continue the legacy of photographer and educator Denis Roussel and to highlight work done by photographers whose work is based on the historical/alternative photographic processes, including silver gelatin.
We would like to thank juror, author, and educator Christopher James who spent long hours reviewing the submissions.
Thank you to all of the photographers who applied for this award. The standard is set higher each year. We know this past year has been very hard and we appricate your interest in the Denis Roussel Award. It was very rewarding to see the wonderful work being submitted and to read your statements.
You inspire us.
Statement from Christopher James
First let me begin by sincerely thanking each of the artists for submitting such an impressive and eclectic selection of work for this most recent iteration of the Denis Roussel Award competition… and for making my task of selecting the images for the show so much fun.
It is particularly interesting to me that a significant number of submissions in the past two years, that I have been privileged to serve as the juror for the Denis Roussel Award, have been created in response to emotions generated by loneliness, trepidation, and isolation during a world-wide pandemic. Influenced by one’s own physical fragility or a loss due to illness or a memory of the heart, many of the artists have looked inward and discovered a blending of magic, creativity with the barest of materials and collaboration with the natural world… and what it offers materially or inspirationally when a trip for artist’s supplies is not a simple excursion to consider.
One of the criteria that I used as a marker for my selections was respect for the essential spirit of Denis Roussel… a love of the natural world, finding muse-worthy inspiration in the humble and non-spectacular discoveries of simple observation, and a love of the hand-made image. The symbiotic relationship of allowing the environment, and what is at-hand, to dictate the making of the image is lovely as an idea and is similar in concept to the portfolios that I feel best represent Denis Roussel’s spirit.
Contemporary image making is not about the technique employed, the camera in hand, or the preference of digital or analog capture. Nor is it about the “artifact” or accident within the image that so often represents photography’s version of gesture that miraculously makes an image artistic. Photography today is deeply integrated into every aspect of our lives and cultures and its heartbeat, the one that each of us nourishes, is allied to the traditions of studio practice where the images in this competition, more often than not, were driven by a need to make sense of the time we are experiencing and unsatiated curiosity to see how good we can be doing what we love.
As is the case in all juried exhibitions, the selection of work is only a representation of a juror’s personal imaging preferences over a week or two of repeat evaluations. A juror’s selections are not, in any way, a rendering of judgment upon the artists who put themselves, and their work, on the line and I did my best to offer personal impressions and suggestions to all who took the opportunity to show their work and share their ideas and lives.
The Roussel Award competition is unique in my experience. It allows for the opportunity of telling one’s story and that legend’s relationship with the work. In the same breath, it allows the juror to respond to the equally important facets of each artist’s life and creative process. This special dynamic, the creation of Rfotofolio allows, gives permission to a special intimacy and this year, like last, it was an honor to share with you all. Thank you.
The 2021 Denis Roussel Award
Cyanotype / Gum Bichromate / Handmade book
Such accomplished and beautiful work… precise, playful, clearly loved in the process of making. What I truly enjoyed was how many ways this work might be experienced in person especially if given the permission to hold and move the pages and complex elements that make up each piece. In the time-honored treasure and marriage of nature collected and archived, the work clearly demonstrates the artist’s love of the subject, the concept and the physical act of creating wonder as in the trompe l’oeil stacked pages (referencing the leaves in Whitman’s Leaves of Grass) A pleasure to look at look and experience.Christopher James
Works of Merit
Tri-colour bichromate gum over palladium
This work is so well done… I kept returning to it over the past few weeks and appreciating how nicely your activism and dedication to community, outreach and volunteerism, coupled with the symbolism of banging spoons on pots to honor health care workers during the pandemic, meshed so well with your lovely work. This was, indeed, “An Unexpected Collection” and a perfect marriage of your life and the art you make.Christopher James
Works of Merit
Wet Plate Collodion
What a strong portfolio of humanistic wet plate images in an industrial setting. Beautifully executed work and impressive in their modesty while accentuating the sensuality of both the subject and the process. The vanished ghosts of the workers returning to the site of their labors is a delight to imagine and to savor with the eyes. I have only one recommendation for you and it is a simple one having nothing to do with the work itself. Your statement is scholarly and erudite but it is, for me, actually too much so and it gets in the way, for me, of your beautiful imagery. I would recommend editing it all down to a single paragraph and letting the work carry the weight… which will do easily.Christopher James
To encourage creative work and the gifted practitioners that created it we are recognizing the following work as chosen by Christopher James and Rfotofolio.
This collection of chlorophyll portrait images rivals the work of my good friend Bin Danh (take that as a great compliment please) in that it exceeds the technique, making the power of the concept, connected to our current living in a pandemic reality, all the more powerful. There was a portfolio entered in last year’s Roussel competition that demonstrated the same exquisite energy, with attentiveness to the Roussel ethos of re-cycled materials, decay and the realities of the body in time. I wrote, “This portfolio is a perfect example of the fragility and mortality of living tissue and matter.” The difference between this collection, and the one I am referencing, is that this work has found a voice that steps outside of itself and is universal in its language.Christopher James
Phytogram/Cyanotype/Expired ortho litho film
Love the adventure in this work and wonder about the size of it and the physical material the images are created upon… the answers to that curiosity might better enhance the issues of sustainability you reference. I totally appreciate your adoption of the phytogram process (using the inherent chemistry of plant matter to represent images of themselves) as that collaboration echoes your own with materials from your father’s studio.Christopher James
This work is so exciting graphically and exploring the concept of a complete immersion in deep ocean, outer space or the inner space of one’s mind… emerging into a new special reality. I love your work and was immediately engaged. If it were mine, I might think about integrating these powerful drawings with a printmaking technique such as lithography, or maybe even better, monotypes which they most closely resemble.Christopher James
Such a complex and elementary concept taking the stage at the same moment. I really am intrigued with the ideas you are working with, especially the constant of the two exposures documenting the 8 minutes it takes for the light of the sun to reach the earth. If the project were mine, I would consider two things going forward… that because it is a conceptual consideration of a reality, context is critically important and so the subject beneath the two exposures of the sun is ripe for exploration. Second, the abstract elements of time and equivalents have a lot of subjective potential. For example, in Chinese calligraphy the “sun” stands for itself but it also has several other meanings such as “the day” or “daytime.” As well, it is the yang of yin and yang (like night and day) and oddly, in contemporary internet slang, as an interjection that translates as a four-letter profanity. This is, and will be, a fine marriage of art and science.Christopher James
The context of your narrative totally changes my relationship with the imagery. The tragedy of your 2010 accident, the arc of your life prior to it, the collaboration of friends to assist your vision with negative and print production and the meditations of life, sensuality, light and dark, life and death and the circle of life are essential in appreciating what you have created and are vital in seeing the connections to your life and art. Christopher James
Pretty exciting work for me to look at and think about. My first reaction was totally around the idea of cinema, specifically, Ingmar Bergman. The photopolymer gravures are really well done, so much so that the content became immediately more important than the technique… an attribute we need a lot more of in alternative process photography. I really like the concept of memory embodied in the landscape and latent embedded impressions made visible. Excellent work!Christopher James
The idea of collaborating with your father’s images is powerful and, in several cases, among my favorite works in this year’s Roussel competition… the rower in the boat and the flying man are wonderful! The working concept of this collaboration that defies time has my imagination’s attention and is epitomized by the line, “the picture that I want to make is a moment in time that is full of other times.” That’s beautiful.Christopher James
Morgan Ford Willingham
Your mother-daughter collaboration, attesting to “selfhood” and possibilities is rich with potential. For me, the Notions and Impressions concept has plenty of room to evolve and can be interpreted in both literal and interpretative ways. If the project were mine, I would look to your self-portrait using multiple pieces of fabric as a focused direction. Also, perhaps more playfulness, self-photograms on clothing worn for the portrait, so that the voice of childhood is a bit more defined.Christopher James
So much to think about in your Roussel entry… First, the title of Language Acquisition has many doors to open, not the least of which is how we all learn to speak in the Tower of Babel we inhabit. I love the chemical and text interaction, the geometry and multi-dimensionality of the sewn pieces (another metaphor?). There is also an exploration of gesture, an attribute that photography doesn’t readily have access to. That it is all camera-less and made of masks, symbols and language, using contemporary hand sanitizer as a resist and your breath as an activator, is pretty energizing for me as a viewer.
Two more observations… English as a language has implications of politics and power… be careful that it doesn’t get in the way of all the other great stuff going on. As well, consider getting away from 2-D and make sculptural pieces out of your geometric forms.Christopher James
Silver gelatin photograms toned with turmeric
I was profoundly influenced by your statement regarding your husband’s dire illness. Like the indelible turmeric you used to color the prints, my knowledge of your situation translated the images into ones where the subjective information was a cacophony of disease inside of the body, childhood memories and blurred, quickly moving, realities. It is a powerful collection of images in context with your life.Christopher James
There is no question that this installation-based work is profoundly important to you in its scale, influences of trauma and identity experience and the emotional scarring of a childhood immersed in homelessness and domestic violence. That you have the strength to make this work, and make it work, is impressive. I wish you had expanded more on the concept of Mulvey’s “female gaze” and think that had she known your work, when she coined that terminology, your work certainly would have been referenced. As a recent graduate of the art school scene, I’m sure you know the work of Catherine Opie, Sarah Lucas, Galina Manikova, Jenny Saville and Lee Price. Also, a rich archive of feminist writing from the 60’s and 70’s that gave birth to what you are creating now.Christopher James
The mordançage process is custom made for implying fragility of the flesh, decay, death and the impermanence of life. That you are manipulating both the film and the print is a nice adaptation. Your work is very strong and Sudre would have proud of what you have created. Christopher James
I like the organic and graphic quality of this work, all of which feels like illustrations for a Cormac McCarthy novel (that’s a compliment). Although your statement is rich in technical adaptations and detail, it is the drama of your tonalities, artifacts and markings within the landscape that captures my imagination. If I came across your work in a museum I would sit down on a bench and savor it.Christopher James
The quality of these images, the process, and unity of this portfolio and its meaning to the photographer impressed us. Well done!
We kept coming back to these images and that alone makes them worthy of recognition. We are very familiar with the silver gelatin process and know how gratifying it can be to create black and white images that make people stop and look again. Thank you.
Thank you to Christopher James for your thoughtful considerations. You did an amazing job. We hope his comments will inspire each artist to greater heights.
Thank you to Rachel Roussel-Diamond and family for your encouragement and support.
A special and continuing thank you to Josephine Sacabo for your support of the Denis Roussel Award and your support of Rfotofolio.
Thank you Denis for your friendship, inspiration and generousity.
To learn more about the work of Denis Roussel please click on his name.
Thank you to the following individuals and businesses.
Carol Boss and Hahnemühle paper.
Mark Nelson for the Precision Digital Negatives eBook and the “Precision Digital Negatives” custom 31 step standardized film step tablet. Precision Digital Negative.
Bostick & Sullivan for a two hundred-dollar gift certificate.
Christopher James for his donation of The Book of Alternative Photographic Processes 3rd Edition, Signed
Josephine Sacabo and Luna Press.
To learn more about the work of Denis Roussel please click on his name.
To learn more about Christopher James please click on his name.
To learn more about the photographers please click on their names.
Brilliant! Just brilliant! Thank you for supporting this work and ensuring that others have a chance, as I have, to spend morning with these wonderful images, and to be able to return to them again, as I am certain I will. Norm Snyder