Every four years, the LOOK3 Festival of the Photograph in Charlottesville, Virginia, hosts an intensive, three-day event known as LOOKbetween, where early-career photographers gather with editors, curators, and veteran photographers to share and develop their work. Participants hail from more than twenty countries, representing a range of disciplines—from portraiture to documentary photography, from photojournalism to still life.
As part of its commitment to publishing photography, VQR teamed up with LOOKbetween in 2010 to showcase that year’s class in a special issue. Now we’ve partnered with LOOKbetween again to showcase five photographers—all from the class of 2014—in an expanded Breaking Through portfolio. Some of them have had more exposure than others, but all of them share what Victoria Hindley, executive director of LOOK3, describes as “a quality that’s impossible to explain. You can see it in the work when somebody has it all together: Not just skill without the heart, or passion without skill, but vision, integrity, and heart. That’s what we look for, and they all have it.”
Like many photographers, Lauren Grabelle followed her impulses, and in doing so traded a life on the East Coast for the natural spectacle of Montana, which provides the backdrop for much of her project “Surveilling the West.” Grabelle says she’s been careful to avoid the path worn by hundreds of professional nature photographers “lugging their 600-millimeter lenses” into the wild. “I realized that there was plenty to say about nature and the West without photographing the grandness of it,” she says. Instead she focuses on ironic intersections of people and nature. “There are the animals, of course. But in a peculiar way, we’re here, too.”
Yuyang Liu began taking photographs when he was just a high-school student in Chengdu, China. Three years later, he’d amassed a singular archive of the teenage quotidian, with a startling range of emotion and effect. Titled “Home of Youth,” his photo essay is a bold celebration of China’s teen culture, and a reminder of how easily the trials and truths of being young transcend geopolitical boundaries.
One summer, Eric Kruszewski traveled with the crew of Davis Amusements, documenting the subculture of a carnival as it crisscrossed the Pacific Northwest. In “Carny Chronicles,” Kruszewski peels back the layers of this longstanding tradition of surreal Americana without tripping over clichés—capturing a tangle of races, classes, moods, and colors; a mix of giddiness and boredom; even a child’s winsome stare at the bright lights of a Tilt-a-Whirl at dusk.
Lebanon is an unlikely place for a former nurse from Minnesota to land and begin a career as a photographer. But like Grabelle, Alex Potter says she was simply following her gut and seizing a moment. Though she was never formally trained, Potter, just twenty-four, has been selected for a number of prestigious reviews, workshops, and fellowships since she started shooting in 2011. Now based in Yemen, she has documented much of that country’s recent political narrative and culture, adding to a body of work that includes Turkey and Lebanon, the setting for her essay “After the Funeral.”
Anna Beeke’s “At Sea” is another work in progress that captures a strange nexus between people and nature—in this case, cruise culture, an oceanic world of leisure that, as Beeke points out, is “hardly about the ocean at all.” In this series, the sublime is everywhere and nowhere at once, constantly mediated by this mammoth commercial enterprise. And yet, photographing the members of this “self-contained, floating community, with most of the amenities of home, if not more,” Beeke finds a way, through artful composition, to make the sublime the common denominator.
From Lebanon to Bigfork, from Chengdu to Oregon to the Bahamas, what follows is a spectrum of experiences filtered through the talents of those who, as Hindley puts it, have it—the heart, the integrity, the vision—all put together.
Lauren Grabelle, “Surveilling the West”
Grabelle’s photo essay captures an Easterner’s view of this region’s visual surprises while dismantling its stereotypes. She admits, though, that the theme, like the West itself, is too big to peg in a line. “I don’t fully know what I’m saying about the West,” she says. “I think many of us out here are still trying to figure it out.”
Yuyang Liu, “Home of Youth”
In 2007, when he was just sixteen, Yuyang began documenting his daily experiences at High School No. 7, in Chengdu, China. He continued shooting for three years, until graduation, and discovered that in photographing his own life at No. 7, he was archiving the memory of his generation. Thus, in these images, he offers a window into the vitality of his country’s youth culture that is all but absent in Western perceptions of China.
Eric Kruszewski, “Carny Chronicles”
In the summer of 2012, Kruszewski traveled with the crew of Davis Amusements, a fourth-generation family business, as they crisscrossed the Pacific Northwest, sometimes covering as much as 300 miles between stops. His photographs vividly capture the daily grind and dazzle of this American pastime while portraying the men and women who’ve committed to what he describes as “life behind the ferris wheel.”
Alex Potter, “After the Funeral”
On October 19, 2012, a car bomb exploded in Beirut’s Achrafieh neighborhood. Targeted and killed in the blast was Wissam al Hassan, Brigadier General of the Internal Security Forces and an outspoken enemy of the regime in Syria. Thousands attended al Hassan’s funeral, which, fueled by political tension, boiled over into protest. Potter was there to capture the chaos for this essay, combining the subtlety of a portraitist with an obvious mettle for shooting in circumstances where anything can happen.
Anna Beeke, “At Sea”
Beeke began this project with considerable reluctance. “I’ve never wanted to go on a cruise,” she admits. In fact, “the whole idea of going with three or four thousand people to see the same thing just seemed strange to me.” Rather, Beeke is a solitary traveler. But the sea seemed like a good antidote to a year photographing in the forests of the Pacific Northwest and Eastern Seaboard. And she could see the creative potential in documenting cruise culture’s strange juxtaposition of relaxation and overstimulation. As long as she could find some unpopulated spot on a deck to indulge a sense of being alone at sea, she could then dive back inside for balloon animals and the midnight buffet. In the end, she says, “I was surprised that I kind of enjoyed it.”