HOW THE YOUNG RETURN (2016-2022)





I remember sitting on dry wall floors, dust covered tennis shoes, asking, goddamn what’s next? I need more than amber hues, more than honey to dip my wrists into. I’ve had more than enough taste of those who stay in bed the morning after, sheep left to wander.






With the support of the Alexia Foundation, the CatchLight Fellowship, and the W. Eugene Smith Memorial Fund. As part of a larger project (Beckon Us From Home), How the Young Return was exhibited at Anastasia Gallery (2018) and MANA Contemporary Gallery (2019), as well as part of group exhibitions at Photoville Festival, LUMIX Festival for Young Photojournalism, SF Camerawork, and Pingyao International Photography Festival in China.
Texts and Reviews:
Stephen Frailey, Interview in Dear Dave Magazine, 2020
Laurence Butet-Roch, Magenta Foundation, 2019
James Estrin, New York Times LENS, 2018
Libby Peterson, Artsy, 2018
TOPIC Magazine, 2018
Rebecca Onion, Virginia Quarterly Review, 2018






TOY SOLDIERS (2016-17)





In 2015, a proposed program from the Russian government entitled the “Patriotic Education of Russian Citizens in 2016-2020” called for an eight percent increase in patriotic youth within the next ten years, and a ten percent increase in new recruits for the Russian armed forces.Over 200,000 youth in Russia are currently enrolled in patriotic clubs, with 10,000 in Moscow alone.

While focusing on Russia, the aim of this project is to investigate the ideologies and traditions passed down to younger generations. I had hoped these images would spark conversations about the polarization and nationalist rhetoric that marked the last United States presidential campaign, as well as trends happening globally. However, they did not. When these photographs were published in 2016, the overwhelming response from the American media and public centered on Russian nationalism and the moral dilemmas surrounding militarization of youth. The most common reaction was that “other people are nationalists, but Americans are simply patriots.”

In light of this frustration, I began to photograph similar themes of patriotic ideology and educational programs across the United States in 2018, in an attempt to discuss these themes on a larger level. The resulting project became Beckon Us From Home. In later publications, these two projects, Toy Soldiers and Beckon Us From Home, have been published together as a single project. When presented as a whole, it can be nearly impossible to distinguish which programs are Russian or American. This approach intentionally causes further confusion about ideological allegiance, patriotism, and nationalism, in an attempt to re-examine our relationship to our beliefs surrounding our own traditions and nations.


Toy Soldiers was photographed while Sarah Blesener was a student in the Documentary Practice and Visual Journalism course at the International Center of Photography, completed with the support of the Alexia Foundation, the CatchLight Fellowship. Toy Soldiers was exhibited at IPP 2017, Fondo Malerba per la Fotografia in Italy, as well as Zimmerli Art Museum in New Jersey.

Texts and Reviews:
Winner of the World Press Photo Long-Term Project category, 2019
Simon Shuster, TIME Lightbox, 2016
The Guardian, 2017
Alex Scott, ABC, 2016
Winner of the Social Documentary Network Grant, 2017
Award of Excellence for the POYi, Issue Reporting Story, 2017
Ryan Bell, Columbia Journalism Review, 2017
Stephen Frailey, Interview in Dear Dave Magazine, 2020







HAVEN (2016-2020)








Haven follows the stories of a group of teenage friends living in the Mott Haven neighborhood of the South Bronx, centering on Chavi Leons, an aspiring musician. Haven documents Chavi from his freshman to senior year of high school, focusing on the surrogate family created by his neighborhood friends.

In the making of Haven, the group of boys were given disposable cameras and journals, in order to document their own families and thoughts throughout the collaborative project.

The South Bronx is famous for two reasons: it is home to the 15th Congressional District, the poorest district in the United States, and for its crime, made famous because of the 40th Precinct, a police precinct covering a two-square mile area at the southern most tip of the region. It is also ranked among the highest risk communities for children.










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Chavi Leons is now 19-years old, pursuing his bachata music career in the Bronx, New York

Haven was photographed while Sarah Blesener was a student in the Documentary Practice and Visual Journalism course at the International Center of Photography, completed with the support of the Alexia Foundation Student Grant. The project was exhibited at the International Center of Photography’s 2016 student exhibition entitled, Another Kind of Paradise. Haven was also exhibited at Auckland Festival of Photography in New Zealand, as well as a group exhibition with the Alexia Foundation at Photoville, New York.

Texts and Reviews:
Jacqui Palumbo, PDN, 2016
Alexia Foundation, 2016
Andrew Boryga, New York Times LENS, 2017
The American Scholar, 2017
Jacqui Palumbo, PDN, 2017

BORODINO (2016)
 


Borodino, Russia, is famous for a battle fought on 7 Sep 1812 - the deadliest day of the Napoleonic Wars. Each summer, Borodino hosts an historical war camp for students from around Russia. 350 adolescents are in attendance, ranging in ages from 11 to 16, and lasts throughout the summer. The project statement of the camp states: "To awaken in the younger generation a keen interest in the history of the Fatherland, the glorious deeds of our ancestors, to facilitate the expansion of military-historical knowledge."

BECKON US FROM HOME (2017-2022)





The dual messages of “America first” and “Americanism” can be found not only at the forefront of current political movements, but in the pages of literature and education taught at camps and clubs across the United States. Here, in this microcosm of a changing nation, youth straddle the vulnerability of adolescence and simultaneous stripping of individuality. In these settings, around 400,000 American youth are taught annually, often with military subtext, what it means to be an American. Photographed in twelve different states across a divided country, Beckon Us From Home is an ongoing photography project investigating the ideology of patriotism.

This work examines themes surrounding the interplay of statehood and adolescent identity, looking at topics such as the anxiety surrounding high school shootings, the role of social media and empathy, and the impact of coming of age in a polarized nation. The aim is to open dialogue around the nuanced and complicated ideas instilled in future generations of Americans. How are young people responding to our contemporary society, with all of its changes in belief systems?

The aim of this work is to present a spectrum of views that contribute to a uniquely American narrative of patriotic ideology, but also to offer counter-narratives that expand on the many contradictions that range diversely across the country. Lifting the common and overused words such as “patriotism” and “nationalism,” we find a large theater of contributing characters and storylines: fear, indoctrination, economics, religion, motivation.


Texts and Reviews:
Winner of the World Press Photo Long-Term Project category, 2019
Simon Shuster, TIME Lightbox, 2016
The Guardian, 2017
Alex Scott, ABC, 2016
Winner of the Social Documentary Network Grant, 2017
Award of Excellence for the POYi, Issue Reporting Story, 2017
Ryan Bell, Columbia Journalism Review, 2017
Stephen Frailey, Interview in Dear Dave Magazine, 2020

Toy Soldiers was photographed while Sarah Blesener was a student in the Documentary Practice and Visual Journalism course at the International Center of Photography, completed with the support of the Alexia Foundation, the CatchLight Fellowship. Toy Soldiers was exhibited at IPP 2017, Fondo Malerba per la Fotografia in Italy, as well as Zimmerli Art Museum in New Jersey.

Exhibition images from Anastasia Photo and MANA Contemporary: