Amy Elkins is a visual artist primarily working in photography and has spent the past decade researching, creating and exhibiting work that explores the multifaceted nature of masculine identity as well as the psychological and sociological impacts of incarceration. Her approach is series-based, steeped in research and oscillates between formal, conceptual and documentary.
Elkins’ earlier work, Wallflower (2006-2008), depicts intimate and formal bust shots of young, bare-chested men juxtaposed in front of floral patterns and explores the nuances of masculine vulnerability. She went on to investigate the more aggressive and competitive aspects of male identity and athleticism through projects Elegant Violence (2009-2010), portraying bruised and bloodied Ivy League rugby players posturing in daylight studios moments after each game and Danseur (2012), a series examining gender stereotypes associated with dance.
In 2009 Elkins began corresponding with several men serving life and death row sentences throughout the United States and the project Black is the Day, Black is the Night emerged. Over a span of seven years, she created images attempting to showcase the unexpectedly vulnerable aspects of her pen pals’ incarcerated lives. Using appropriated materials, Elkins created pixelated portraits degraded using an image loss ratio of years behind bars to years alive as well as blurred landscapes of memories shared in letters, composited to account for the number of years each had spent in prison. These pieces, created to illustrate the psychological impacts of long-term isolation and capital punishment, were shown side by side with barely visible text pieces created out of poem excerpts, objects constructed under direction from her pen pals, drawings, and other ephemera. The project, which spanned from 2009-2016, opened Elkins’ eyes to critical flaws within the criminal justice system in America and led to the creation of several additional bodies of work exploring race, identity and capital punishment, including The Golden State (2017), a series of twenty-six composite portraits created using mugshots of the 746 predominantly male death row inmates in California. The portraits, organized and layered with identical opacities by last name, confront the undeniable racial makeup of California’s death row (where over 65% are minorities*) as well as the inevitable loss of identity created by mass incarceration.
Recently Elkins has been working with transgender men and masculine identifying individuals in urban and rural Georgia for two ongoing portrait projects confronting social projections surrounding gender, athleticism and the human form. Through all of these projects, Elkins’ consistent goal is to create art that engages the world to challenge and discuss their own assumptions surrounding masculinity, vulnerability and incarceration in our ever-changing social and political landscape.
Elkins received her BFA in Photography from the School of Visual Arts in New York City. She has been exhibited and published both nationally and internationally, including at The High Museum of Art in Atlanta, GA; Kunsthalle Wien in Vienna, Austria; the Center for Creative Photography in Tucson, AZ; the Minneapolis Institute of Arts; North Carolina Museum of Art; among others. Elkins has been awarded The Lightwork Artist-in-Residence in Syracuse, NY in 2011, the Villa Waldberta International Artist-in-Residence in Munich, Germany in 2012, the Aperture Prize and the Latitude Artist-in-Residence in 2014 and The Peter S. Reed Foundation Grant in 2015. Her first book Black is the Day, Black is the Night won the 2017 Lucie Independent Book Award. It was Shortlisted for the 2017 Mack First Book Award and the 2016 Paris Photo-Aperture Foundation Photobook Prize as well as listed as one of the Best Photobooks of 2016 by TIME, Humble Arts Foundation, Photobook Store Magazine and Photo-Eye among others. Elkins co-founded Women in Photography (WIPNYC) with Cara Phillips in 2008. In 2009 WIPNYC launched its first grant program and has since given seventeen-thousand dollars in funds and materials to support women artists.