Updated: Nov 3, 2022
Gioncarlo Valentine (b. 1990) is an award-winning American photographer and writer. Valentine hails from Baltimore City and attended Towson University, in Maryland. Backed by his seven years of social work experience, his work seeks to examine issues faced by marginalized populations, most often focusing his lens on the experiences of Black/LGBTQIA+ communities. Through writing and photography, Gioncarlo aims to broaden conversations around masculinity culture, gender, and longing.
His work has been collected by the Whitney Museum of American Art and he is a regular contributor to The New York Times. Select publications include The New Yorker, Wall Street Journal Magazine, Propublica, New York Times Magazine, Esquire, American Vogue, THEM, and Newsweek among many others. Although Valentine was accepted into the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts in 2020, he was unable to attend until this spring. In the following interview, Valentine talks to us about his organic approach to residency, as well as the challenges he has faced as a photographer in residence.
Have you been an artist in residency before? If so, where?
What drew you to apply to the Bemis Center?
I applied to Bemis in April of 2020 because I was interested in doing more work in the Midwest. I didn’t know how terrible the pandemic was going to be so I applied with the intention of doing a few projects that I ended up scrapping post pandemic.
Are those projects scrapped forever? Do you think you will ever revisit them?
One or two project ideas have been scrapped permanently. Other ideas have maybe just taken a back seat. I wanted to do a book of artist conversations. I had started to have these wonderful and generative conversations at the end of 2019 and I wanted to sit down and start that process of intentionally interviewing and transcribing conversations to edit a book. I still want to work on this, but there’s much less urgency now. Not sure if that’s a good thing.
I also wanted to make prints in the darkroom as well as in a digital printing lab. I’ve been working on several photographic bodies of work and I was excited to have the opportunity to make affordable prints. I wanted to write and to have ample studio space to make portraits, hang images, and experiment a bit within my work.
Did being at Bemis affect your practice at all?
Bemis hasn’t really affected my practice at all if I’m being honest. Because I live in NY, such an exhausting and overcrowded city, I tend to stay to myself at residencies. I come to them with a list of goals and focus more on rest and production. That approach has a lot of pros and cons attached to it, but it’s what has worked best for me. I rarely get to collaborate. I also find that artist residencies that are not SPECIFICALLY for photography, treat photography like an afterthought. They rarely have photographers coming to speak. There are usually very few options for printing (I’ve actually had to build my own darkroom at more than one residency.) When they do have the materials they’re often poorly managed, underfunded, and under-utilized. It’s greatly disappointing.
I can see how residencies that aren't specifically for photography could limit the opportunity to collaborate within your vernacular. That is unfortunate. In my research for Artists in Rise, I've only come across a couple of artists residencies that are focused on photographic image making; one being The Center for Photography at Woodstock. Do you know of this program or any others?
I’m aware of all of the photography centered residencies. I’ve applied to them multiple times and have been rejected. I’ve always found it really challenging to work in a series based way. I work a bit more organically, following my nose over following an interesting story. I struggle with wanting to commit to a single body of work. What feels better for me is to work the way that I do, documenting people, places, and ideas in ways that seem more fragmented, like collecting puzzle pieces. Eventually I’ll be able to sit down and put the pieces together and form a clear and cohesive body of work. Most of the time, when I’m rejected from residencies with a centralized focus on photography, I note that the people that are selected have an art degree and/or work in a series based manner. I mostly resent that but people’s limited understanding of my work is their business. I’m invested in it and I know that the work is valuable.
I think that's a good mentality to have; not changing the things you find successful in your process to appease an institutions taste. Can you talk about some of the work you produced in residency?
I wasn’t able to print anything in the darkroom or in a print lab while I was there because many of Bemis’ offerings had shifted a bit post pandemic, but I did get some writing done. I finished a couple of essays, made self portraits, met with agencies and photo editors, pitched a book proposal to a few places, made portraits of a friend in Omaha and spent time photographing her family. I also spent a lot of time in solitude, resting, grieving, and reading. It was a challenging time but I feel like even with those challenges it was mostly productive and I’m grateful that I got the opportunity. Many lessons.