Together with VSCO, we’re excited to announce our first cohort of VSCO Voices grant recipients. The program supports five creators with mentorship and funding to empower marginalized communities in the United States through art. This year’s theme, Home, drew many wonderful applications. We enjoyed learning about communities in all pockets of the country through the proposals, and it was incredibly difficult to choose just five projects. Thank you for taking the time to apply and for sharing your stories with us!
Inspired by their contagious commitment and passion, we’d like to congratulate Ash Adams, Deun Ivory, Eric Javier Mejia, Maegan Houang, and Natalie Keyssar for receiving our 2018 VSCO Voices grant. Read on to learn more about their projects, and follow their journey over the next six months on VSCO.
Ash Adams — To Become A Person
Ash Adams is a photojournalist and documentary photographer currently based in Anchorage, Alaska. She takes interest in stories that serve underserved populations, environmental issues, and women’s issues.
About The Project: To Become a Person is a documentary photography project exploring coming of age in indigenous rural Alaska. This six-month chapter of the project will specifically explore adolescence in areas of rural Alaska that are significantly impacted by climate change.
Why this work is important to her, personally: This project is important to me for several reasons, but perhaps the reason closest to my heart is that my children are Inupiaq. I am invested in helping to tell the stories of the indigenous people of Alaska and helping to elevate their voices.
To Become a Person does a few important things, including connecting history with the present and glimpsing the future. I am interested in exploring how, much more so than climate change, colonization has changed the shape of the lives and homes of entire populations, and in no other generation than today’s youth is there such a visual display of cultural hybridity. (In many of the homes of these youths, there is no running water, but there is Facebook.) Many of these adolescents, the grandchildren of the boarding school era, grapple daily with the social side effects of cultural trauma in their villages; these youths grow in places that top the nation’s rates for substance abuse, child sexual assault and sexual assault, domestic violence, and other issues in addition to living in a place that is rapidly changing geographically due to climate change. They are presented with the strength of cultural resilience while also watching their mentors live out the side effects of trauma. I am interested in exploring how this cultural hybridity and generation gap is experienced during a time of life when many youths in rural Alaska are deciding which cultural and societal views to accept and reject.
Deun Ivory — The Body: A Home For Love.
Deun Ivory is a photographer and illustrator currently based in Chicago, Illinois whose life’s work is to serve, empower, and celebrate women of color through creative practices. Driven by the need to see women of color living their best lives, she harnesses affirmative words and stunning imagery to help show them how to discover their magic and walk in it.
Project: This project will explore the narratives of fifteen black women who have experienced sexual abuse at some point in their lives. Through visual documentation and a series of interviews, Deun will create a safe space for these women to engage in an intimate conversation about their traumatic experiences and the process of their healing journey.
Why this work is important to her, personally: This project is important to me because I was a victim of sexual abuse and during that traumatic experience, I felt alone because it was never made known to me that there were others like me. I was molested for years on end by multiple men in my family and I suffered greatly from the abuse. For so long, I did not feel safe in my own body. I felt like it didn’t belong to me. It didn’t feel like home. I did not identify my body as a dwelling place for love and joy. It was a reminder of my trauma, and I wanted so badly to abandon my body and navigate the world as someone else.
It wasn’t until years later that I discovered that sexual abuse within the black community was somewhat of a norm, and that’s when the start of healing began. Had I known about this when I was going through it, I feel like I would have handled things differently. The idea that I wasn’t alone could have possibly given me the courage to tell my mother or to tell someone of authority. It could have given me the courage to speak up for myself. I have learned that in the unveiling of our narratives, we liberate other people. We give them the courage to start their healing journeys and to learn from our experiences.
Eric Javier Mejia — Olvidados
Eric Javier Mejia is a Mexican-American writer, photographer, and director born in Van Nuys, CA, and raised in Sylmar, CA. He is a member of the LGBTQ community and seeks to address issues regarding mental illness and the mask of masculinity. Through his work, he hopes to help others connect emotionally and intimately and without shame.
Project: Olvidados will be a surreal film which follows several Mexicans from a small community in Southern California as they discover what it means to belong in America. Their journey leads them back to the “home” within themselves, where they navigate who they are today, as well as the identity they left behind to pursue their American dreams.
Why this work is important to him, personally: This project is important to me because it allows me to validate the millions of voices of Mexicans and Mexican-Americans who have been abandoned, physically and emotionally, and bring to light a more vulnerable side of them that is not often seen in our community. By doing this, I hope to help other Latinos realize it is safe to unravel our complex and often repressed interior lives and see that we will be accepted if we do.
My goal is to portray our community as mythic, culturally rich, emotionally gifted, and fascinating while offering an emotional universal human story that connects to us all. The voiceless will be heard and empowered.
Maegan Houang — In Full Bloom.
Maegan Houang is a writer and director born and raised in East Lansing, MI and currently based in Los Angeles, California. She grew up watching Hong Kong movies her father showed her on repeat. The films offered a glimpse into the culture of her extended family who lived thousands of miles away. Later on, they became the subject of her master’s thesis which she wrote on the directorial style of Johnnie To.
Project: IN FULL BLOOM is a surrealist short film about overcoming the loss of a partner within the parameters of living as a female Vietnamese immigrant. After her husband’s death, Gloria becomes an agoraphobic hoarder, paradoxically practicing what she loves — gardening — indoors without the help of direct sunlight. She orders worms to grow a rare flower. Though they help the flower grow, the development comes at a price when the worms create a black hole that absorbs everything she cherishes. With her home unrecognizably empty, she has no choice but to leave for the first time since her husband died and re-assimilate into society on her own terms.
Why this work is important to her, personally: At its core, IN FULL BLOOM is a universal story about confronting loss. When I was fourteen years old, my friend committed suicide. As a teenager, I did not handle my grief with grace, but with confusion. I felt the need for a permanent person and pursued a series of inadequate partners under the guise of love. I craved stability and control in the hope that I could avoid further pain.
My own need for order in the face of grief inspired Gloria’s struggle with agoraphobia and compulsive hoarding after her husband’s death. Unable to escape the memory of her husband, she allows it to control her daily life. Her grief consumes her, entraps her, and, ultimately, destroys her. While many films explore how people handle grief, few films have explored this experience from the perspective of an Asian-American immigrant.
Like many Asian-American children, I grew up with few role models. As a filmmaker, it is essential for me to center the female Asian-American experience and erode our society’s inclination to treat minority communities as a monolith. My grandmother immigrated to Hong Kong from Vietnam and rarely talked about her childhood. For a long time, I wasn’t even aware that she grew up in Vietnam. As I learned more about her upbringing and how she helped her siblings escape Vietnam during the war, I became increasingly fascinated with her family’s history and culture. IN FULL BLOOM will hopefully give viewers a glimpse into the Vietnamese-American experience through an emotionally engaging and surrealist lens.
Natalie Keyssar — Heaven’s Back Yard
Natalie Keyssar is a documentary photographer currently based in Brooklyn, New York. She is interested in class inequality, youth culture, and the personal effects of political turmoil and violence, primarily in the US and Latin America.
Project: Due to a complex mix of social and economic factors, one county in North Carolina has gone from a thriving community to one of the poorest counties in the nation. This project will document and disrupt the narrative of rural youth violence and explore its complex context over the next six months. Combing documentary images, portraiture, and a collaboration with students of a photography workshop for at-risk youth, we will seek to show the complexities of growing up in this county from the inside and outside.
Why this work is important to her, personally: I’ve spent the last eight years as a photographer documenting the way that societies fracture amid political instability and the way that people fracture under the weight of unequal social structures. My work has taken me all over the world, and each country has taught me more about the dangers of the build-up of class and racial tension, and the nightmare and consequences of instability. The more I learn about these issues, the more I see them when I come home to the US. I worry that our social fractures, our levels of violence, the holes in our systems, are growing, becoming less humane, leaving more behind, becoming more divided. I’ve been gone from North Carolina for a long time, but its stories have moved and shaped me since before I was a photographer, since before I was a member of the “mainstream media” of which my home state has become so suspicious. I’ve become a city transplant. In many ways, I’ve become a part of the elite that has left a large portion of my country, and my home state, behind. Now I want to take what I’ve learned back. I want to use what I’ve learned to build connections between the two opposing worlds of my past and present.
Through teaching and collaboration, I hope to give something back, but also sit at the feet of the members of these communities and listen and learn so that we can understand both worlds better so that we can tell their story together. I am afraid for the fate of our country which seems every day more divided and unstable. I’ve seen, in many others, what that division can bring. I’d like to use all this experience to create a space for education and art to build common ground, beautiful images, and lasting stories and understanding.
We believe in the power of helping these creators spread their diverse perspectives since creators are a powerful force for change. Alongside Ash, Deun, Eric, Maegan, and Natalie, we’ll continue to share these projects as they evolve. Follow along by subscribing to our newsletter for updates.