© Holly Lynton, The Syngenta Photography Award 2013
Five years ago, I left New York City for New England farm country to embrace its ethos of sustainability and local farming. Through my photography, I have sought to understand what is at the crux of people's desire to live this way. In my series Bare Handed, I look for moments of wonder and spiritual resonance in my subjects and aim to depict the delicate balance between dominance and surrender, which is at the core of their every interaction. My photographs are created in rural communities struggling to maintain their agrarian traditions and natural resources despite the challenges of globalization, competing technology, agribusiness, and even weather. The title Bare Handed refers to my subjects’ powerful yet intimate hands-on connection with their work—both land and animals—on the farm and in the wild. In these photographs, the heavy, overbearing machinery associated with modern life gives way to the simple, but potent, symbiotic relationship between man, creature, and the forces of weather, and allows these individuals a style of work that resembles a form of meditation. They work in tandem with their environment, reaping benefits, but leaving little mark: beekeepers, wearing no protective clothing; trainers at a wolf sanctuary; catfish "noodlers," capturing seventy pound fish with their bare hands; and farmers, using traditional practices—which now seem heroic—to run small, sustainable farms. They take huge risks to stay committed to their methods, drawing on human strength of body and mind, especially in the face of the unpredictability and fury of the weather. They are committed to the idea of local living and sustainability, growing crops and livestock that nurture the land rather than destroy it. While making my photographs, I discovered that these individuals have a spiritual commitment to their work that goes beyond the rational and points to the power of faith.
In Bare Handed, I seek to celebrate that spiritual conviction, and their resistance of the trend towards mechanization. My images are meant to represent the glory of this work, while offering contrast to the iconic, historical images of hardship created by WPA photographers of the Great Depression period, and the current exposés of big agriculture. While photographing these workers, I was struck by how many mythical and religious references occurred naturally and spontaneously. With just a tilt of her head, the teenage girl in Sienna, Turkey Madonna, transformed into a rendition of the Virgin Mary. Not always overt, I look for gestures and draw inspiration from religious paintings, mythology, and iconic tales of struggle to convey a sense of mysticism that is in the everyday. It is these moments of spiritual awe I chase with my camera with the hope that I will be able to communicate through my photographs much of what I have observed first hand.
Holly Lynton is a photographer, living and working in Western Massachusetts. Lynton received a BA in Psychology from Yale University (1994), and a MFA in Photography from the Milton Avery Graduate School of the Arts at Bard College (2000). Lynton has been an artist mentor for students at The New School in New York City, and a Visiting Lecturer at Amherst College in Massachusetts and the Aegean Center for the Fine Arts in Paros, Greece.
Lynton's photography has been exhibited nationally and internationally with solo exhibitions in New York City; Amherst, Massachusetts; Berlin, Germany; and Miami, Florida. Her work has been shown in numerous group exhibitions in cities including New York City, Miami, Boston, Albuquerque, Santa Barbara, Atlanta, and London. Lynton’s work has been featured in The New Yorker, The Village Voice, The Miami Herald, Photo District News, The New York Times, The Boston Globe, Preview Massachusetts, and ARTnews.
Lynton describes Massachusetts' farm country as a setting that fits her desired lifestyle and has a closer synergy with her recent explorations in photography. Living sustainably and locally extends beyond food for Lynton. In 2011, her work was selected for several exhibitions that explored issues of sustainability: Hive Culture: Captivated by the Honeybee at Wave Hill in New York, Outlands: Land Over Time at Jennifer Schwartz Gallery in Atlanta, and Greenhouse, at Bernice Steinbaum Gallery, Miami. Her solo exhibition Fleeced, also at the Bernice Steinbaum Gallery in Miami, chronicled sustainable sheep farming over the course of a year from lambing to the annual agricultural fairs. Recent awards include Honorable Mention in the Daylight Magazine Photography Awards (2010), an SOS Guilds Artist Grant (2011), and an Artist Resource Trust Grant (2011), and a nomination for the Prix Pictet (2012). Lynton is represented by the Eller Miller Gallery, Boston; and the Dina Mitrani Gallery, Miami.