Light Work Launches 2021 with Aaron Turner: Black Alchemy, Backwards/Forwards

Exhibiting artist employs the camera lens, still life, abstraction and appropriation to reflect the complex historical representation of Black identity and culture.

Syracuse, NY Feb.1, 2021 — Light Work will exhibit more than 20 works by Arkansas–based photographer Aaron Turner in its first main gallery show of 2021. Aaron Turner: Black Alchemy, Backwards/Forwards will be on view in the Kathleen O. Ellis Gallery  from January 25 through March 4, 2021. Mary Lee Hodgens, associate director of Light Work, will moderate a virtual conversation and Q&A with Turner on Thursday, February 18 at 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. EST. In the solitude of the studio, the artist is never alone. Quite the contrary for Aaron Turner. Sidney Poitier, Martin Luther King Jr., Marvin Gay, Frederick Douglas and others all move up and through the layers of cut paper and projections. The artist handles, arranges, touches both objects and beloved figures, seeking, listening, directing, and responding. Some of these juxtapositions seem random, fluid, almost falling through space, but this is precisely the process Turner invites us to witness.

Frederick Douglas by Aaron Turner

“We are excited to have Aaron Turner back at Light Work with an exhibition of selections from his ongoing Black Alchemy series,” said Mary Lee Hodgens, Light Work’s associate director. “When he was here as an Artist-in-Residence in 2018, he intrigued us with his studio practice and his process of building a photograph, often combining methods of collage and abstraction. He is also a painter and sculptor and his ease with multiple media creates a great energy and cross-pollination of ideas. Turner’s work is elegant and formally striking, deeply conversant in the work of both predecessors and contemporary colleagues, and he tells important stories about people of color from the Arkansas and Mississippi Deltas.”

  • In addition to installation views on Light Work’s website we invite you to bring Turner’s exhibition to your doorstep. Copies of Black Alchemy, Backwards/Forwards exhibition catalog, Contact Sheet 210, are available in the Light Work shop. 

Please note: Light Work’s galleries are currently closed to the general public as part of our ongoing effort to stop the spread of COVID-19. We encourage patrons to visit our exhibitions and events online and to check out our catalog of artist videos, including an interview with exhibiting artist Aaron Turner. Light Work is located in the Robert B. Menschel Media Center at 316 Waverly Avenue, Syracuse, New York, 13224.

Aaron Turner installation

About The Exhibition – Aaron Turner’s Arkansas delta community and family taught him to know and understand African American history, honor its heroes, and respect his elders. The simple and profound gift of this upbringing has allowed him to pursue the role of Black artist and activist in our culture with unapologetic, single-minded intensity. Turner is in many ways acknowledging, standing on, and building from this foundation in his work. With deep affinity for the formal qualities of black-and-white photography, Aaron Turner uses his large format camera and the alchemical darkroom process to move back and forth between abstraction, still life, collage, and appropriated archival images to literally take apart and then reconstruct his photographic images. The color black itself has a presence in this work—infinite, elegant, unknowable. Turner is also a painter; his use of large swaths of black is both a metaphor for race and related to abstraction and its emphasis on process, materials, and color itself as subject.

Aaron Turner

Artist Aaron Turner – Besides his studio practice, Aaron Turner is a teacher, curator, writer, founder of the Center for Photographers of Color (CPoC) at the University of Arkansas, and host of the CPoC podcast. Active in the photo and contemporary art community, he often uses these platforms to discuss his primary muses: other Black artists and activists. Bring a pen and notebook, because Turner is a name dropper in the best sense and you will want to look up these painters, sculptors, photographers, athletes, and activists whom he reveres, some hallowed and some obscure (for now). His generosity reminds us of artists like Deborah Willis, Carrie Mae Weems, and Zanele Muholi, who all—understanding art and power—have made it their business to bring a community of artists along with them through the doorway and into the spotlight. He too arrives en masse: perhaps his greatest tribute to his elders in the Arkansas delta.

General Information 

Find Light Work’s galleries in the Robert B. Menschel Media Center, 316 Waverly Ave., Syracuse, New York. Follow Light Work on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. For general information, please visit, call (315) 443-1300 or email

Light Work is a non-profit, artist-run organization dedicated to the support of artists working in photography and electronic media, located in the Robert B. Menschel Media Center. Light Work invites groups and individuals to schedule tours of the exhibitions and facility and to attend gallery talks. Limited metered parking is available on Waverly Avenue and paid parking is available in Booth Parking Garage. Light Work thanks Syracuse University and Robert B. Menschel and Vital Projects, as well as the Andy Warhol Foundation, CNY Arts, the Central New York Community Foundation, JGS (Joy of Giving Something Inc.), the National Endowment for the Arts, the New York State Council on the Arts, and the subscribers to Contact Sheet for their dedicated and ongoing support of our programs. Light Work is a member of CMAC, the Coalition of Museum and Art Centers at Syracuse University.