Career Stories: Shane Lavalette, BFA '09
Shane Lavalette is a photographer, curator, publisher, and advocate for the work of emerging and under-represented artists in the field. From 2011-2021, he served as the Director of the non-profit organization Light Work. This March, Lavalette is launching Assembly—a new platform supporting a diverse roster of photographic artists. We recently caught up with Shane to ask some questions about his practice, his career, and some upcoming projects:
Could you talk a bit about what you’ve been up to since leaving SMFA and what you’re doing now?
In 2010, the year after graduating from SMFA, I was invited by the High Museum of Art in Atlanta to create a series of photographs for their Picturing the South exhibition, in which my work was shown alongside Martin Parr and Kael Alford (2012). Inclusive in the commission, the works were placed into the High Museum’s permanent collection. Other artists in this commission series include Sally Mann, Emmet Gowin, Alec Soth, Richard Misrach, Dawoud Bey, and Mark Steinmetz, among others. This project led to my self-published monograph, One Sun, One Shadow (2016). The book was produced in an edition of 1,500 copies and is now out of print. The publication was named one of the “Best Books” of the year by photo-eye, winner of the Unveil’d Photobook award, and shortlisted for the Kassel Photobook Award and the Author Book Award at Les Rencontres d'Arles. Solo exhibitions of this work have since been presented at Robert Morat Galerie in Germany, Kaunas Gallery in Lithuania, and Le Château d'Eau in France, among other venues.
In 2016, I was commissioned by Fotostiftung Schweiz (The Swiss Foundation for Photography) in collaboration with Musée de l'Elysée to create a new body of work in Switzerland. The resulting photographs became a part of a traveling exhibition that was accompanied by a catalog produced by Lars Müller Books, featuring my work alongside artists Simon Roberts, Alinka Echeverría, Eva Leitolf, and Zhang Xiao. The show was first exhibited at Fotostiftung Schweiz in Winterthur (2016) and then Musée de l'Elysée in Lausanne (2017). The set of exhibition prints were placed in the permanent collection of Fotostiftung Schweiz. A monograph entitled Still (Noon) was published by Swiss publisher Edition Patrick Frey (2018), and most recently, I had a solo exhibition of this work at Robert Morat Galerie in Berlin (2019).
More recently, in 2019, New Monuments was published by Libraryman, featuring unpublished works made while I was a visiting artist at the American Academy in Rome. The book launched in September 2019 with a signing at The NY Art Book Fair at MoMA PS1. Beyond larger commissioned projects, my photographs have also been shown as part of various shows and publications around the world. I’ve participated in residencies and visiting artist programs that have helped further my work and led to the development of new projects, including: The American Academy in Rome, Italy (2015); Kaunas Photo, Kaunas, Lithuania (2014); Light Work, Syracuse, NY (2011); Burren College of Art, Ballyvaughan, Co. Claire, Ireland (2008). This past year I was honored to be a recipient of a Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant. My work has seen press coverage by The New York Times, TIME, NPR, CNN, The Telegraph, Foam Magazine, Hotshoe, among others, and my editorial work has accompanied stories in various publications, including The New York Times Magazine, The New Yorker, Newsweek, Topic, Esquire, Bloomberg Businessweek, Financial Times, Popular Mechanics, Vice Magazine, The Wire, Wallpaper, Monocle, and The Guardian. I'm currently represented by Robert Morat Galerie (Berlin) and We Folk agency (London/New York).
In addition to my personal work, I have sustained an interest in working with and directly supporting other artists over the course of my career. My path into publishing is also what led me to working with the non-profit Light Work, where I have contributed to leading the organization from 2011-2021. In the role of Director, I helped shape the artist-in-residence program, exhibitions, publications, and community lab facility—over the course of a decade, hosting over 100 artists-in-residence, producing over 50 exhibitions, and printing over 40 publications. I have continued to find working with other artists to accomplish their vision extremely rewarding as a complement to my own artistic practice.
To that end, this year I am working with Ashlyn Davis Burns (former Executive Director of Houston Center for Photography) to launch a new platform called Assembly. Assembly represents a diverse roster of artists working in photography and the moving image. We offer value-driven consulting for collectors, museums, and institutions, creative production, and art buying services for magazines and brands, and create unique projects that tell memorable stories about the world we live in. Assembly was created in response to the need to more expansively support diverse voices in the field of photography. As a gallery, agency, creative studio, and art advisory, Assembly holistically nurtures artists and their practice, while identifying and cultivating opportunities for collaborations with a global network of creatives, in both the fine art and commercial worlds. For those reading who may be interested in following along, you can visit assembly.art to sign up for the newsletter or follow along on Instagram at @assemblyprojects.
How did SMFA help prepare you for what you do today?
I think the interdisciplinary and self-directed nature of the program was ideal for me. Because of this, I was able to have one foot in the institutions and one foot in the art world, during the time that I was in school. In 2009, prior to graduating, I started my own publishing house, Lavalette, which I think was only possible because of the openness of the program.
What did you enjoy or value most about your SMFA education? Are there particular faculty members that you worked closely with or who had an outsized impact on you?
I have fond memories of many professors and classes, but absolutely have to give a shout out to Jim Dow for his history of photography class. I can still picture him standing in front of the class, moving through his slide carousel with his eyes closed, and talking about the work. His passion for images came through and reverberated with the students in a really special way. I'll never forget that!
What are you working on right now that most excites you?
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I’ve been challenged to find new ways to maintain my creative practice, which has been interesting. Producing new work has been more complex of course, however in addition to photographing, in recent months I have made time to return to a few past projects that have yet to be published. As with New Monuments, I have a particular interest in the form of the photobook and developing these works into new publications. Beyond this, in the year to come I intend to focus my mind and heart deeply on the continued research and production for an ambitious long-term project, A City is a Language.
Images courtesy of Shane Lavalette.