A year after the darkrooms opened, Block and Bryan started Light Work. It was an ideal time to do so. The NYSCA was young and looking to fund more Upstate New York arts activities. And throughout the country, artist-run organizations were cropping up as part of the "alternative space movement"—a response to a growing number of artists actively looking to develop and exhibit their work outside the realm of mainstream museums and galleries. "Light Work's original goal was to support artists working in photography," Hoone says. "We have certainly changed how we support artists and bring their work to the public, but the essential goal remains the same."
      Hoone, a Syracuse native who studied photography and ran his own artists' space in San Francisco, learned to foster that mission when he joined the Light Work staff in 1980. After returning from the West Coast, he met Block and Bryan through the darkrooms. By that time, they had decided to pursue other interests and recruited Hoone to help out at Light Work. After training under each one separately for a year, Hoone found Light Work in his hands.

bill burke
Tom Bryan, left, Jeff Hoone, and Phil Block take a break while packing up Block for a move to New York City. That day, Hoone became director of Light Work.

      Now in its 26th year, Light Work has hosted numerous exhibitions, published 100 issues of Contact Sheet, and welcomed more than 250 participants to its Artist-in-Residence (AIR) Program. As a parting gift, each artist donates a sample of work to the Light Work Collection. The collection now counts more than 1,800 images, all of which are recorded on a searchable computer-image database and CD-ROM. The vast holding also reflects Light Work's commitment to embracing diversity—both in work style and in the ethnicity, gender, and cultural backgrounds of the artists. Each year, Light Work receives more than 300 applications for its 23-year-old AIR Program. Into a cardboard box they go and, as a rule of thumb, they're combed through once the box is filled. "We're pretty flexible—there are no deadlines," Hoone says. "That way if artists have timely projects, we can respond to them, instead of saying, 'Oh, yeah, we have an opening in 2003.'"
      How are artists selected? There is no pat answer, but Hoone's instincts seem to be a guiding force. "I may not be clear on what the person is doing, but I recognize when we should pay attention," he says. "We want visiting artists to take risks."
      Renee Cox '79, a visiting artist in 1996, sees the program as the perfect answer for artists who need to get away from the demands of everyday life and focus solely on their work. "The program is not complicated or stressful in any way. They hook you up with an apartment and a key to the darkroom," the New York City resident says. "You're always working on borrowed time, so this is an escape that allows you to throw yourself into your work headfirst."
      The time allowed Cox to dig into her archives, make prints of some negatives for the first time, and work on an ongoing series about Jamaican men. "It's very good to be in situations where you are with like-minded folks," she says. "Everyone inspires everyone else in some way."
      Inspiration can also lead to exploration—a vital component for any artist who wants to continually develop. On her most recent project, for instance, Cox shifted from her long-standing interest in black-and-white to color with digital imaging. The reason? She decided to portray herself as Rajˇ, a quintessential superhero who does such things in photos as emerge from a box of Uncle Ben's rice. "My work is often politically motivated and, as a conceptual artist, I use whatever medium I need to use to get the message across," she says. "With Rajˇ, I created fantastical situations, so it had to be digital."

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