Light Work features artist James Henkel’s work

"Object Lessons" exhibition features photography from James Henkel

"Object Lessons" presents discarded, broken, and damaged objects through the eyes of artist James Henkel
Published: November 2, 2021
Alternative Text
James Henkel's photographs in "Object Lessons" exhibition in the Kathleen D. Ellis gallery.

The Light Work photography center is showcasing a new exhibition by artist James Henkel

In Object Lessons, Henkel features scavenged and carefully selected objects that might otherwise be overlooked. Through his creative style, Henkel gives ordinary and forgotten objects a new meaning while questioning the definition of what we might consider ‘beautiful’. The exhibition opened on Oct. 25 and is open to the public through Dec. 9 in the Kathleen D. Ellis Gallery. 

Many of the items used by Henkel were found abandoned on streets, in second-hand stores, or in his own home. He focuses on objects that have been discarded and those that are broken. Through his photography, he draws attention to these objects and urges the audience to look at them from a different perspective.

“It’s the way they can be put back together that interests me,” said Henkel. 

Some of these items include bricks, pieces of ceramic pots, bowls, and toothbrushes that are reassembled or deconstructed and then photographed. 

“If you have things that are in pieces, what does it matter how you put it back together,” Henkel said. ” Is there a better way, a more interesting way, or just a different way? And I really did think about that as a relationship to ideas about beauty. What do we think is beautiful? In many ways, we think things are beautiful because we’ve been taught to think they’re beautiful. And you know, sometimes things that are broken, mended, and put back together are beautiful in a new way.” 

Alternative Text
“Soldier” (1999) and “Arm” (1999) by James Henkel

According to Light Work Associate Director Mary Lee Hodgens, several of Henkel’s pieces on display were done during his residency at Light Work in 2015 and include objects found around the city of Syracuse. Hodgens says the staff looked through over 40 years of Henkel’s work to choose the pieces currently on display. 

“So he’s kind of in love with these older, damaged things that are clearly worn and used. But he photographs them in a monolithic way, and even though it’s a small, humble, ordinary object that you might find on the side of the road or in the trash can, he photographs it in this beautiful kind of monumental way so that the object, even though it’s damaged, it has this kind of presence within it,” said Hodgens. 

Henkel urges those that visit the gallery to, “put away the notions of classical beauty and engage in something just a little different.”

Civil engineering junior Keisha Rorimpandey visited the gallery during a break in between classes. “I had some free time so I wandered in and saw there was a new exhibition. It was so interesting to see things I walk by every day in pictures inside an art gallery,” she said. “It makes me really want to look around on my walk home and see if there’s something that might be unexpected and surprise me.”  

A reception for the exhibition will be held on Thursday, Nov. 4 in the Kathleen D. Ellis Gallery. Henkel will be speaking at the reception about his work. The event will take place from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. and is free to attend.