Newhouse hosts Alexia Foundation Grant selection weekend

By Georgie Silvarole

February 26, 2015

More than 300 photographers from around the world submitted photos, multimedia projects


Seven winners emerged from more than 300 submissions to the Alexia Foundation’s 25th annual Alexia Grants competition, which was held recently at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University. The competition recognized five student photographers, one additional student and one professional photographer.

Michael Santiago’s “Stolen Lands, Stolen Future” project on the struggles of black farmers took first place for the student competition, winning him a semester’s tuition at the Syracuse University Abroad program in London next fall, a $500 B&H gift certificate and a $1,000 cash stipend to further his photographic work. Santiago is a third-year student at the San Francisco Art Institute. There were four additional runners-up and the judges made a special exception for an Iranian entry — the “Judges’ Special Recognition Award” went to a submission about Iranian women addicted to drugs.

“Price of Vanity,” by Paolo Marchetti, won the professional competition with photos illustrating the killing of animals for the fashion and clothing industry.

Mike Davis, the Alexia Tsairis chair for documentary photography and a professor of practice at Newhouse, served as mediator for the judging. Student judging was 1 to 7 p.m. Feb. 20, and professional judging was 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Feb. 21. This year’s judges were: Sarah Leen, director of photography for National Geographic magazine; Carlos Javier Ortiz, documentarian, photographer and filmmaker; and Julia Dolan, Portland Art Museum’s minor white curator of photography. All three diligently considered the submissions and gave generous advice to the students and audience members who were present.

The judges combed through hundreds of photos and multimedia submissions. Work from all corners of the globe on a variety of issues — the Ukrainian revolution, homelessness in America, the struggles of adolescence, the collapse of Rana Plaza garment building in Bangladesh — made finding a winner difficult.

“These proposals are from all over the world? Wow,” Ortiz says.

He offered advice to students about finding meaning in their work and not forcing an idea.

“You gotta start relying on your own voice,” Ortiz says. “You have to just loosen up and let your own voice take place.”

Applicants could submit up to 20 photos, and were encouraged to include multimedia pieces if possible. A proposal — a written statement describing the work and how the artist will use the grant to further their project — had to be entered with any submission.

“One of the unique things about the Alexia Foundation is the proposal and the body of work are considered equally,” Davis says, stressing the importance of image order and the number of images an applicant submits. “Just because it says 20 images doesn’t mean you have to enter 20 images.”

The judges repeatedly expressed their satisfaction with the work that was submitted throughout the judging, and found it hard to determine an ultimate winner that trumped the others.

“I thought actually today there would be a bigger gap between the student work and the student proposals and the professional work and the professional proposals,” Dolan says while narrowing down the final professional entries Saturday.

Ortiz stood and paced around the judges’ table: “It’s getting hard now!”

“Which is fantastic!” Leen says, finishing her co-judge’s sentence.

“When you submit to something like this, don’t be discouraged because we’re saying ‘out,’” Ortiz says. “Keep working on your craft — I see a lot of great imagery here.”

The Alexia Foundation was created in memory of photography student Alexia Tsaiiris, one of the 35 Syracuse University students killed in the terrorist bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 in 1988. Her parents, Peter and Aphrodite Tsairis created the Foundation in 1991, which has since awarded more than $947,000 to photography students and professionals to further their work.

“We feel we’ve done our small part in the great adventure of discovery,” Aphrodite Tsairis says, who attended the judging weekend with her husband, Peter. “We hope to stay in the forefront of world issues with the enriching help of Newhouse.”

Although nothing will replace the happiness her daughter’s life brought to their family, Tsairis says the Alexia Foundation’s ability to be a catalyst in inspiring innovative work that questions the world is incredible.

“That’s what this was all about. There’s always something that makes you sit up and listen,” she says. “It’s the discovery.”

Georgie Silvarole is a sophomore newspaper and online journalism major at the Newhouse School.