One of the chief benefits of a liberal arts education, and of Hamilton’s open curriculum in particular, is the opportunity that it affords students to experiment academically and to discover their passions.
So it was with Sean Henry-Smith ’15, a student who until the second semester of his first year at Hamilton had never picked up a camera, and who now just graduated from Hamilton with a paid internship at the Light Work center in Syracuse, N.Y.
Light Work was founded in 1973 primarily as a not-for-profit community darkroom for local photographers and has evolved into a multifaceted organization, with projects and elements ranging from an extensive artist-in-residence program, to the production of one of the longest running art-photography publications in the world. Henry-Smith’s work at the facility will primarily consist of insulation and work with the master printer, but will extend to writing and contributions to the design of issues of Contact Sheet, the aforementioned photo-publication.
Hometown: Miami, Fla.
High School: Robert Morgan Educational Center
But it isn’t just Light Work’s impressive history and facilities that drew Henry-Smith to the internship. Of particular draw was the presence of Carrie Mae Weems, recipient of the 2005 Distinguished Photographer’s Award, and famous for her artistic tackling of issues regarding race and gender. “I’ll be working directly with her on a few projects this summer,” says Smith, “She’s one of my biggest influences in photography, she was one of the first photographers who made me feel that my narrative was worthwhile. It’s definitely an honor to have the opportunity to work with her and learn from such a strong figure.”
Like many graduating students, Henry-Smith found the next step in his life’s journey through a Hamilton connection. During his sophomore year, he was taking a course titled Curating the Archive with professors Robert Knight and Lisa Trivedi, in which he was brought to Light Work and “fell in love with the space.” “I had been going there a lot, so I was familiar with the space,” claims Henry-Smith, continuing “I had an informal interview over spring break, and it became ‘if you really want this internship, it’s yours.’” Henry-Smith expressed interest in remaining in the Upstate New York area, citing its active and vibrant artistic community, and claiming that “I’m pursuing an MFA in photography within the next few years, so this will be a great opportunity to continue building a portfolio and preparing myself.”
Staying in Upstate New York will pay off financially for Henry-Smith as well. 2015 marks the first offering of the Levitt Center’s Levitt Social Sector Fellowship, which “will provide supplementary income for a graduating senior who is pursuing work in the public sector, including local governments (city or county) or a local non-profit,” with Henry-Smith as its first recipient. The fellowship represents a lump-sum of $10,000, and will be awarded annually from 2016 on. “(The fellowship) was definitely a big deciding factor for me… having that support was huge, making the first step into what will hopefully be a bunch of new opportunities.”
Smith is a native of Miami, Fla. and a graduate of the Robert Morgan Educational Center (high school).