A.J. Zelina Emerging Young Photographer Grant

For Emerging Young Photographers

Past Winner

Way Outside the Box

Kristina Pedersen - IL, United States

Way Outside the Box: Creative Labor in the Midwest
A.J. Zelina Emerging Young Photographer Grant Proposal

This ongoing photojournalism project explores and documents nontraditional creative communities in rural and suburban Midwest. The project intends to celebrate even the smallest moments of divine self-realization and self-actualization through expression. I am particularly keen on exploring how we fit these moments into a seemingly-recalcitrant cycle of production and consumption.

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You are not particularly encouraged to be creative when you grow up in the Midwest as a first-generation American. The Midwest itself harbors a kind of restlessness—Imagine: twenty minutes away from downtown Kansas City and twenty minutes away from the middle of nowhere, but stuck right smack in the middle between a bunch of new houses that all look the same.


I became obsessed with manifestations of restlessness, specifically when manifested as creative labor. The production/consumption cycle comes to life in both strange and mundane ways in small towns which, over the decades, have been isolated from ‘mainstream’ (’market-stream’) ‘high’ creative culture. Beautiful and interesting communities form around these nontraditional modes of expression and my ongoing project attempts to document and celebrate their gatherings.


For the past few years I have been attending these gatherings—events, happenings, celebrations, conferences, and festivals—across the Midwest and throughout other rural communities on the coasts. Most recently I spent time documenting creative life at a biodynamic farm in Hudson, NY, and before that I attended the 79th-annual Magic Get Together in the self-proclaimed magic capital of the world, Colon, MI. My photo essay from Colon, MI, was published in Vice and my photo essay from Hudson was published in The Fullest Magazine. I am mainly concerned with investigating the aesthetic and spiritual aspects of these communities and how creative expression manifests itself outside of the commercial and professional realm.


The ultimate goal of the project is to celebrate and document communities that foster non-commercial creativity and expression, humanity in the raw. I am constantly continuing my research and reaching out to new communities for opportunities to document and learn. If selected, I will create new images for this series using medium format 120mm film. A small part of the funds will go towards film materials.


I intend to use the bulk of the funds to make a nonconventional photobook using newsprint. I have worked with newsprint before: to me, the medium evokes a sense community and sharing. Since newsprint is relatively cheaper than traditional photobooks, I intend to print a series of 50, donating several to the creative communities involved. With the remaining funds I also intend to have a gallery release for the photobook in my own Midwest town, Chicago. Since 2014, I have been showing work at several small DIY galleries and theatres in Chicago and am familiar with the process of putting together a one-night reception. And finally, the photos and some accompanying writing will be shared in the cultural wellness magazine, The Fullest, for which I write on a semi-regular basis.


I really believe that, no matter where we live and no matter our form of expression, we are meant, as humans, to express. To create and share meaning, regardless of mode or medium, is truly divine, and in an over-commercialized world it is important to continue fostering non traditional creative outlets and communities. I am a photojournalist because I believe that my work in documenting these communities allows them to be shared and accepted and grow.



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