The Art of the Personal Project is a crucial element to let potential buyers see how you think creatively on your own. I am drawn to personal projects that have an interesting vision or that show something I have never seen before. In this thread, I’ll include a link to each personal project with the artist statement so you can see more of the project. Please note: This thread is not affiliated with any company; I’m just featuring projects that I find. Please DO NOT send me your work. I do not take submissions.
Today’s featured artist: Rick Wenner
Wrongfully Incarcerated by Rick Wenner
Bruce Bryan Video – www.vimeo.com/832297219
Throughout my career, I have been primarily known as a celebrity portrait photographer. While I truly love creating portraits in the entertainment industry, my personal work has been portraits focusing on inspirational people with powerful stories such as para-athletes and The Patriot Guard Riders. My latest personal project creating portraits of wrongfully incarcerated people and documenting their release from prison and wrongful incarceration rallies in NYC is a body of work that I am very proud to share with you. It is a work in progress, and I am committed to building this body of work to help tell these stories and hopefully inspire change in our judicial system.
In September 2022 I was commissioned to create portraits of Josh Dubin, a prominent civil rights attorney, and Derrick Hamilton, a former wrongfully incarcerated man of over 20 years, to announce their new leadership roles at The Perlmutter Center for Legal Justice at Cardozo Law in NYC. Little did I know that while I was creating with these two men, I’d be inspired to pursue a new project focusing on the wrongfully incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people who regained freedom through exoneration and clemency. Hamilton told me his story of how he was wrongfully incarcerated and getting himself exonerated by studying law and a relentless pursuit of justice. Dubin told me a few stories of clients that he worked with and helped regain their freedom. During my conversation with Josh, he told me of a photography series that could have potentially traumatized the subjects. Formerly incarcerated people were brought back to the location where their lives forever changed and were sometimes asked to pose in the exact location where they were arrested. Immediately, I felt inspired to create my own project and bring the same compassion, emotion, and integrity that’s seen in my work to tell the stories of the wrongfully incarcerated. The work you are about to view tells the story of Bruce.
The work you are about to view tells the story of Bruce Bryan’s wrongful incarceration. On October 30, 1993, Travis Lilley, an 11-year-old boy, had just returned home from a neighbor’s birthday party and brought his mother a slice of birthday cake while she worked at his grandmother’s beauty salon. Shortly after Travis arrived, a shooting took place between Travis’ stepfather, his accomplice, and a young boy they previously fired a gun at while robbing him of money and drugs. Tragically and sadly, Travis Lilley was struck by a stray bullet and succumbed to his injury.
Unfortunately, the criminal justice system produced a culmination of factors for Bruce Bryan to be wrongfully convicted. From the unethical tactics of the former Queens Prosecutor John Scarpa, who has a history of misconduct, to the biased and traumatized court-appointed attorney, Reginald Towe, who at the time of the trial was undergoing treatment for PTSD-related symptoms and later admitted to being unable to properly relate and create a defense for his clients.
While Bruce found himself in the dark and cold prison cells of Upstate New York, he made a conscious decision to not simply serve time, but rather to have time serve him. He began to embark upon his journey of transformation while simultaneously fighting for the truth to prevail. Bruce lived his life by the parable of The Dandelion & The Wild Orchard. “A dandelion can thrive in just about any environment. I decided that I had to be that dandelion. I was going to thrive despite where I was at.” Bruce Bryan earned an Associate’s degree in Humanities and a Bachelor of Science degree, participated and completed numerous certification programs, he presented a TEDx Talk, co-wrote a children’s workbook for children of incarcerated parents, he developed the first NYS prisoners gun buy-back program, and so much more, all while he was incarcerated for a crime that he did not commit.
In 2022 Bruce Bryan was granted executive clemency by New York State Governor Kathy Hochul and released from prison on April 24, 2023.
This project has been created in honor of Bruce’s story. I visited Bruce at Sing Sing Correctional Facility to create his black and white “Incarcerated Portrait”. The following week I went back to Sing Sing to document Bruce’s release from prison after close to 30 years of wrongful incarceration. Two months later I visited Bruce at his home in Jamaica, NY to create his “Freedom Portraits”. In September 2023 I documented the Wrongful Convicted Rally at City Hall in New York City.
My project is not limited to the wrongfully incarcerated though. I am building a full-length series that shows everyone involved in getting the wrongfully incarcerated out from behind bars, including attorneys, community leaders, and government officials.
These stories must be told, and I am committed to this work.
APE contributor Suzanne Sease currently works as a consultant for photographers and illustrators around the world. She has been involved in the photography and illustration advertising and in-house corporate industry for decades. After establishing the art-buying department at The Martin Agency, then working for Kaplan-Thaler, Capital One, Best Buy and numerous smaller agencies and companies, she decided to be a consultant in 1999. Follow her at @SuzanneSease. Instagram