Albert J. Winn, "Swimming Pool, Catskills Mtns., NY", from the series "Summer Joins the Past: Deserted, Abandoned and Vacant Jewish Summer Camps", 2001, gelatin silver print, 8x8"

Albert J. Winn, “Swimming Pool, Catskills Mtns., NY”, from the series “Summer Joins the Past: Deserted, Abandoned and Vacant Jewish Summer Camps”, 2001, gelatin silver print, 8×8″

Albert J. Winn

Summer camp was once an important part of the cultural landscape of the Jewish adolescent experience in the United States. Camps provided a sense of community and reinforced group identity, engendered their own allegiances, and fostered networks of relationships that extended into adulthood. Started in the early years of the twentieth century as a refuge from congested slums, summer camps became vehicles for assimilation into the American mainstream, combining Native-American and American folklore, sports, and arts and crafts activities in a Jewish cultural setting. For the entire summer, camp became an ideal community of children, removed from home and parents, mythological places of friendship, achievement, romance and promise. Although camps still exist, they reached their heyday in the 1950’s and 60’s.

The photographs shown here are of summer camps from a variety of locations throughout North America. Part of a larger body of work, they address the issues of memory, nostalgia, loss and myth associated with landscapes. In Landscape and Memory, Simon Schama addresses the notion that mythology imbued in certain places creates metaphor that is greater than its references. The myths that surround summer camp, like those of any other place that represent an ideal, have a resiliency greater than the actual experience, and as such become constructs of metaphor. As a long-term survivor of AIDS, the empty spaces have a special resonance for me. Devoid of the vitality for which they were created, they are not only the reminder of the loss of an ideal but also of lives lived and lost.

Larry Kramer, the AIDS activist and writer, speaking about the ravages of the plague, once described a feeling about New York. The New York I love is gone now. When I walk down the streets there, all I see are dead people. I, too, have experienced something similar, but instead of dead people, I sense emptiness. At first, I thought of photographing deserted street scenes of New York and other cities that have large gay populations and had experienced enormous loss from AIDS. But, as someone who attended summer camp for many years, it seemed only natural for me to return to that landscape for this series. I always wondered how camp would look when no one was there. Would the landscape hold the same resonance as empty spaces as they did in my memory or would they speak to something else? Summer Joins the Past, the title of this series, is taken from a lyric of a song written at Akiba, a camp I attended and a place I have returned often in memory. The scenes of vacant and deserted spaces were more evocative and haunting than I imagined.

The work of Albert J. Winn (Los Angeles, CA) is primarily autobiographic and addresses issues of identity be it related to religious, ethnic, gender or sexuality and how each informs the other in a context of illness, personal relationships and memory. He received a National Endowment for the Arts / Western States Arts Federation Fellowship, in 1993, for a collection of photographs and stories called, My Life Until, which dealt with his life as gay Jewish man living with AIDS. He received a fellowship from the Memorial Foundation of Jewish Culture in 2000, was an artist-in-residence at Blue Mountain Center (Blue Mountain, NY) and an Artist-in-Residence at Light Work (Syracuse, NY). His work is in the permanent collections of The Library of Congress (Washington, D.C), The Jewish Museum (NYC), the Museum of Fine Arts (Houston, TX), Light Work (Syracuse, NY), and the Visual AIDS Archive (NYC). He has been published in Zyzzyva, The Jewish Quarterly Review and on Selected one person shows include venues such as The International Center for Photography, and The Jewish Museum (both in NYC), Film in the Cities (Minneapolis), ARC Gallery (Chicago) and the Photographic Resource Center (Boston). Selected group shows include Made in California: 1900-2000 at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (Los Angeles, CA), Ritual & Religion at The Robert B. Menschel Gallery (Syracuse, NY), Portraits & Identity at The Skirball Museum (Los Angeles, CA), Intersecting Identities at SUNY Stony Brook (Stony Brook, NY), and The Changing Face of Family, at The Jewish Museum (NYC), The Cocktail Hour and The Family Seen at SF Camerawork (San Francisco, CA), Bodies of Resistance at NSA Gallery (Durban, South Africa), desire at Real Arts Ways, (Hartford, CT), Dancing with the Leviathan at Lonsdale Gallery (Toronto, Canada), Creating in Crises at SPACES (Cleveland, OH), TranscEnd AIDS at Los Angeles Center for Photographic Studies (Los Angeles, CA), and Titan Gallery (Tel Aviv, Israel). He was the guest artist and keynote speaker at Drawing the Line Against AIDS at the University of Adelaide, Australia.

Selected publications include “Don’t Leave Me This Way: Art in the Age of AIDS” (National Gallery, Australia), “A Face in the Crowd: Celebrating Gay Life in America” (The Matthew Shepherd Foundation), “Pandemic: Facing AIDS (Umbrage Editions)”, “Contact Sheet #103 & 107, Pakn Trager” (The National Yiddish Book Center), “Bodies of Resistance” (VisualAIDS, POZ Magazine, Corpus Magazine and Art and Understanding.) He has read his stories on National Public Radio and on the Pubic Broadcasting System.

Albert J. Winn received his MFA in Photography from California Institute of the Arts, an MA from the University of Florida, and a BS from Pennsylvania State University. He lives in Los Angeles, is a part time faculty member at Cal Arts and Moorpark College. He was the madrich at WUJS, Arad, Israel and worked for several years in the banana fields of Kibbutz Maíanit and the date orchards of Kibbutz Grofit, Israel.