In 2004, VCU graduate student Will May received a VMFA Visual Arts Fellowship. The award was of such benefit to him as a student that the photographer applied again in 2014, once he was established in his career. And like 139 artists who have received multiple Fellowships in the 75-year history of the program, May took home a second award this year.
In the short-term, May, who lives in Charlottesville, has used the Fellowship funds to upgrade his equipment and materials, but the long-term impact has been much more profound. “Receiving an award like the Fellowship confers professional legitimacy, offers funds to experiment with and produce work that is free of commercial constraint, and generally boosts confidence,” says the photographer, who is also a stay-at-home dad.
The works that clinched May’s most recent award were eight pieces from his multi-year project Near & Far. As a child, May loved reading. “Images would constantly appear in my mind as I visualized myself in the story, seeing familiar locations and faces unknowable to the author,” he explains. As May matured, his imagination moved from fiction to real life. He started pondering how people overlay their own stories—who and where they are and what they’ve experienced—with what they know to be true. Capturing some of these narratives, Near & Far is likewise an invitation for the viewer to consider his or her own particular story. Ultimately, May would like to compile the images from this photo series into a book.
Two works from this project, along with six other prints, will go on view at Richmond International Airport this month as part of VMFA’s 75th anniversary Fellowship exhibition.