Born and raised in Austin, Eli Durst studied American literature and history at Wesleyan University. After graduating, he worked at the renowned fine art printing studio Griffin Editions in Brooklyn while also serving as an assistant to street photographer Joel Meyerowitz. Eli received an MFA from the Yale School of Art in 2016. His work blends the languages of conceptual and documentary photography, creating open-ended and ambiguous narratives. In 2016, Eli received the Aperture Portfolio Prize for his series In Asmara, which examines the post-colonial legacy of Eritrea’s capital city. Eli is also the recipient of a 2017 Aaron Siskind Individual Photographer’s Fellowship Grant. He currently splits his time between New York and Austin, where he teaches photography at the University of Texas.
Evan, Boy Scouts, 2015
Bruce, Spinning, 2015
The Community is a series about the pursuit of enlightenment. What began as an initial desire to photograph the insides of church basements and the activities that took place there quickly expanded into a much broader series examining the fundamental search for community and purpose in suburban America.
The activities depicted range from Boy Scout meetings to New Age spiritual practices to corporate team building exercises and were all made in and around the types of multipurpose community spaces that are ubiquitous throughout the United States. These meeting places are utilitarian and functional, meant not to be glamorous but practical. While these spaces are largely interchangeable, there’s a specificity to their genericness, a familiarity in their universality.
As I began photographing different types of activities, I realized that I was less interested in faithfully documenting the realities of these different groups and more interested in the strangeness and confusion that resulted from juxtaposing images from completely separate times and places. I was intrigued by the figurative space that exists between the photographs, the moment when one one activity bleeds into another, creating a symbolic space of communal introspection—a universe in which individuals come together in ambiguous performances meant to enact a sort of self-improvement or self-realization. Put simply, these photographs are about the search for purpose and meaning in a world that both demands and resists interpretation.
Community Theater, 2016
Team Building (Highway), 2017
Bread (Cross), 2017
Boy Scout Salute, 2015
Tamra and Eric, 2018
To view more of Eli Durst’s work please visit his website.