Photographer of the Week #159: Eli Durst

Eli Durst was born and raised in Austin, TX. After graduating from Wesleyan University in 2011, 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 in photography from the Yale School of Art and is the recipient of the 2016 Aperture Port­folio Prize and the 2016 Richard Benson Prize for Excellence in Photography.

Durst’s new series of black and white photographs intensely illuminates meeting places filled with a mysterious, uncertain quality. Remnants of discussions, earnest listening faces, and collective activities discretely weave together associations with ritual practice and belief.

“While these photographs were made in many different community spaces around Connecticut, I see them as forming one, unified symbolic space in which the individuals depicted come together in hopes of finding something greater than themselves. The people in the images are taking part in a variety of activities including New Age spiritual classes, Boy Scout meetings, and corporate team building exercises, among others. I don’t intend for these photographs to be read as objective documents of these activities but rather as pieces of a world unto itself. Within this world, people congregate in search of meaning, purpose, and affirmation in a universe that often seems devoid of these things. These images are about looking for faith—in the broadest definition of the word—in the face of inevitable doubt.”

Miraculous light activates the uncanny potential within familiar objects to create mysterious narratives. Relics litter conference tables; lounge furniture and familiar meeting room decorations become distant artifacts. The staging of the figures balances secretive and theatrical sensibilities. These moments of transcendence are counterbalanced by the detailed description captured by the camera. Ecstatic activities are placed within spaces that seem far from sacred; they are rooms cluttered with filing cabinets, cardboard boxes, folding chairs, and dusty tiled floors. Durst’s subtle repetition of visual motifs further questions whether new meaning is possible within such a bleak environment.

For work by Eli Durst, visit his website at