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Portrait of woman looking to the sky, soft focus
CREDIT: Cebe Loomis

I won the RPS Postgraduate Bursary. So what next?

Cebe Loomis describes how the award gave her confidence as an emerging visual artist

‘Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, New York’ from the upcoming book In My Yesterday by Cebe Loomis



The world has changed dramatically since Cebe Loomis received the RPS Postgraduate Bursary in 2017. The visual artist and social documentarian, based in Chicago, USA, reflects on how the pandemic has affected her work, and why she flourished following recognition by the RPS.

Submissions are invited for the 2021 bursary, which offers £3,500 to support the work of a postgraduate student. This year, the RPS is asking applicants to propose projects that are based in the country they reside in to help address any remaining Covid-19 restrictions. The closing date for applications is 14 June 2021 for courses and projects with start dates in Autumn 2021 and January 2022.

Red leaves surround a warehouse window
CREDIT: Cebe Loomis

‘Everything you love' by Cebe Loomis


Cebe Loomis, where are you and what can you see?

I am sitting in my studio here in my apartment in Chicago. My studio has been a solace during these long winter months, and I often find myself daydreaming while looking out of the window.

Describe yourself as a photographer

I am a visual artist and social documentarian with a methodology steeped in practices of visual anthropology, cultural geography and analogue photography.

I have been photographing most of my life. My father, a fine art photographer himself (@justloomis), gifted me my first camera when I was 15, his own 1980 Nikon F3. With this explorative tool hanging around my neck I began to photograph my many hometowns: the American West of Los Angeles, California and Reno, Nevada, as well as the suburban streets of my Greek-immigrant grandparents’ neighborhood in Montreal, Canada.

My practice has evolved considerably from these green beginnings. I have shifted from photographing singular moments caught in time to focusing more on the layers of the story that I am relaying to my audience. My best work is born from working on or with a subject I have a personal connection to or with. I am constantly questioning my own methodology, as well as issues of gaze, privilege and power inherent to the documentary arts field. My analogue processes uniquely prompt, inform and influence these questions and consequently my photographic projects.

A woman sits on a bed
CREDIT: Cebe Loomis

‘Montreal, Quebec’ from the series Rootbeer Eyes by Cebe Loomis


How has the pandemic affected the way you work?

The pandemic has challenged us all in ways we never thought previously possible. As a documentary photographer I was constantly using the external world around me to draw inspiration for my work. Obviously this wasn’t as available to me this year. Instead I reflected inwardly, as many of us found ourselves doing. I began using my anthropological and documentary eye to examine and bring to the surface my own memories and contemplations of place, of childhood, of those self-defining moments we can easily allow to fade into the recesses of our minds.

Growing up, my father had a saying for my brother and I, “Don’t forget the pony.” This just means to never forget the things you loved as a child, to never lose sight of the spirit of your childhood being. Throughout this pandemic I have been returning to this saying, creating work that stems from a more insular, meditative space, while still drawing on my documentary practices.

You received your RPS Postgraduate Bursary in 2017. What impact did it have?

When I received the Bursary in 2017, it was the first time I had been truly ‘seen’ by an outside institution. I felt validated in my artistic process and the direction I was taking with my photography. This kind of recognition was extremely important for my self-esteem as a young photographer, when the world you are stepping into sometimes seems too large to manage.

This is why I feel so strongly about mentoring and building relationships with emerging artists and photographers. Authentic encouragement from a professional in the field can so positively and deeply affect early-career practitioners, which will in turn hopefully inspire them to continue to build relationships within our community as they rise to leadership positions.


What do you dream of next?

I dream of a next chapter steeped in community and meaningful relationships. As we have all experienced this past year with Covid-19, the absence of connections to people and place is extraordinarily painful. We have witnessed how people have sought meaningful connection through creative means, and the resilience of so many is truly remarkable, but nothing can replace what it means to physically belong somewhere and/or with someone.

What I dream of next is a period where I am deeply connected to community and place. For the moment I can only wonder about the great things such a chapter would bring to my photographic practice.

A girl dances in a field
CREDIT: Cebe Loomis

‘Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, New York’ from the upcoming book In My Yesterday by Cebe Loomis

This image is part of my developing book project exploring my time attending Vassar College in upstate New York. I photographed my entire four years of college life – clear and honest photographs that captured my burgeoning relationships and adolescent experiences. My images were simply composed yet intimate and lively; in these pictures of young adults lying on the grass or screaming in unison at nothing, there is evident an underlying anxiety and uncertainty, coupled with absolute freedom and exploration of spirit.


RPS Post Graduate Bursary

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