For “Photowork ’07,” Barrett Art Center’s 20th annual national juried photography exhibition, the Poughkeepsie gallery’s director, Laurie Strange, gave juror Asher Miller the freedom to select works not based on any particular theme or genre.
“I came into it blank, hoping things would just jump out at me, and that’s exactly what happened,” Miller says. “All of a sudden, something would come up on the computer screen, and it would be sort of magical. I’d just know that’s the one.”
The exhibition features the work of 51 photographers from across the nation, 13 of them from the Hudson Valley. Miller is a research associate in the department of 19th Century Modern and Contemporary Art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In past years, “Photowork” has had jurors from the Guggenheim, the Brooklyn Museum, and the International Center of Photography. “We use a different juror every year, hoping to get a different show. This year’s has more of a photo-journalistic bent,” says Strange. “It’s been very difficult in the past to get someone from the Met. We were very appreciative.”
The overall quality of the submissions was excellent, and the images chosen make for a strong and diverse exhibit. In some cases, context made more of an impact on the selection process than aesthetic quality.
“One of the first images I saw was of a woman in a bathing suit on a roof that had ‘This is not the USA’ spraypainted on it, and I wasn’t sure what exactly I was looking at,” says Miller. “I thought it was some sort of hipster joke or something. But when Laurie gave me the context, that it was a photograph from New Orleans after the hurricane, a pall fell over the room. The image was powerful and undeniable even though it couldn’t compete aesthetically with some of the others.”
The first-prize winner is a horizontal, black-and-white image titled Sunset Promenade, by Gerald Merna of Sterling, Virginia. It features five dark, evenly spaced figures on a beach with the sun setting in the distance.
“It’s just a classically beautiful composition,” says Miller. “The people in it look very natural together. You get the sense that they’re a family. There is something excellent about them—just enjoying the end of a day. It’s a casual image, but there’s something tremendously classical about it. It’s jaw-dropping—just achingly beautiful.”
“Photowork ’07” is on view at the Barrett Art Center at 55 Noxon Street in Poughkeepsie from March 17 to April 28. (845) 471-2550; www.barrettcenter.org.