“Sag Harbor in Focus 2” Will Open at Whaling Museum
By Michelle Trauring
“Sag Harbor In Focus 2” is not an exhibit of boilerplate, postcard-perfect photos — and it was never meant to be.
These images are raw. Some are unconventional, artistic and challenging. Others capture the East End from a quirky perspective. But one fact ties them all together.
Not one of the photographers is over age 18.
From the eye of Pierson High School students, the 25 photographs hanging at the Sag Harbor Whaling Museum on Saturday and Sunday represent the best of more than 1,000 submissions, as judged by Ralph Gibson and organized by Peter Solow.
“I cut it down to a more reasonable 300 photos for Ralph. We didn’t want him to take his entire life to go through everything,” the Pierson High School photography teacher said with a laugh. “We’ve created something of a tradition, in terms of the quality and excellence of what the kids are doing. This year, we had kids get into some really great schools based on their portfolios. The competition itself is a wonderful opportunity for the kids to be able to exhibit their work for the broader Sag Harbor community that I don’t know would get a chance to see it otherwise.”
The competition was the brainchild of April Gornik and Eric Fischl who, last year, as they were planning the Sag Harbor Partnership’s benefit event, “The Big Tent: Party for the Park,” wanted to involve high school students in some way. And so, a photography contest was born.
They tapped Gibson as judge, and put out an open call to the local high school students. The response was overwhelming, as was the talent, Solow said.
“What we try to impress upon the kids is there’s a difference between visual noise and music, and with the advent of digital photography, there is so much visual noise out there,” Solow said. “The challenge is to develop their understanding of aesthetic and design and composition, and to begin to engage them in a discussion of what makes a good photograph, what makes a good piece of art, what is style, where does it come from — and actually elevate your own work so it’s something more than a snapshot.
“This is a question that I think all artists and serious photographers throughout their career ask themselves,” he continued. “And these kids are just at the beginning.”
The students chose to submit to any of 11 categories: portraiture, family, photojournalism, Sag Harbor history, landscape, life on the street, architecture, selfie, poignant, funniest and unclassified. In Brandon Powell’s case, he submitted to all of them.
At the time of the interview, the 18-year-old didn’t know he had won first place for architecture — though it’s safe to say he does now.
“I would feel really happy. It would be an honor,” he said of clinching a win. “A lot of the times I just submit things through school. I look at it as practice because I don’t have too much formal education. Winning would be more of just a bonus for me.”
This fall, Powell will study photography at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan and said he hopes to become a well-known photographer someday.
“I love photography because you never run out of photos to take. There’s always something that seems worth taking a picture of, and it’s always exciting to take a picture of something and get it,” he said. “It’s that feeling. A lot of times, you’ll see something happen in a split second and you’ll take a picture and forget about it. And a day later when you go through everything, it turns out to be a good photo and it’s like, ‘Oh my God. I did it.’ It’s really rewarding.”
“Sag Harbor In Focus 2,” featuring photographs from Pierson High School students, will be on view Saturday, July 15, and Sunday, July 16, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Sag Harbor Whaling and Historical Museum. An opening reception will be held on Saturday from 5 to 7 p.m. For more information, visit sagharborwhalingmuseum.org.