Finding the Unique in the Ordinary

Judy Faer "Nature at its Best."
Judy Faer "Nature at its Best."
Judy Faer “Nature at its Best.”

By Annette Hinkle

Anyone can snap a picture these days, be it on a real camera, a tablet or the ubiquitous iPhone. But snapping a picture is much different than possessing the vision required to be a real photographer, which requires a great deal more skill.

For years, Sag Harbor photographer Kathryn Szoka has been sharing her knowledge of the art through workshops at the Art Barge in East Hampton and at Canio’s Books in Sag Harbor, which she co-owns. As a result, generations of photographers have honed their photography skills under her tutelage.

Jane Umanoff "Hole in the Wall."
Jane Umanoff “Hole in the Wall.”

Now, Ms. Szoka is curating a show featuring some of her most dedicated former students who have become impressive photographers in their own right. That show, “The ODD in the Ordinary,” opens this weekend at Canio’s Gallery and on view will be a selection of images by six of Ms. Szoka’s former students — Nancy Beckerman, Judy Faer, Katarina Mesarovich, Heather Wojtusiak, Tina Curran and Jane Umanoff.

Heather Wojtusiak's "Calf in barn."
Heather Wojtusiak’s “Calf in barn.”

“The distinguishing aspect of their work is they all have taken workshops with me,” explains Ms. Szoka. “Since the mid-90s, I’ve been teaching photography. A number of photographers I’ve worked with have been serious about their efforts.”

“I’m very pleased to see people embrace it and run with it after being involved in a workshop situation with me,” she adds. “I’ve been considering doing a show of their work for quite a while.”

For most of the photographers, this will be their first real exhibit and Ms. Szoka notes they are excited to take part. She also hopes this show launches them into a new realm as exhibitors.

“As a photographer, it’s one thing to take images and prepare them for a club, workshop or peer review. It’s a whole other level when you have to make choices in considering what to put in a show, including printing and getting the work ready,” she explains. “It’s a continuum — from learning the craft well to seeing the work in a gallery is a lot of steps.”

“They’re engaged in those,” she adds. “These individuals were selected because of their serious intent in their photography. I’m pleased to see the fruits of their efforts.”

The exhibition’s name, “The ODD in the Ordinary’ references imagery that takes what is visible in everyday life and presents it to viewers in a totally new, unique and unexpected way.

“More than ever, there are images everywhere you look,” explains Ms. Szoka. “It’s taking smooth, plain vanilla and showing it in a way people haven’t seen or thought about before.”

Katarina Mesarovich "Torso/legs."
Katarina Mesarovich “Torso/legs.”

Accomplished photographers have a signature of sorts — a point of view, if you will — that is evident throughout their body of work. That signature tends to evolve over time and with experience. Ms. Sozka explains that each photographer in this show offer their own unique take on subjects. For example, Nancy Beckerman’s focus has been on ocean waves which she shoots using a slow shutter speed to accentuate the movement. Judy Faer, conversely, is a potter by trade and because her photography reflects that creative background, she is drawn to imagery that accentuates shape and form. Katarina Mesarovich’s mother was a professional photographer and her images are impressionistic in nature — Ms. Sozka describes them as short stories, while Heather Wojtusiak, who is in her 20s and the youngest photographer in the show, has a specific eye for landscape and color. Jane Umanoff, a psychologist, focuses on her travels in her photography, while Tina Curran, a Buddhist, offers images that Ms. Szoka finds are more contemplative in nature.

Ms. Szoka notes that the notion of meditative seeing encourages photographers to slow down and contemplate what it is they are looking to capture. In this digital age, it is something that she strongly encourages her students to do.

“The idea is to go out with your camera and just allow your inner eye to see what you want to photograph,” she says. “Become aware of what you’re looking at and what you want to find.”

Since Ms. Szoka first began teaching photography in the 1990s, everything has changed in terms of the technological side of the medium — particularly the abandonment of film in favor of digital cameras capable of taking thousands of images in minutes. As a result of the change technology, is she finding that photographers are coming up with a greater number of quality images or fewer?

Nancy Beckerman's "The Wave."
Nancy Beckerman “The Wave.”

Ms. Sozka responds by describing a three panel cartoon she once saw. The first panel showed a roll of 120 film, under which it read, “12 exposures, three good ones.” The next frame showed a roll of 35 mm film with the words “36 exposures, three good ones.” The final frame was an image of a memory card and the words, “2,000 exposures, three good ones.”

These days, given the ease with which a huge number of images can be taken in a short amount of time, Ms. Szoka encourages her students to slow down and she challenges them to snap just a few frames regardless of the capabilities of their equipment.

Tina Curran "Changes."
Tina Curran “Changes.”

“I try to get students in a zone where they’re not over shooting,” she says. “It’s

not what you look at, but what you see. If you’re doing nature photography, it’s important to observe and be in the environment before reflexively shooting.”

“The more aware and in the experience of the environment you are, the better the results will be,” adds Ms. Szoka who admits that on occasion, she puts down her digital camera and picks up the film version, just for old times sake.

“A lot of photographers are trying to get back to that process, going back and doing just one shot at a time, or going back to a film camera where they only have 12 shots,” she says. “There’s a great joy in going out with what’s really a box camera, focusing manually, setting the f stop, setting the shutter speed and then shooting.”

“It’s a joyful experience in a way.”

“The ODD in the Ordinary,” a photography exhibition curated by Kathryn Szoka, opens with a reception on Friday, September 30 from 5 to 7 p.m. at Canio’s Books, 290 Main Street, Sag Harbor. The show runs through November 1. Call (631) 725-4926 for details.