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Photography thrives in Upstate New York

Dozens of people crammed into the long thin room, craning their necks to see the pictures filling nearly every free space on the wall. Standing on a ladder, Hannah Freiser, director of Light Work studio in Syracuse and juror of tonight’s photography show, asks how many artists are in the room. Hands fill the air.

The State of the Art Gallery located on the Commons in Ithaca, featured its 24th Annual Juried Photography competition last Friday, March 1st, during Ithaca’s Gallery Night. The show drew in hundreds of people over the course of the night to see over 80 photographs hanging on the gallery’s walls.

“It’s something that’s really wonderful to see how much energy exists in Ithaca and that there are so many submissions that are invaluable,” Hannah Freiser said. “When you ask how many artists are in the room, three quarters of the hands go up. That’s inspiring.”

Although the gallery only has 29 members, four of whom are photographers, it represents only a fraction of Ithaca’s larger art community.

“When you go to Ithaca it’s really an artist’s city. The city itself is really creative,” said Romance Vlavnou, an Elmira college student.

The award ceremony coincided with Ithaca’s First Friday Gallery Night, a monthly event in which local galleries open their doors to art aficionados. The event usually features upwards of fifteen shows, all within walking distance of the Commons. The following day Ithaca Art Trail hosts its First Saturday events, where 47 Tompkins County artists open their studios to tourists. These counts do not include the many coffee shops, community collective, or other projects done by local hobbyists, students, and part-time artists.

“It’s taken awhile for photography to be considered one of the fine arts,” Dan Neuburger, a partner at Rochester – based Image City Photography Gallery, said. “It’s ironic. They’ll allow bad art but not good photography.”

The Juried Photography competition highlights the photography community in Ithaca and has drawn the interest of a wider audience, Dan Watkins, the event’s organizer, said.

“We get a good number of people from New York [city] applying, so they must think it’s worth sending things up to the show,” Watkins said. More than 500 people normally show up for the artist reception, and another six, seven hundred usually see the show during its month-long exhibition, he added.

State of the Art has offered the Juried Photography show for 24 years, one of its two public shows. For $35 photographers can enter one to two photographs. The show gives smaller artists, who couldn’t produce a solo show, the opportunity to get their work in a gallery.

“I think there are more advanced amateurs,” Watkins said. “There’s some very good photography here and not everyone here’s trying to make a living with their photography, which is very hard unless they’re doing weddings or portraits.”

The top two awards went to recent photography graduates Duncan Oja and Sarah Carman. Other winners included Jon Reis and Kim McAlear, both of whom run small studios.

Success was not limited to the award winners; amateur photographer Ray Helmke managed to sell one of his entries. He said “It’s actually unusual to sell a photograph at all and I’m just stunned that [my photograph] sold. I had a photo in last year and it sold as well.”

The competition has grown over the years, said Watkins, and now is the gallery’s most popular show.

“This show has gotten better and better over the past ten years. The quality of the work is really quite good,” said Watkins.

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