For the sixth year in a row, residents of South Philly and beyond are invited to the Open Lens exhibition, an annual photo arts juried competition put on by the Da Vinci Art Alliance.
This year’s exhibition will feature 22 different photographs from 22 different photographers selected by the event’s juror, Ron Tarver. Tarver, who’s made a 30-plus-year career in photography, has had his work published in the Philadelphia Inquirer, National Geographic, Life, Time, Newsweek, Sports Illustrated and Black & White Magazine. Furthermore, he is co-author of the book We Were There: Voices of African American Veterans, published by HarperCollins in 2004, which was accompanied by a traveling exhibition that debuted at the National Constitution Center. Currently, Tarver is a Visiting Assistant Professor of Art at Swarthmore College.
“He’s a wonderful educator and what I love about having educators as jurors is that they’re used to seeing all sorts of things and are incredibly knowledgeable about a variety of different mediums,” said DVAA’s exhibitions director, Bryant Girsch. “Ron is a well-known name in the photo community so I think having him…is really great.
According to both Girsch and DVAA’s executive director, Jarrod Markman, Tarver has selected the 22 photographs himself for the exhibition. Furthermore, he will select a first, second and third prize when the exhibition is on display. Unlike some previous iterations of Open Lens, this year’s event will not feature any kind of theme, which was Tarver’s decision.
“I think you can have a really successful show with a theme and a really successful show without a specific theme,” said Girsch. Instead, Markman said, the “content is filtered through [Tarver’s] own aesthetic.”
If that sounds vague, it’s because the details of the competition are vague, at least to some degree. When asked what criteria Tarver would be judging the photography on, Girsch responded by calling it “a tricky question.”
“It’s not trying to locate any sort of thematic idea, but being in education for a long time you have an eye for what’s good, for what makes a piece of art,” he said. “I don’t think there is any sort of secret formula for what Ron is looking for that he’s keeping close to his chest.”
Markman said that oftentimes photographers will look up a juror’s background and try to submit work that best matches the jurors’.
“If we have an artist who solely did street photography [as the juror], we would probably get a lot more street photographers apply,” explained Markman. “Really, I think they should just choose their best work rather than trying to tailor it to [the juror].”
Markman said that Tarver was picked to be the juror after DVAA consulted with many of its members who were photographers.
“We asked a bunch of our members who are photographers for recommendations on people they would be excited about and then we had a short list of people,” he said.
According to Markman and Girsch, this year’s event will be the first to include the work of out-of-state photographers. While most of the photographers are local, this year’s event will feature artists from Newark, New Jersey, Washington, D.C. and Texas.
“It’s definitely had a wider reach [than the previous Open Lens exhibitions in terms of] the number of people who are submitting to it and the geography of people wanting to be a part of the show – I think that’s expanding,” said Girsch. “It’s really exciting that as an organization, we have been able to create something that, one, has lasted six years in an iteration such as this, but it’s also gaining traction and really highlighting good work in the area. And I think the better the show is ultimately inspires the next year’s entries and jurors and winners to be that much better.”
The exhibition’s selected artists includes Arlene Solomon, Casey Jackson, Clarice Barbato-Dunn, Clay M. Jordan, Donna Garcia, Erin Nowak, John P. Clarke, John Stritzinger, Lara Morgan, Laura Storck, Leah Macdonald, Mitchell Anolik, Nanci Hellmuth, Richard Greene, Stephanie Slate, Victoria Vasile, Jay Pastelak, Jim Conner, John Yeatman Jr., Laura Ducceschi, Mark Houlday and Michael D. Jicha. The top three finishers will receive $150, $100 and $50 gift cards to Da Vinci’s annual exhibition prize partner, Artist and Craftsman Supply. The winners will be announced at the exhibition’s opening reception on Wednesday, Jan. 8, from 6 to 8 p.m. The exhibition, which is free to attend, will go until Jan. 26.