Cleveland Photo Fest Kicks Off “Cleveland Photothon 2021” With Exhibitions and Events All Around the City

click to enlarge From left to right: Community Development/Corporate Liaison (Randy O. Norfus), Administrative and Media Assistant (Nina Ripich), Director (Herbert Ascherman), Director (Laura D'Alessandro), Director & Marketing Manager, (Jim Szudy), Volunteer Coordinator (June Hund) - Photo by Shawn Mishak
Photo by Shawn Mishak
From left to right: Community Development/Corporate Liaison (Randy O. Norfus), Administrative and Media Assistant (Nina Ripich), Director (Herbert Ascherman), Director (Laura D'Alessandro), Director & Marketing Manager, (Jim Szudy), Volunteer Coordinator (June Hund)

After a hiatus in 2020, Cleveland Photo Fest is picking up where it left off with “Cleveland Photothon 2021,” which kicked off this past Saturday at Bostwick Design Art Initiative located on Prospect Ave. in downtown Cleveland. This regional happening runs through June 30th with a multitude of participating venues, events and exhibitions.

In February of 2019, Laura D'Alessandro called Herbert Ascherman and said, “Cleveland needs a photo event.” They brought in Jim Szudy, sat down in a coffee shop, and two and a half hours later The Cleveland Photo Fest was launched. The first year included 16 different galleries with 26 different exhibitions and more than 250 photographers. Due to COVID-19 in 2020 the fest took a rest.

In January of this year they launched “Cleveland Photothon 2021,” which opened to the public May 1st with several key exhibitions: “I Identify As,” where 30 Black, white and those who identify as ‘Other’ photographers photographed and were photographed by another who identifies as racially different from themselves; “For Woman Only: Dear Diary (Show Us Your Secrets),” an all–woman exhibition described as ”an upbeat opportunity for women to visually share their favorite secret”; “Furtography Another Show for The Dogs,” a cheerful exhibition of dog images; “Deja Nude: Not Another Nude Show!,” featuring nude bodies depicted with spontaneity and artful variety; “Portrait of Homelessness” by Lydia Baily, a collection of 45 photos and stories of homeless Clevelanders from the Lutheran Metropolitan Ministry Men’s Shelter; then, finally, a solo exhibition by Randy O. Norfus, who steps outside of his usual jazz photography subject matter with “Abstract and Collage.”

These exhibitions are primarily under the guidance of three Directors: Herbert Ascherman, founder and director of the Cleveland Photographic Workshop; Laura D'Alessandro, Cleveland-born fine art photographer, writer and educator; and Jim Szudy, graduate of Baldwin Wallace University, freelance photographer and founder of Gemini Developers. They are assisted by staff, volunteers and associates Nina Ripich, Jamie Richey, Anastasia Pantsios, Tim Lachina, Anderson Rush, and Randy Norfus. This small group of dedicated people were able to take on this monumental challenge to present this momentous occasion for viewers from all over to enjoy and experience.

“Cleveland Photothon 2021” also includes a wide variety of galleries, satellite exhibitions and events hosted by venues and organizations such as the Cleveland Botanical Gardens with “Creature Feature,” Mac’s Backs Books on Coventry with “Poetography,” Photocentric on Waterloo Rd. with “Selections 2021,” and many, many more throughout Northeastern Ohio.

Cleveland Photo Fest partnered for the “I Identify As” exhibition with The Cleveland Diversity Center, which was founded in 1927 as the Cleveland Council of Christians and Jews to stifle the rise in anti-Semitism in Cleveland leading up to WWII. Since then, they have grown to encompass all forms of prejudice and discrimination.

During the preview of the “I Identify As” exhibition, the participants were asked to share some of their experiences with the process of this show. One participant got up, addressed the crowd and talked about photographing his subject. He explained the interaction: “We were chatting back and forth and he looked at me and he said, I got to tell you, I would have never met you, I would have never gotten my picture taken by you, and I never would have gotten out of my box…the basis and the principle upon which we base this: to meet someone, to exchange on an artistic level and then to get out of your box. And what we are hoping is that the associations and the friendships that we made throughout the experience will be carried over again.” Another participant said that even though she felt she could make an archival digital print in way less time, she had committed herself to putting her print film studio back together to make an analog print for this exhibition.

These are examples of the kind of connections which can be made, the experiences which can be fostered and the creatively which can blossom when a group of creatives come together in concerted action.

Photo Fest — with its mission statement, “Unity Through Photography” —  has always been a collective effort towards expanding artistic horizons with inclusiveness and unbiased reception at the heart of it. It was inspiring to see so many artists coming together to collaborate and exhibit after such a long lull in artistic connection over the course of the pandemic. 
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