FAVA Biennial Juried Photography Exhibit, installation view, featuring a manipulated photo scan by Christopher Kaspar at far right.

For anyone interested in contemporary fine art photography, it’s well worth a trip to the Firelands Association for the Visual Arts (FAVA) in Oberlin for the biennial juried photo exhibition, selected this year by Barbara Tannenbaum, curator of photography at the Cleveland Museum of Art.

On view through October 31, the show brings together works by 30 artists from around the country (five from northeast Ohio). Tannenbaum combed through nearly 300 entries to select the 41 works on view, representing everything from street photography and formal studies of flowers to lumen photograms and images transferred to corn husks.

Photo by Holly Romano (Juror’s Choice Award)

The FAVA Gallery occupies two spacious rooms of a Victorian schoolhouse built in 1874, which shares a block with quirky shops, restaurants, and coffeehouses on the main street of this college town. Works in the first room are primarily figurative, and include two color prints, by Holly Romano (Columbus, OH), recipient of the Juror’s Choice Award, that document her children’s behavior during the pandemic. The colorful, well-lit images contrast with the happenstance grittiness of a series taken in the Paris Metro by Steven Edson (Arlington, MA). Three color prints by Diane Durant (Fort Worth, TX) in her recent series Stories 1986–88 feature staged scenes of her daughter standing in for Durant’s younger self. Paired with short texts, the images recreate, in the artist’s words, two childhoods: “the one I remember and the one I was never quite allowed to be.” Durant’s photograph of her daughter as a football star—juxtaposed with a reference to the John Mellencamp song “Jack and Diane”—received the Solo Show Award.

Photo by Diane Durant, of Fort Worth, Texas (Solo Show Award)


Landscape and architectural images predominate in the gallery’s second room. Tangles of trees and lichen-covered bark in the atmospheric, black-and-white prints by Denise M. Oehl (Hudson, NY) recall 19th century photography. She shoots with old-school film and develops prints in the darkroom using a hand-coated palladium/lithium process, resulting in richly textured images with a depth of feeling. Conversely, slick jewel-colored prints by Steven Barger (New Richmond, OH) and Paul Murray (Jamestown, RI) present exotic landscapes in far-flung places.

Plastic Bottle Debris, Photo by Jerry Underwood, of Kansas City, Missouri

My personal favorites are two beach photos by Jeremy Underwood (Kansas City, MO), which document sculptures made from materials harvested on site. Plastic Bottle Debris Circle features a large globe, seemingly lit from within, on a shoreline with an industrial landscape in the distance. Wood Debris Spiral provides a similar commentary on consumer culture and its impact on the environment. The sculptures are photographed then left to be discovered.

Modern Family, Photo by Christopher Kaspar, of Lakewood, Ohio

Photography has long been a vehicle for social commentary, a tradition that continues in this biennial. Christopher Kaspar (Lakewood, OH) begins with found snapshots that speak to him, scanning the images and adding manipulations, then printing the digital images onto steel plates. In Kaspar’s work Modern Family, the snapshot is blown up and parts are repeated, perhaps to emphasize the mother and child at the center of the composition. In the series Sea of Cops 2, Omid Tavakoli (Cleveland, OH) also uses digital manipulation, this time to multiply found images of police in full riot gear.

Just the Way It Isn’t, Photo by Rita Montlack, whose photo of the Frank Gehry-designed Peter B. Lewis building at Case Western Reserve University won the show’s Architecture Award

There’s nothing like a photo of the Cleveland skyline to make locals feel gratified. Just the Way It Isn’t, a black-and-white print with transparent overlays of intense color by Rita Montlack (Shaker Heights, OH) fits the bill, but it’s her print highlighting the contorted Peter B. Lewis Building on the CWRU campus that received the show’s architecture award. Also notable is a technically brilliant photo by Larry Halff (San Francisco, CA), a study of the metallic, trapezoidal facade of Mexico City’s Museo Soumaya.

“Contemporary fine art photography embraces innumerable techniques and modes of expression,” wrote Barbara Tannenbaum in her juror’s statement. “Happily, we live in an era when diversity and complexity are beginning to be recognized in both art and life as not just beneficial but necessary traits.”

The FAVA Gallery is open Tuesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday from 1 to 5 p.m. If you can’t make it in person, the exhibition is accompanied by an excellent website.


The National Juried Biennial Photography Show is on view through October 31 at the FAVA Gallery, 39 S. Main St., Oberlin.

The opinions expressed on CAN Blog are those of the individual writers. Art is somewhat subjective. Well, somewhat. But yes, everybody's a critic.