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Portrait Project Pairs Northeast Ohio Photographers

Verle Majied by Herb Ascherman
Verle Majied by Herb Ascherman

Photographers are front and center in a new portrait exhibit in Cleveland.

Sixty Northeast Ohio photographers accepted an invitation to snap portraits of their peers for the “I Identify As” exhibition on view at the Bostwick Design Center as part of the second annual Cleveland Photo Fest. The project paired photographers of different racial backgrounds in an effort to forge new relationships.

“The intent behind the project was to get people out of their box, into the street, into the community on a first-hand basis of association with people that they would never have met under any other circumstances,” said Herb Ascherman, one of the co-curators of the exhibit.

Eartha L. Goodwin of Akron and Shireen Dorsey of Cleveland’s West Side hadn’t met before they were paired for the project, but both photographers said they plan to stay connected into the future.

“We're bonded now,” Dorsey said. “And I'm looking forward to her teaching me a lot more things about photography.”

Eartha L. Goodwin portrait by Shireen Dorsey

Working with Goodwin, Dorsey captured her in front of a tree at a park, in a non-traditional portrait where Goodwin appears to be emerging out of the tree.

“I've really enjoyed Shireen’s intuitiveness and it shows in that portrait,” Goodwin said. “There's no eye contact. It's you know, it's about the emergence and the motion.”

The quick rapport they established also made for a positive experience.

“I’m usually on the other side of the camera, and I think many photographers will agree it's uncomfortable to be in front,” Goodwin said.

Part of what makes a good portrait is the ability of the photographer to make the person in front of the camera at ease.

“So many times, when people are photographed, they may initially have their guard up and they’re not really showing you the true essence of who they are as a human being,” said Randy O. Norfus, a co-curator of the exhibit.  

Verle Majied by Herb Ascherman

The resulting images from the 60 participants also demonstrate a variety of photographic styles.

“There were interior shots, shots taken outside. There were collages, other types of mixed-metaphor presentations,” Norfus said. “We didn’t put any restrictions on what the photographers could submit, and we just let them run with their creativity.”

The exhibit is part of Cleveland Photo Fest’s Photothon 2021, which includes other shows on view at Bostwick and satellite locations as well as photography programs scheduled through the end of June.  

“We’re trying to just bring people together for the love of and enjoyment of photography and celebrating that and education,” said Laura D'Alessandro, director of Cleveland Photo Fest.

Carrie Wise is the deputy editor of arts and culture at Ideastream Public Media.