Visions of Fairfield
By Rita Papazian
Stunning views of Fairfield captured in more than 200 photographs currently on exhibit at the Fairfield Arts Council can very well provide the settings for some compelling stories. That exactly is the point as 68 local photographers took up the challenge as well as their cameras to capture Fairfield, in what for many may be new light.
From the picturesque landscape portrait view of the Mill River in the late afternoon light of a fall day to the graffiti-swept building on town-owned property, these photographers' works now will become part of a collective, digital photography portfolio of potential film locations on file with the Film Division of the Connecticut Commission on Culture and Tourism for use in their Location Directory to spotlight Fairfield as a prime area for filmmakers. Copies of the images also will be given to the Fairfield Museum and History Center for its archives, and the town's Department of Community and Economic Development for promotional purposes. Copies also will be kept on file with the arts council.
The Fairfield Arts Council sponsored the photography exhibit "Fairfield in the Movies: A Community's Vision through the Lens." With matching grants from the town of Fairfield, the Connecticut Commission on Culture & Tourism and James P. and Donna Woods Orazio.
A panel of professional photographers including Peter Baker, Bobbi Lane and Kate Eisemann awarded cash prizes to four winning photographers. They are: first place, Marshall Cetlin, view of the Mill River from the Tide Mill Bridge; second place, Betty Wisse, interior view of her home at Paddock Hill Lane; and honorable mention to Lauren Athorn, for her photo of the Fairfield Hunt Club, and to Stephen Griggs, for his depicting Metro-North railroad tracks. They are both Fairfield Ludlowe High School seniors.
First Selectman Ken Flatto, who presented the awards during the exhibit's opening reception last Friday, said the photographs and photographers were a true representation of Fairfield.
"If this doesn't say it all," said Flatto, noting the variety of people, from student to veteran photographers, who entered the competition and captured a variety of settings. He praised the entrants for "taking a scene and making it personal. The breadth of the art is spectacular. I think this is one of the best photo shows our town has seen in years."
Flatto found the show particularly interesting because of the angles that many of the photographers selected, such as the ice house behind Mill Hill Elementary School.
Describing the day last fall that he shot his award-winning Mill River landscape, Cetlin said he was "driving by on the bridge and it happened to be a day where the water was still and it just froze me." Cetlin had taken the photograph for a local dentist, Dr. Edward Finegan, who commissioned a photograph to mount on the wall above the dental chair for patients to view. Cetlin, who has more than 40 years in advertising including positions as a creative director, said he learned most of his photography by working with professional photographers. He said he is "an expert in Photoshop" and even won a Photoshop montage award.
Second place winner Wisse explained her award-winning photograph which shows the pool inside her 10,000-square-foot home. It is shows a striking angle taken from the third floor of the open interior floor plan.
"There are no secrets in this house," said Wisse, who has lived in the house for 10 years. She did get a call from someone who had seen the house online since it is currently on the market. The company was looking for a home with an interior pool to do a photo shoot; however, the house was not selected.
Wisse also submitted a photograph of the Fairfield Community Theatre, a photo that Flatto praised because it emphasized the word "community."
In shooting the photo, Wisse applied techniques she had learned in a workshop, "Eye of the Camera," conduced by freelance photographer and teacher Patrick Vingo of Norwalk. Organized in conjunction with the photo contest, the workshop emphasized photographic visualization and how to reach for a sense of imagery with use of lens choice, angle of view and light conditions.
Wisse said she wanted to photograph the theater and in applying Vingo's techniques, got close to the ground in front of a puddle and with a wide angle lens shot the photograph that appears as if the theater is adjacent to a lake. Although the photo did not win an award, it is one of the most attention-getting shots of the Commuity Theater submitted by four different photographers who selected the theater for their subject matter.
"I call this Lake Fairfield," Wisse mused.
Vingo said Wisse's photo was "very dynamic" and the angle made the shot very dramatic.
He described the photo competition as " an inspiring idea. Every community should be doing something like this. You never know the treasure you have until you see it in one room like this. Everyone did an outstanding job. They should be congratulated."
Ludlow students Athorn and Griggs were among a class of students taking an Intermediate Photography course who entered the contest. Griggs also attended the Interlochen Arts Academy in Michigan, where he studied film.
Athorn, whose winning photograph is of the Fairfield Country Club, said she has entered competitions before, but this is the first time "I have gotten any acknowledgement. So I was very excited."
Griggs, who entered a few photographs in the competition incorporated his friend Matt Spero into the setting to add a bit of narrative to the winning photograph taken near the train tracks as the Metro-North train passed.
Kate Eisemann, one of the competition's judges, was "thrilled" that FAC sponsored the competition. "I encourage other towns to do it," said the photographer, who is also a freelance location scout for film production companies. She praised the unusual scenes that the entrants selected, such as the ice house and the graffiti-covered building at Lake Mohegan.
Eisemann who has worked on a variety of film projects, including most recently scouting locations for the just-released, Away We Go and Halloween 2 said that towns like Fairfield interested in attracting filmmakers need to look at what locations are unusual and may be unique to the town to set them apart from other towns.
"It's really important to find something unusual." She said lots of town in Connecticut have the big homes, the beautiful beaches and the marinas, but something like the ice house or the interior pool photograph were unique.
Eisemann noted that Connecticut's tax credits to film companies was helpful in getting films shot in the state, but now other states are following with their tax credits. From 2006 to 2008, 42 films were shot in Connecticut. Currently, only one Halloween 2 is being shot.
Eisemann, who also scouted locations for Righteous Kill with Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino, among others, suggests Fairfield should have a Film Commission where film companies not only can have easy access to possible location sites but also a "one-stop" permit process for shooting locally. She said Bridgeport and Norwalk have such commissions and therefore are attracting the film projects.
FAC Executive Director Billie Jean Sullivan said the photo competition was an exciting way to bring the community together in offering a single vision expressed individually.
"This is what I'm trying to do -- get more people involved," Sullivan said. "This show has legs. It can go different places."
The photography exhibit came to fruition through the initial idea of former FAC Executive Director Ryan Odinak, who now heads the Cultural Alliance of Fairfield County, which encompasses cultural organizations, artists and audiences that contribute to the creative and economic vitality of the region. Initiatives include coordinated regional marketing, professional development and advocacy.
Odinak said the idea for the photo contest was a confluence of circumstances. The state was looking for ways to attract film companies to Connecticut, which offers state tax incentives. Meanwhile, Mark Barnhart, the town's director of Community and Economic Development was in need of photographs to promote the town.
She wrote a partnership grant proposal leading to the state's matching grant which funded the photo competition.
The photo exhibit will be on exhibit in the Fairfield Arts Council's Ellen Hyde Phillips Gallery, 70 Sanford St. until July 18. Hours are Tuesday through Friday, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; and Saturday from 1 to 4 p.m. For more information call the FAC at 319-1419 or visit