Bucks County Herald

Diverse photographic works make “Americana” attractive

CHRIS RUVO



Melissa Mertzman’s “Farming Fluidity.”

Just what is “Americana?”

That’s the interesting question at the heart of the third annual “Americana Exhibition” showing at the Pennsylvania Center for Photography in Doylestown.

What’s maybe even more interesting? Exhibit organizers don’t impose an answer.

Rather, they present a diverse selection of 240 photographs – the personal visions of approximately 150 photographers from 19 states and five countries – that are loosely threaded together by a single theme: The images were captured somewhere in the United States.

“Americana can mean different things depending on where you live and what you’ve been influenced by,” said photographer Henry Rowan, the executive director of the Pennsylvania Center for Photography.

“If you’re growing up in Bucks County, for example, you’re version of Americana can be quite different than someone growing up in South Philadelphia or Los Angeles. We wanted there to be a real diversity to the show to reflect that. The works are all over the place, and we think that’s what’s most exciting about it.”

The show includes printed photographs hung on the gallery walls and a digital exhibition that plays on screens.

For sure, the exhibit showcases what might be called classic Americana, featuring timeless landscapes and American rural life, such as photographer George Mattei’s beautiful “Lancaster Horse and Buggy.” As the title implies, the photograph shows a horse and buggy traveling a sun-splashed road in Lancaster County.

Then there are works that seek to put a new spin on traditional Americana. Melissa Mertzman’s “Farming Fluidity” features a male farmer at his barn, hay fork in hand, wearing a red corset, makeup and earrings. In creating the image, Mertzman had LGBTQ inclusivity in mind – a theme conveyed by literally including the gender-fluid individual in a classic rural American scene.

“I hope it makes people think,” said Mertzman, of New Hope.

Urban scenes bursting with character receive extensive treatments, too – works like Digital Exhibition winner Mike Pillows’ “South Street Salesman.” And, there are glimpses into nooks and spaces far from the public eye but with ample historical relevance, like Doylestown-based photographer Peter Hewitt’s interior shot of a long-disused and unvisited immigration hospital nurses’ residence at Ellis Island.

“We really feel there’s something for everyone,” said Rowan.

That range has proved attractive, drawing 300 to 400 people at the March opening and a steady flow of visitors since.

Rowan said that only 16 percent of entries are selected for inclusion in the show. Print exhibition winners were Maria Dreyer for “The Pickup” (1st place) and Aino Assmus for “The Welder” (2nd place). Second place in the digital exhibition went to Steven Hromnak for “Path Train to New Jersey, World Trade Center Station.”

The third annual “Americana Exhibition” runs through April 8. Exhibition hours are 4 to 7 p.m. Friday, noon to 5 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday. Entrance is free. The Pennsylvania Center for Photography is at 181 E. Court St., Doylestown. Learn more at pacenterforphotography.org/.

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