Average Joe Photo Show celebrates cellphone photography

Kyra Steiner of Lyme's "Jaws in a Jar"
Kyra Steiner of Lyme's "Jaws in a Jar"

They're convenient, they're smart, and they're at our sides more often than not. Whether you see them as a necessary evil or a simple necessity, cellphones are a part of most people's lives in the 21st century. Some might even say they couldn't live without their cell phone.

But what if your biggest concern wasn't where to charge your iPhone, but instead where to obtain clean water?

That's one question that motivated Chester gallery owner Lori Warner and her friend, art historian Rebecca Steiner, to launch an innovative project that harnesses the power of the cellphone to increase access to clean water and sanitation in Africa, South Asia and Central America.

The two women imagined a photography exhibition of art by "Average Joes" - a show that would "celebrate the everyday perspective of the average person through a common medium: the camera app on the cellphone." Warner and Steiner began their grassroots effort to collect images a year ago. By the end of last month, they had received more than 200 submissions, ranging from high art to amateur photography. The only guidelines were that the photos had to depict both a human figure and water. All of the photos will be on display and for sale to benefit the non-profit organization Water.org during The Average Joe Photo Show reception on Sunday, Feb. 2, from 1 to 4 p.m. at the Lori Warner Studio/Gallery in Chester.

Yes, that is Super Bowl Sunday. No, it is not a coincidence.

It's the ultimate "Average Joe day," according to Steiner, noting the show also closes on Earth Day.

"It seemed like a fitting opening and closing" for the show, adds Warner.

That level of detail is embedded in Average Joe. Warner and Steiner hope that the many layers of meaning will encourage the public's engagement with the project-and heighten their appreciation for the life-sustaining elements many take for granted.

"If we pause to appreciate the extra glass of water readily available to quench our thirst - in the same way we may stop to value that one fleeting moment captured on a cellphone - there is room to gain a greater understanding of the universal connections that bind us together," explains Steiner.

When it came to selecting the show's philanthropic focus, Steiner and Warner say the problem of providing access to clean water and sanitation was a clear frontrunner.

"We were trying to think of something that was a global issue, as the idea of the show is not only to be micro-local, but macro-global, especially with the use of social media to share things. Water just came up as one of the top five (humanitarian) issues," says Warner.

Steiner adds, "You have to have water to survive. There seemed to be this beautiful intersection between this pervasive technology," which many professionals say they "need" to survive "and the thing - water - we need to survive."

By incorporating images of water into the cell phone photos, The Average Joe Photo Show "is actually embedding that focus (philanthropy) into the vision of the work being shown," says Warner.

While the philanthropic focus of the show is something Warner says she finds especially inspiring, she's also excited to be showing amateur work alongside that of seasoned professionals in her fine-art gallery.

"I really like the idea of leveling the playing field for amateurs and pros," she says.

"The range of images makes it so compelling and really underscores what the mission of the show is...to unleash the artist in every person," Steiner adds.

It's clear that another mission of the show is to unleash the appreciation in every person - an experience that Warner and Steiner say they shared over the last year.

"We've become much more aware of what we've taken for granted and much more aware of the gifts we have at our ready disposal - technology, water," says Warner. "There's one image in particular (in the exhibit) of African girls with water bottles. The one thing that struck me was how happy they are...They definitely struggle to find water, and (yet) they're happy...It really made me pause. I submitted a photo of my daughter swimming in the bath tub. I fill this bath tub up almost every night with hot water, and here are these young girls in Africa who have to walk to find some water that's probably not really clean, and they're just as happy as my daughter."

Warner's bath tub shots are just a few examples of the images contained in Average Joe. Like the 200-plus other photos in the show, Warner and Steiner say these images are powerful enough to pique people's innate, new-media-driven curiosity in their neighbors' pictures and to promote the show's larger humanitarian cause.

"Everything now is so image-based, and that's what captures people's attention," notes Warner. "People love looking at other people ... Initially an image of another person catches their eye, and then they start looking at the details ... Once their attention has been captured, they can look deeper into the project."

Send submissions for the 2015 Average Joe show to joe@averagejoephotoshow.com.

Alison Ritrovato's
Alison Ritrovato's "Abundance of Om"; photographed at Nehantic State Forest in Lyme.
"Beach Walk" by Missy Garvin; shot at Hawks Nest Beach in Old Lyme.

IF YOU GO

What: The Average Joe Photo Show

Where: Lori Warner Studio/Gallery, 21
Main St., Chester

When: Opens with a reception on
Sunday, Feb. 2, from 1 to 4 p.m. The show continues through Earth Day, Tuesday, April 22.

Info: www.averagejoephotoshow.com

Also: Each photo is for sale for $52; 52
prints of each image are available. Twenty percent of each sale will be donated to the nonprofit organization Water.org.

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