There's nothing 'Average' about this photo show

On view at the Average Joe Photo Show is
On view at the Average Joe Photo Show is "The Hunt (Town Beach, Old Saybrook)" by Erica Edwards.

It's hard to believe that the eye-catching photographs in the Average Joe Photo show at the Lori Warner Studio/Gallery in Chester were all taken with the camera app on a mobile device - a criterion for submissions.

Every image also had to contain water in some form. This is to draw attention to the global water crisis and the work of water.org - to which a portion of all photo sales is being donated.

And all the photos had to include the human figure, which could range from an individual to a crowd, and showcase a meaningful connection, such as kindness, compassion, joy, sharing, outreach or humanitarian action.

That's where the photographs part ways. The 342 works on the walls of the fine art gallery are of every subject imaginable, abstract and realistic, shot by emerging and experienced photographers. Even the way water is interpreted varies dramatically - from waves crashing on a beach to a snowy scene subtly reflected in a horse's eye.

This is the second year Lori Warner - artist and gallery owner, along with her friend Rebecca Steiner - an art historian - have presented this show. The women are both Old Lyme residents.

"We started talking about how much fun it would be to do a show together and to make it representative of a larger demographic - to literally include people in every walk of life and not just be high art," says Steiner, describing how the Average Joe Photo Show concept came about. "We also wanted to make sure there was a philanthropic element that would appeal to everyone."

Some of the show's inspiration, Steiner says, came from the Family of Man exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art (1955).

"It was the first show to really highlight photography as an art form - professional photographers taking pictures of the everyday world," she says. "Here, our goal was to subvert that mission. For us, it's everyday people taking everyday pictures of the everyday world."

Warner explains the reason for only accepting pictures taken with a cell phone or other mobile communications device.

"We've noticed that everyone uses cell phone photos now," she says. "The high quality digital camera is getting more and more obsolete. Even professional photographers always have their cell phones with them."

Warner says by requiring both professional and amateur photographers who submit work to the show to only use their mobile devices, "It levels the playing field. We wanted it to be a very democratic show."

The photographs are all printed on high quality paper, Warner points out, making the crossover from virtual pictures to a physical art exhibition that people can attend.

"Printing them on archival paper makes the photos stand out since most people don't even print out the pictures they take on their phones - they just post them online," Steiner adds.

The reason the women chose water.org as the beneficiary of the exhibit, Steiner says, is "Almost everyone, everywhere needs a cell phone to survive socially or professionally. Everyone also needs water to survive. The idea is putting the most pervasive technology alongside the most basic organic ingredient to survive, literally."

According to the water.org website, 780 million people lack access to clean water. And another astonishing fact: more people have a mobile phone than a
toilet.

MORE THAN ONE BEST IN SHOW

There are numerous award categories in the Average Joe Photo Show - another attempt to make it an all-inclusive exhibition.

The Collector Joe Award is an overall award juried by Harley "Inspector Collector" Spiller of New York City, an educator, collector and photographer, known for having the world's largest collection of Chinese take-out menus.

The Husky Joe Award goes to participating UConn students. Two more Old Lyme residents jury this award: Nancy Stula, director of the William Benton Museum of Art at UConn, and Suzanne Zack, marketing and communications specialist at UConn Libraries.

"This is a very special award," Warner says. "We brought the exhibit up to UConn last year - and really wanted to tap into the student population."

The Average Joe Award gives people who attend the exhibit the opportunity to cast their votes as well, which will be tallied up at the end of the show, and a professional photographer will present the award to the winner.

A NEW TRADITION

Warner and Steiner plan to make the Average Joe Photo Show an annual event - as long as people keep submitting photos as enthusiastically as they have for the past two years.

Warner says it's been fascinating to see the variety of photos submitted and how hanging them on the walls really highlights their differences.

"There's the really interesting juxtaposition of someone's granddaughter on the beach and a more abstract photo where you can barely recognize the human form," she says. "To see how this field of images all (adhering to) the same criteria work together is an interesting story in itself."

Warner and Steiner agree that creating this show has been a wonderful experience.

"Families come in and are captivated by this show, my 9-year-old included," Warner says. "Everyone finds something they can relate to. It's just remarkable. It's been so satisfying."

"It's also very exciting and heartwarming for us that so many kids and teenagers submitted photos and they end up being some of the best in the show," Steiner adds.

"It's a lot of work, but there's so much joy in doing this - it's rewarding on a lot of levels."

IF YOU GO

What: The Average Joe Photo Show to support water.org

Where and When: Lori Warner Studio/Gallery, 21 Main St., Chester;
through April 22.

Prices: Photographs are composed and professionally printed on archival, Fujicolor photo paper and include Certificate of Authenticity. Limited Edition (75) images, 8 by 10 inches, are $35. Collector’s Edition (4) images, 11 by 14 inches, are $250, signed and numbered by the photographer. Twenty percent of all sales go to water.org.

To submit a photo: Submissions for the show to be held in 2016 (of photos taken in 2015) are open and ongoing. Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF)/Doctors Without Borders will be the charitable recipient.

Info: Visit www.loriwarner.com or call (860) 322-4264.

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