STORY WRITTEN BY ADAM CRUGNALE
For Digital First Media
The Michener Art Museum in Doylestown is currently displaying the work of Lehigh Valley-based artist Edward Vatza. In an exhibit entitled “Street Stories” Vatza takes mostly candid shots of people on the streets in Manhattan, exploring the idea of isolation in a crowd. The show will run through July 5.
“The idea for this exhibit goes back four or five years,” said Vatza, who started his photography career with landscapes. “I started looking at the work of Mark Cohen, who took candid, up-close, and personal shots, and as a landscape photographer it really intrigued me. I started walking around and taking candid photographs of people doing whatever it was they were doing, in the street, the park, or wherever, and found immediately I enjoyed it.”
The exhibit features 17 black-and-white photographs of different people from around parts of New York. Some are homeless, some are busy working, and others are simply going about their day. This doesn’t matter to Vatza, who began experimenting with his own candid approach to photography.
Instead of the unabashed, in-your-face style often thought of when it comes to candid photos, Vatza would instead wait to find the person he wanted to photograph. He’d try and strike up a conversation with that person. If things went well, during the course of their talk Vatza takes one or two prearranged shots.
“Conversation changes the nature of the situation,” said Vatza. “I’m listening to them, talking with them, and I’m doing it without a stock list of questions. I never tell them how to be in it. I try to trust my instincts for when the moment is right to take the picture.”
For example, Vatza dropped everything in the middle of one conversation and looked at the subject before asking him if he was happy. His first reaction was to glance down, at his feet, and Vatza snapped the picture. Some of these people, Vatza only ever speaks with once. Others he sees time and again. He actually began his career teaching psychology, which has carried over to his photography.
“That training translates into approaching people and talking to them. It’s helped me decide who to photo and who not to photo, and helps me pinpoint isolation in a crowded city street. I look at the one thing that doesn’t belong, that’s what draws me. It could be anything; their dress, demeanor, their laugh; I’m always looking for that person who doesn’t quite fit in.”
Vatza looks for certain elements, isolation being a key element he notices.
“Almost from the get-go, I found myself focusing on individuals, not groups or couples. That’s not me. It became clear that my focus was on individuals, who by some chance found themselves isolated from other people or their environment, even though they were surrounded by countless other people.
“Street Stories is the combination of my photographs with the story I learned from them,” continued Vatza. “It might have only been a minute, or maybe 20, or maybe 30 or more, and during the course of that conversation I’ll take one or two pictures.
This is the artist’s first time exhibiting with the Michener. Along with the 17 pieces on view at the museum, there are 10 additional photos found at www.redfiltergallery.com. Members of the Michener get access to the museum for free, and general admission is $18. Senior, student, and youth discounts are offered. Visit the museum’s website at www.michenermuseum.org for more information on hours and admission.
“My goal,” Vatza said, “is to capture the ordinary in an extraordinary way.”
IF YOU GO
What: “Street Stories”
Where: On display at the Michener Art Museum, 138 S. Pine St. Doylestown.
When: Now through July 5.
Tickets: General admission $18; discounts available.
Info.: Check www.michenermuseum.org or call (215) 340-9800 for more information.