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Panza Gallery's 'Play' has photographers finding the fun in Pittsburgh

| Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
'Mary Poppins' by Michael Sahaida
'Mary Poppins' by Michael Sahaida
'Funny Duck With Pink Feet' by Ruth Drescher
'Funny Duck With Pink Feet' by Ruth Drescher
'Plant & Bulb' by Sue Abramson
'Plant & Bulb' by Sue Abramson
'Red Flower' by Tom Gigliotti
'Red Flower' by Tom Gigliotti

The photography exhibit “Play,” on display at Panza Gallery in Millvale, features the work of nine regional photographers and the exhibit's curator, Tim Fabian. Each exhibits a playful aspect in one way or another.

“It didn't matter to me how they played; only that play was evident in their work,” says Fabian about the process of choosing each photographer and their works for this exhibit.

For example, Michael Sahaida of Ross says the inspiration for his gritty urban photographs came from his interest in the history of Pittsburgh and the history of photography.

“My approach was to ride my bicycle Downtown and dedicate one roll of 120mm film for each city block of the Golden Triangle,” he says.

“I was searching for the city of many years ago that has changed and grown into a 21st-century metropolis,” Sahaida says. “Since I am not a native of Pittsburgh, I can only imagine what it was like here many years ago. Using the stark days of winter and early photographic techniques, I tried to go back in time to the smoky, industrial city that was once Pittsburgh and is still the foundation, despite its renaissance.”

In images like “Mary Poppins,” we see a glimpse of the past: a woman walking through mist rising from a grate on a Downtown street, as though submerging herself in the wake of an old-time steam train.

“I saw this image appear as I walked one of the city blocks,” Sahaida says. “I shot a number of frames as people passed through the steam. This image captures the moment when the figure and steam all worked together.”

For South Side-based photographer Tom Gigliotti, experimenting with photographic processes was his way to play.

Working with a 4-by-5 view camera and Polaroid film, Gigliotti created simple images by combining the Polaroid film with Teslin paper. “This combination allows me to scan the transferred images without any traces of the paper's texture,” he says.

“Through this process, I can enlarge the pictures to 44 by 38 inches,” Gigliotti says. “For me, it is second-nature to light and control the image; a talent I often take for granted.”

If his piece “Red Flower” is any indication, visitors to this exhibit will undoubtedly notice his talent. It is a standout work among the many on display.

Like Gigliotti, Sue Abramson of Squirrel Hill takes the technical to task, and with a botanical bent as well.

An associate professor of photography at Pittsburgh Filmmakers, where she has been teaching for the past 25 years, Abramson has experimented with alternative photographic methods, such as photograms, cyanotype, pinhole and hand-coloring. Her works in this exhibit, like much of her work in recent years, are based on her backyard garden.

For example, her piece “Plant & Bulb” features an elephant ear bulb she plucked from the ground and directly scanned. Dark and moody, it looks as though the bulb is still deep within the earth.

“All the work comes from a series ‘From the Same Bulb,' ” Abramson says. “They are all made by placing the objects directly on a flatbed scanner.

“One of my yearly garden/art rituals is to plant elephant ear bulbs in the spring and harvest the leaves in the fall for photographic work,” Abramson says. “For me, working in the yard and making botanical images are parallel practices. I approach both endeavors in a similar fashion, initially starting with a plan and then as the work advances, collaborating and playing with my materials.”

Then, there is Ruth Drescher of Squirrel Hill, who displays pieces completely unrelated to her usual photographic work.

For the past 10 years, most of Drescher's creative efforts have gone into digital photography. Drescher says she is especially fond of photographing patterns in nature and architecture “wherever they can be found,” such as with her latest body of work — a series of photographs she took at Petra, an ancient site in Jordan, while traveling last year.

However, for this show Drescher chose to display works from her “Friendly Creatures” series, such as her piece “Funny Duck With Pink Feet,” which is a digital drawing of a quirky and colorful imaginary duck.

Dreschers says she discovered this method of digital drawing while she was in the process of learning to use the computer to produce her digital photographs.

“I became intrigued with the playful results one could achieve with relatively little effort,” she says. “Originally, these images suggested themselves to be greeting cards, and they still have a life in this form. These creatures also have another life at the moment, in that they have become a tabletop in the Lawrenceville restaurant, Kaleidoscope.

“My hope is that a children's book will emerge from these images,” Drescher says, “but that is down the road.”

Kurt Shaw is the art critic for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at

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