Connecting the Arts | Exploring ‘Self & Others: The Photographic Portrait’ at Summit Artspace

Connecting the Arts by Katelyn Gainer

Summit Artspace’s current exhibition, “Self & Others: The Photographic Portrait” challenges the familiar idea of what a portrait is. When one thinks of a portrait they might think of senior, high school or even family portraits. What do these style of portraits tell the viewers about the individuals in them? This is what the artists involved with “Self & Others” are attempting to challenge and answer.

Arts columnist Katelyn Gainer's selfie in the 'Self and others' exhibit at Summit Artspace
Arts columnist Katelyn Gainer’s selfie in the ‘Self and others’ exhibit at Summit Artspace

The exhibition features local photographers including McKenzie Beynon, Toni Danette, Jennifer Anne Court, Nathaniel Gilchrist, Bradley Hart, Peter Larson, Susie Lilley, Michelle Murphy, Don Parsisson, Ed Suba Jr., Cheryl A. Townsend, Anna Young, and Todd Biss.

The photographs featured in “Self & Others” represent the photographers’ ideas of what contemporary portraiture is. The photos range in a variety of subjects, including many of the artists’ self-portraits to portraits of others and even Cheryl Townsend’s portraits of Barbie dolls.

As I walked around the gallery, I carefully studied the portraits to grasp each photographer’s own unique and individual style of portraiture.

Some artists—such as McKenzie Beynon’s portraits—offer a more classic style of portraiture and even though different, probably what most individuals are more familiar with when thinking of portraiture. Meanwhile, other artists such Susie Lilley challenge the viewer to even make out the subjects face in her portraits. After what seemed like minutes of staring and picking apart her portraits the only feature I could make out was an eye. I was curious and I finally asked Lilley who is her subject matter in the portraits—they’re all self-portraits.

“I would like them to see my vision, my eye in the work, it’s basically a play on words because that is what you see in my work – my eye,” Lilley explains.

Her process was as interesting as her vision for the end result.

“One of them is a digital compilation with four images and overlaid in Photoshop,” Lilley says. “The rest of them I try to distort them in camera instead of Photoshop.”

I spoke with one of my favorite photographers in the exhibition, Don Parsisson. While looking at his portraits I sense a bit of mystery and something leaving me wanting to know more about his subjects—and his aims.

“I think portraits have always been an attempt to capture something of the essence of the subjects. Historically, that has meant recording their likeness. For contemporary photographers, the essence of a subject goes far beyond a mere likeness, though that may certainly be one aspect of a portrait. I think some measure of intentionality is important. Selection of the location, props, and posing all contribute to distinguishing a portrait from a candid shot,” Parsisson says.

I mention how it seems there is something hidden about the subjects in his photos. In a literal sense, since you can’t see the faces or full faces of his subjects and the fact after you view at his portraits you don’t leave feeling you know the subjects any more than you did before you saw the photo.

“I think it was just coincidence that the photos selected for this show did not show the full faces of the subjects. This has not been a predominant part of my work, in either portraits or my self-portraits. However, we are all mysteries. We never really know another person beyond what they want us to know. So maybe I’ve expressed that subconsciously in these photos,” Parsisson says.

“Self & Others” is now on view through May 3.

A number of self-portraits from the Akron community are printed and displayed next to the exhibition. Summit Artspace invites individuals to send in theirs for inclusion via email at and through social media using the hashtag ‪‬‬#‎selfothers‬. Submissions are accepted through the last week of April 2015.

[su_box title=”Arts columnist Katelyn Gainer” box_color=”#e78411″]Katelyn Y. Gainer is the arts columnist for The Devil Strip and an art history graduate student at Kent State who works as a gallery assistant for a small arts nonprofit. She loves promoting Northeast Ohio’s thriving arts community. You can find her on Twitter at @katelyngainer [/su_box]