Almanac Weekly on Fovea & the Beacon Portrait Project

Look sharp at Fovea Exhibitions in Beacon

Posted by Sharyn Flanagan on November 22, 2013 in Almanac Weekly
The fovea is a part of our eye: a tiny area located in the center of the retina that’s responsible for our sharpest vision. How fitting, then, that Fovea Exhibitions on Main Street in Beacon is a small gallery that shows photographs depicting subject matter that can be difficult to look at, but is important to see, and to see clearly.

“Most of the time, these are not pretty pictures to look at,” says Stephanie Heimann, co-founder of the nonprofit, volunteer-run exhibition space. “We present topic-oriented exhibitions by individuals or group shows that focus on a news or a social issue.” Like Fovea’s co-director, Sabine Meyer, Heimann is a photo editor by profession. “We bring to the walls interesting projects that we see in our professional lives that we like,” she says, “and that we think people haven’t been given enough opportunity to see.”

Fovea Exhibitions doesn’t function as a commercial gallery. “We could sell the pictures, but that’s not in any way driving what we’re showing, because if it was, we wouldn’t be able to show these kinds of pictures,” says Heimann. “Sometimes there’s some overlap of something that somebody might want to hang on their wall, but usually not.” The photographers are all “world-class,” according to Heimann, but because they know that Fovea is a “labor of love,” they donate their work to the gallery.

When Fovea was founded in May of 2007, the publications that traditionally showed photojournalism were starting to dwindle in number. “The inspiration to create Fovea was really based in an attempt to allow the public to see more of this genre of photography. It’s important that people see these images: It’s important information, but there’s less and less of a forum for it.”

Past exhibits have examined topics such as food sustainability, the plight of mountain gorillas and America’s relationship with firearms. Once a topic is chosen for an exhibition, it’s augmented by education in the form of public lectures, to prompt further dialogue on the subject, or with visits to elementary, middle and high schools to reach the students there. Fovea’s website hosts virtual exhibits from past shows and a “What You Can Do” tab that allows viewers to explore what they can do with the feelings stirred up by viewing controversial or difficult images.

The current exhibit, “The Beacon Portrait Project: A Visual Map of Community,” features photographs by Beacon resident Meredith Heuer. The nationally known editorial photographer documented the people who live in Beacon using a unique process: Every time she took a photograph of somebody – whether they were a stockbroker or artist, prison guard or dog-walker – she would ask that person to recommend the person she should photograph next. “In that way, the trail led naturally down a path of community,” says Heimann, and her portraits create a catalogue of “Beacon’s unique moment in history.”

“The Beacon Portrait Project” displays 22 of the more than 100 photographs (shot with film) that Heuer has produced. The show will remain on view through Sunday, January 5.

Fovea will host a special event on Saturday, November 23 for Detroit-based 71-year-old Patricia Lay-Dorsey, whose photography documents her multiple sclerosis and the challenges of living life in a wheelchair paralyzed from the waist down. Diagnosed in 1988, she began taking self-portraits in 2008, with the intention of showing the day-to-day life of a person with a disability.

Lay-Dorsey, whom Heimann calls “a major force of nature, with the most spirit of anybody you’ve ever met,” was featured earlier in the year at Fovea in an exhibit, “Falling into Place,” and has now compiled her photographs in a book of the same name. Returning to Beacon this Saturday, she will collaborate with her friend Illich Mujica, a deejay from Brooklyn whom Lay-Dorsey knows from her visits to the annual electronic music festival in Detroit, and the book launch will morph into a dance party led by Lay-Dorsey’s alter ego, Grandma Techno.

The event will feature a book-signing and short artist talk at 7 p.m., followed by a live video performance featuring Lay-Dorsey’s photographs and musical response by Deejay Mujica at 8:30 p.m. and the dance party at 9 p.m. Lay-Dorsey’s book, Falling into Place, will be available for purchase at the event at a special price of $30. The event is free and all are welcome.

Admission to Fovea Exhibitions is always free, but the $5 suggested donation does go a long way to help pay the bills, says Heimann. Although nobody gets a salary there, she says, the donations help to pay the operating expenses of running the space. Winter gallery hours are Saturday and Sunday from 12 noon to 6 p.m. It’s open on Fridays, too, during the summer.

Fovea Exhibitions, 143 Main Street, Beacon; (845) 232-3443,


Chronogram covers "The Beacon Portrait Project"

"The Beacon Portrait Project" at Fovea Exhibitions 

Bringing Home the Beacon

Beacon is famous as the "hippest," most gentrified city in the Hudson Valley, but that's not the whole story. "The Beacon Portrait Project: A Visual Map of Community" at Fovea Exhibitions in Beacon shows the range of residents in this traditionally working-class town.

Photographer Meredith Heuer moved to Beacon with her husband and son from San Francisco in 2006. "I was very excited about living in a smaller town, so I decided I wanted to take a picture of everyone in Beacon, that that would be my celebration of this new place," she explains. This was before Heuer discovered that Beacon had 15,346 residents. Still, she pressed on with her project. So far, she's filmed 101 Beaconites, 20 of whom appear in the show.

Heuer grew up in inner-city Detroit; she was the only white kid in her kindergarten class. She chose Beacon partly for its ethnic diversity. Heuer's goal in this project was to find a wide variety of subjects. At first, she'd approach strangers on the street asking to photograph them. But most people were in a hurry, or suspicious, and there is a certain anonymity to a street portrait. "So eventually I came up with the idea of taking a picture of a person and having them recommend me to the next person," Heuer recounts. "That way I would expand my social circle, and this person would be my calling card to the next. And it took the power of choosing out of my hands." Currently, she has several chains of subjects, which she calls "family trees."

The recommendations are unpredictable. Some subjects suggest a relative, others choose someone they've met in a supermarket, or seen at the weekly City Council meeting. The Duchess County Arts Council recognized the importance of Heuer's work, awarding her their first-ever individual artist grant. She is a "people's photographer," the way Pete Seeger (a resident of Beacon, as yet unphotographed by Heuer) is a "people's singer." Using the skills she developed profiling such superstars as Arnold Schwarzenegger and Richard Branson for major magazines, Heuer turns her lens on the townsfolk. Each subject receives a free print of their portrait. The show's opening, on October 12, included the broadest cross-section of Beacon citizenry ever seen outside an AA meeting.

Heuer pursues her vision with tenacious devotion. She uses only natural light and real film. Each of the subjects is photographed at home, and anyone else living there is invited into the picture. The sessions last roughly an hour. Asked how she chooses which room to use, Heuer says, "We're guided by light." Natural light is soft, flattering, and has been employed by artists for centuries. Unconsciously, we perceive a naturally-lit photograph as honest, uncontrived.

The way a Renaissance painting uses incidental objects as symbols—for example, the Virgin Mary is often shown wearing pearls, to symbolize purity—Heuer includes decorative elements as commentary. In one of her portraits, a young couple hugs beneath a poster of which one word is visible: "CHERISH." I asked Heuer if she rearranges rooms to make them more meaningful. She said no, but she's delighted with lucky conjunctions.

The pictures have no captions. On her website, they're listed solely by number—roughly in the order they were shot. At Fovea, the subjects' names are listed. "The Beacon Portrait Project" intends to show Beaconites in purely visual terms. The viewer becomes a detective, deciding who's straight, who's gay, which children are adopted. One pleasure of living in a community is a civilized voyeurism.

"The Beacon Portrait Project: A Visual Map of Community" will appear at Fovea Exhibitions until January 5. (845) 202-3443.

click to enlarge Beacon Portrait #94 (Gretchen Hirsch), a photograph by Meredith Heuer from the series “The Beacon Portrait Project: A Visual Map of Community,” showing at Fovea Exhibitions through January 5. - MEREDITH HEUER
  • Beacon Portrait #94 (Gretchen Hirsch), a photograph by Meredith Heuer from the series “The Beacon Portrait Project: A Visual Map of Community,” showing at Fovea Exhibitions through January 5.

Fovea Exhibitions Hosts Lively Debate on Food- In Philipstown Journal

August 4, 2013 By Sommer Hixson

The fate of our American food system was the topic of a lively discussion Tuesday night, July 23, at Fovea Exhibitions in Beacon. In front of a sold-out audience, Kathleen Frith, President of Glynwood Farm in Cold Spring, led a Q-and-A with Wenonah Hauter, Executive Director of Food & Water Watch in Washington, D.C., about Hauter’s new book, Foodopoly: The Battle Over the Future of Food and Farming in America (The New Press, January 2013).

Glynwood Farm's Kathleen Frith (foreground) talks with Wenonah Hauter about her book, "Foodopoly," at Fovea Exhibitions. Photo by Peter McGivney

Glynwood  Farm’s Kathleen Frith (foreground) talks with Wenonah Hauter about her  book, ”Foodopoly,” at Fovea Exhibitions. Photo by Peter McGivney

Apropos of a subject that is close to many Hudson Valley residents, Frith opened the discussion by reading a passage from John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath: “And it came about that the owners no longer worked their farms. They farmed on paper; and they forgot the land, the smell, the feel of it, and remembered only that they owned it, remembered only what they gained and lost by it.” She chose this quote because it “best sums up the stark picture Wenonah paints in her book.”

For example, 20 food corporations produce most of the food eaten by Americans and only four large chains control most of the grocery stores where we interact and purchase our food. To best understand how we got to this point, Hauter explained, “These companies, over the past 40 years, have gained so much political power that they’re really dictating food policy – regulation and legislation that affects the food that we eat.”

“What I tried to do in Foodopoly really isn’t to be a big bummer about how terrible our food system is, even though I know it is discouraging to people,” she told the audience. “I wanted to show why it’s important to care. The control of large companies over our food system is a metaphor for our whole society. We have a lot of problems with policy and with just a few companies controlling almost every industry.”

In her book, Hauter chronicles the history of the food industry from the turn of the century through our current presidential administration. Through stories supported by facts and statistics, the 343-page hardcover book tackles government deregulation, food safety, free trade, anti-trust laws, factory farming and cruelty to animals, diet-related illnesses, and the consolidation of our food chain, among other pertinent issues.

Mostly taken for granted in this region as a viable alternative, organic farming and CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture) present a paradox within the larger context of a competitive marketplace. Only farmers who live in close proximity to population centers have a way to sell directly to consumers – two thirds of all U.S. farms are rural and therefore rely on a consolidated distribution network. Organic food is now controlled by some of the largest food companies in the world, weakening the standard. “Once they catch on, consumers will not be willing to pay a higher price so that profits can be siphoned off to earnings of multinational companies that have no commitment to the spirit of organics,” writes Hauter.

In answer to a question from the audience, there is hope and Hauter believes it can be found in food activism and the successful grassroots movements that are taking place today. The 2008 documentary film, Food, Inc., is cited in her book as playing a major role in engaging people on food issues. The film’s director, Robert Kenner, is now working on a multi-media social action project called “FixFood” that will identify available solutions. When asked her opinion of California’s “Just Label It” campaign (Proposition 37), she thought that, although the measure was ultimately defeated, it was “wildly successful” for raising awareness across the country and spurring a movement to label genetically engineered food.

She praised college students who are working with their food service providers to organize more locally sourced food. “Young people really want to fight for the kind of world we want in the future. They’re interested in a more vibrant democracy. To me, if we’re going to fix the food system, we have to fix our democracy.”

In addition to her duties at Food & Water Watch, Hauter owns and operates the organic family farm in northern Virginia where she was born and raised. From 1997 to 2005, she served as Director of Public Citizen’s Energy and Environment Program and, before that, as environmental policy director for Citizen Action and as a senior organizer at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Glynwood, a working farm, is dedicated to sustainable agricultural practices, and produces food for the local community. Frith, president at the 225-acre property since 2012, has produced a number of award-winning reports, and serves as an adviser for several environmental and community organizations.

The evening was part of a series of panels and events, produced by Fovea Exhibitions, that are designed to provide a localized angle to the national and international topics addressed in their photo exhibits. Their next panel will be on Saturday, Aug. 10, in conjunction with their current exhibit, “The Gun Show.”


Poughkeepsie Journal article & video preview of THE GUN SHOW

Written and Filmed by John W. Barry for the Poughkeepsie Journal. August 2nd 2013

The Gun Show: Photos at Fovea: Fovea Exhibitions in Beacon hosts 'The Gun Show,' a collection of photos that explore the national debate on firearms.

'Safety' is part of Fovea Exhibitions 'The Gun Show.'
Our complicated, deadly, cherished, timeless and timely relationship with guns is the subject of a striking photography exhibit at Fovea Exhibitions in Beacon.

The exhibit evokes a wide range of emotions by probing multiple aspects of the firearms spectrum and the manner in which the use of weapons leaves such an impact on so many lives, positive and negative.

“The Gun Show” runs through Oct. 6 and is curated by Neil Harris of Beacon, an associate photo editor at Time magazine.

“In my mind,” Harris said, “the idea was to create a conversation around gun culture.”

Harris said he didn’t want anyone to walk into Fovea and “feel like they were being hit over the head with any particular political viewpoint.”

Gun owners and those who favor gun control represent two angles on the national firearms debate. What binds both is the large impact guns continue to leave on society. The National Rifle Association boasts a membership of more than 5 million. And on average, according to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, 32 Americans are murdered with guns every day and 140 are treated for a gun assault in an emergency room.

The photographers whose work is featured in the show are Jesse Burke, a faculty member at the Rhode Island School of Design; Ty Cacek, whose work has been published in Time, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal; Barbara Davidson, a staff photographer at the Los Angeles Times and Pulitzer Prize winner; Jon Lowenstein, a Guggenheim Fellow in 2011; Drew Ludwig, whose work is represented by the Telluride Gallery of Fine Art; Erin Trieb, a freelance photojournalist and documentary photographer; and Pete Muller, whose work has been published in Time, Newsweek and The New York Times.

The darker side of guns is probed in photographs taken in Los Angeles by Davidson that feature victims of gun violence, along with the family members and friends of victims. These pictures were part of a project that earned Davidson the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for feature photography. The impact of gun violence on the City of Chicago is also analyzed, through Lowenstein’s pictures.

Gun deaths of a different kind are looked at in pictures featuring shooting target posters placed in school settings. These haunting pictures by Ludwig were inspired by the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, during which 26 people died, 20 of them children. These photographs provide contrast for Harris.

Harris called these pictures the “least accomplished body of work” in the exhibit. But, he continued, “I found it to be so compelling.”

You might also use the word “compelling” to describe those photos in the exhibit that feature those who take pride and find enjoyment in the use of guns.

Pictures taken by Muller at the Oklahoma Full Auto Shoot and Trade Show feature a kindergarten teacher with expressions of excitement, joy and satisfaction on her face as she fires a machine gun. A photo by Trieb taken at the 2013 annual meeting of the NRA, while on assignment for NBC News, shows Don Svetanics of St. Louis wearing a shirt with a pistol, inside of which is the word, “Confidence.” And Cacek captured the solemn approach some take toward gun use with his photographs, taken on assignment for Time, of the Ohio Defense Force, a private militia, during training exercises at an abandoned prison.

As a journalist, Davidson has covered wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. She said she found similar conditions, driven by violence and guns, in Los Angeles.

“I learned that, just as overseas, we see here in L.A. that there is a segment of society that doesn’t hold life in very high regard,” she said, “and to casually be spraying areas with bullets and not even thinking about the consequences of where that bullet’s going to go or land — it was very troubling for me. It was that sense of, that carelessness and that abandonment of logical thinking that really fueled my desire to continue to tell this story.”

Asked about having her photographs in a show that also featured pictures showing the lighter side of gun ownership and those who enjoy using guns, Davidson said, “If we don’t come together collectively, to discuss gun violence in this country, then we’re going to alienate many aspects of the community we’re hoping to reach. To have a collective look at the discussion of gun violence, or love affair with guns, or responsible gun owners — that’s a very healthy way to start the dialogue.”


Q&A with Director Christopher Sarmiento in Chronogram

  • A screenshot from Chris Sarmiento's documentary A Son Down, After Sun Down.

In conjunction with “The Gun Show” exhibit, Fovea in Beacon and the Beacon Independent Film Festival present a screening of Christopher Sarmiento’s short documentary A Son Down, After Sun Down on August 10 at 6pm. Zino, a 23-year-old local filmmaker, will be part of a panel discussion to follow, which will also include Monte Frank from the Newtown Action Alliance and Andy Pelosi, president of the Campaign to Keep Guns Off Campus. Chronogram caught up with Sarmiento with some questions about his stirring film on gun violence in Poughkeepsie and Newburgh, which he made over the winter of 2012. Sarmiento, a director, editor, and cinematographer, has been making films for the past two years under the alias Exhibition Z. He graduated from SUNY New Paltz with a Communications in Media degree, and he hopes to continue working on short films and documentaries. “A Son Down After Sun Down is the highlight of my young career,” says Sarmiento. “And I’m looking forward to adding more to the list.”

What motivated you to make this film?
CS: What motivated me to make this film all began as a final project for my seminar filmmaking class. As topics were being passed around the class, I wanted shed light on a topic that needed attention, a topic that troubled me internally—gun violence was just that. As ambitious of an idea it was, I had access to all the right sources and people I grew up with that had unfortunately fallen victim to the street life.

Why focus on Poughkeepsie and Newburgh, specifically?
CS: Newburgh and Poughkeepsie have some of the highest crime rates in all of the cities in the US. I live five minutes away from the City of Poughkeepsie, and Newburgh is only 20 minutes away. It was only right.

In the film, there seems to be a focus on money as a cause of a lot of the gun violence in these areas. Is that the major cause you found while making the documentary? Were there others?
CS: To me, money plays a major factor in the cause of gun violence, but while I was making this film, I slowly started to realize that pride was just as detrimental. While at times it may seem like the war is going on in the streets, most of the time the battle is being fought with self. I say this because there are positive intentions in these individuals you see in the film and others in the streets—intentions of wanting to leave this lifestyle, but the battle always seems to be lost to pride. Everyone wants to be the alpha male.

There was a focus on education as a solution to gun violence. What are some other possible solutions you came across while making this film?
CS: I would agree that education is by far the most important element in a cure to this issue. We perform through the way we were taught. Whether our performances are terrible or great, the way we behave travels back to our roots, our foundation, and the morals we were given. These fundamentals have a lot to do with education. To be a great teacher, the knowledge must be there.

In the documentary, you interweave interviews with Mayor Kennedy amidst interviews with victims of gun violence. Why did you format the documentary in this way?
CS: I interweaved the interviews because it offered a much more compelling argument. I felt that if could compliment one interview with another, I was telling the right story.

There are many striking scenes of street life in the film. How did you approach the photography?
CZ: Regarding the photography, at times I felt like I was being too ambitious. But this feeling usually goes away when you're actually capturing it. Knowing some of the interviewees allowed me to really venture further into the street life, allowing me to capture some moving footage.

As a whole, the film seems pretty restrained. I imagine it could have been much more graphic. Why did you choose to portray it in this way? What tone were you going for?
CS: I wanted to approach the tone of the film in the way that I viewed the topic, which was with sensitivity. I feel that most of the time a topic like this becomes hammered with stereotypes and profiling. I wanted to shed light on this topic in the most honest way.

What did you learn from the experience of making the film? What was most rewarding about it? Surprising?
CS: The making of this film was definitely a humbling experience. I understood the "why" to this issue. I had a chance to talk with each interviewee in person, and really get to understand them and their motives. It felt like therapy sessions rather than regular interviews. When it was time to wrap up the last day of shooting, I was confident I had embedded some sort of optimistic mindset in these individuals. We both learned from each other's lifestyles and wished each other the best of luck in our paths.

Click here to watch the full documentary, A Son Down, After Sun Down, on Vimeo.