The Phelps Mansion Museum, located on Court Street, hosted an art exhibition on Friday featuring photographs that celebrate the people of Binghamton as both artists and subjects.
“People of the Parlor City,” held in the mansion’s ballroom, was put on display from 6 p.m to 9 p.m. as a part of First Friday. Greg Milunich, a featured photographer who helped organize the event, said the theme was inspired by “Art of Binghamton,” a similar exhibition held at the Bundy Museum of History and Art in August. While that exhibition featured art from all mediums and focused on the architecture of Binghamton, this one solely included photographic portraitures.
“[“Art of Binghamton”] celebrates the beauty of Binghamton,” Milunich said. “I decided that there wasn’t enough focus on the people that make up the area.”
After reaching out to the Phelps Mansion to set a date, Milunich and local photographer Patti Schwartz called for photograph submissions in October, curating the entries into an exhibition of six local artists: Milunich, Schwartz, Joshua Lasky, Arra Norton, Sandra Kirker and Mike Ricciardi.
Although familiar Binghamton locations were heavily featured, the exhibition was meant to pay special attention to community members. The result was a series of portraits wherein subjects interact with icons of the city. While some locations like Cheri Lindsey Skate Park on the North Side may be foreign to most Binghamton University students, other places like BC Junction or the brightly lit up roof of the Security Mutual building are immediately recognizable.
Maggie Zurbruegg-Ramey, a Binghamton community member who grew up in the area, said she could pinpoint most of the places and even some of the faces featured in the photos.
“It’s very intimate storytelling,” she said. “It opens your eyes to something else, but a lot of it is in the community and it’s fun to see where it is in the community.”
The photographs were aesthetically varied, each artist focusing on a particular style of portraiture. Schwartz, a health homes re-entry care manager at Southern Tier AIDS Program, has taken snapshots of local festivals, fundraisers, parades and marches for six years via a Facebook page called “Patti Loves Bing.” She said her colorful shots of events like Parade Day and Porchfest are the result of a spontaneous approach to capturing moments.
“I don’t go looking, it just happens,” Schwartz said.
Milunich, a special education teacher at Chenango Valley Middle School, usually does landscape or nightscape photography, so his work in this exhibition diverges from his usual subject matter. He said that he looks for the emotion that stands out to him in an image. For example, his piece “Generation Gap” depicts an older man and two college students crossing the same street, but walking in different directions.
“I thought that was such a great juxtaposition,” Milunich said. “When I was looking for these shots, I was looking for a mood that represented something about the city.”
Norton, ‘13, works in film photography, capturing subtle portraits of her neighborhood as well as poignant moments at political rallies. For about a year, she’s been adding her photographs to a folder called “Rally Binghamton,” which chronicles protests in the area.
Binghamton community member Chris Bederka said the exhibition’s depictions of activism were especially interesting.
“As someone who’s been outside the area, you always think of big political events happening in major cities, but this shows that people are getting involved everywhere,” he said.
While the mansion was a trek away from many of the other First Friday hot spots, Zurbruegg-Ramey said she approved of the venue.
“I like that it’s bringing more people into the Phelps Mansion,” she said. “It’s cool that [the art walk] is more spread out and you can see more of the community on First Friday.”
Milunich and Schwartz plan on opening submissions again and holding a new exhibition with the same theme next year. “Art of Binghamton” will be held again in June and July at the Bundy Museum.
Joe Schuerch, house manager of the Phelps Mansion, said he has high hopes for future photography installations there.
“This is something that I think is going to get bigger and better every year,” he said. “We’re excited to see where it goes from here.”