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Sara Macel

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Crusade for Art Brooklyn Rocks Photoville

Constructed Identities, a Crusade for Art Brooklyn exhibition at Photoville
by Sara Macel, co-director of Crusade for Art Brooklyn

Photoville's shipping container exhibitions

Photoville's shipping container exhibitions

Back in early 2015 when Liz and I were conceiving of Crusade for Art Brooklyn, one of the dream events we thought would be a perfect partner to our mission to engage new audiences with photography was having a group show at Photoville, the annual outdoor festival organized by United Photo Industries in Brooklyn Bridge Park every September. Photoville was seen by 71,000 in 2014, and we couldn't think of a better way to make a splash and announce ourselves to our Brooklyn audience and to the photo world .

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And so, early one morning just before the deadline for Photoville exhibition proposals, I submitted our proposal for Crusade for Art Brooklyn. Being a brand new non-profit, we knew we might be a long shot since the competition is fierce for this festival. Then, we got word back that Sam Barzilay and Laura Roumanos from UPI/Photoville wanted to get us on a video conference call. It sounded promising, but again, we didn't want to get our hopes up. In preparation, Liz and I called Jennifer. During that brainstorming session, the amazing-idea-machine that is Jennifer Schwartz, came up with the idea that we'd take instant Polaroid portraits of our audience and install those images in a mural to be made over the course of the festival in real time by all 10 members of our local chapter. It was the perfect combination of showcasing our members' work and interacting with our visitors that we needed. We also decided that the three of us would curate the show featuring the work of our 10 members: Liz Arenberg, Mia Berg, Nicholas Calcott, Sean Carroll, Maureen Drennan, Sara Fox, Sara Macel, Minta Maria, Tim Melideo, and Charlotte Strode. On the call, Sam and Laura couldn't be kinder or more excited about our ideas. I think it was about halfway through the call that Sam came right out and said "So, you're in." Somehow, I was able to wait until the call ended to jump around like a maniac in my studio. And then the real work began...

hanging the show

hanging the show

This was the first time I personally had ever helped curate a show and organize it from the written proposal to the finished exhibition. At times, it was overwhelming. But our member artists are really amazing and just when I thought there was no way I was going to be able to get all this done, we had a group meeting and everyone excitedly stepped up to take on tasks and jobs. As co-directors, Liz and I have these moments when we look around at these incredibly hard-working, talented folks and thank our lucky stars that we get to be part of Crusade for Art Brooklyn with them.

Crusade for Art member artists setting up

Crusade for Art member artists setting up

Carl from Luxlab made all of our prints. I spent two mornings in August hanging out in his studio. Seeing our prints in exhibition size was pretty great. GL mounted all the prints, and Sean helped us find foamcore for our mural wall. Installation day was hot and sweaty, but with half the team there, we were able to get the work up on the walls (first with magnets, then with velcro) relatively smoothly. I have to pass by the festival from the BQE on my way to teach photography at Kingsborough College, and it felt like leaving my child at daycare the next day when I drove by Photoville on my way to work. 

At the opening party on Friday, Sept 11th, 2015, I stood outside our container/gallery watching my friends and strangers mingling among our prints and having their portraits taken for the mural. The WTC Tribute in Light shown over lower Manhattan, and I took a moment to take it all in. I was a beginning photo student at NYU on September 11, 2001. I had just started dating my boyfriend, and I don't often like to talk or think about that day. I almost left New York for good after that. But I stuck around. And I never gave up on New York or photography or that boyfriend. And in that moment, all of those things that I love were right there in the same place, and it filled me with pride. And that was all before the festival even started!

Over the next two weekends, our members took turns interacting with our visitors and taking their portraits and engaging with fellow artists and Photoville participants. What Laura and Sam and Dave have created with Photoville is a community in every sense of the word, and it felt great to be a part of it. We talked to visitors about our goals as a non-profit and about our ideas for upcoming events. People signed up for our mailing list, and other photographers asked when they could submit work to become members (in the future, we promise!) I got to see so many amazing artists I love and share our work with them: Anna Beeke, Jeff Jacobson, and Jennifer McClure to shamelessly namedrop a few. It was kind of cool to come back after a few days away and see the portraits we all made and how the mural started to, almost organically, take on the shape of the continental US. 

But for me, the best moment was on my last shift on the last weekend when a group of 20-somethings came in to our gallery. I told them a bit about us and asked if I could take their portrait. Immediately, they assembled into perfect "band photo" poses. It was hilarious and perfect. I took their portrait twice because they were so fun. And then, one of them asked me if we could re-take it with them holding up a sign that said "Photoville", so I did. I gave her that Polaroid to keep. On their way out, one of them told me that our gallery was their favorite because "you interacted with us and made it fun." And that right there is what Crusade for Art Brooklyn is all about. Thank you, Brooklyn! And thank you Photoville!

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LPS Spotlight: Sara Macel

Since the photographers featured in the Local Photographer Showcases in each city are supremely talented and excited about reaching new audiences with their work, we will be regularly featuring them to give you more insight into their work and their experience Crusading. Next up is Sara Macel from the Brooklyn pop-up:

Tell us a little about your background as a photographer and where you are now with your work.

Born and raised in Houston, Texas, I left home to study photography in New York when I was eighteen.  I got my undergrad BFA in Photo & Imaging at NYU in 2003 and my MFA in Photography, Video, & Related Media from SVA in 2011. Between my undergrad and graduate degrees, I worked as Bruce Davidson's studio manager and as a still photo producer at Art Department while working on my personal projects and exhibiting my work around NYC and Brooklyn.  After getting my MFA in 2011, I began teaching photography at Rockland College upstate and shooting my own editorial and advertising shoots to help support my personal work.  My first monograph, "May the Road Rise to Meet You," is coming out in Sept 2013 from Daylight Books.  There's going to be a big launch party and panel talk on Sept. 21, 2013 at United Photo Industries, and I'm kicking off the exhibition and book tour with a show at Daylight's project space in Hillsborough, NC in late Sept-early Oct.

How did you hear about the Crusade, and what were your initial impressions?

I met Jennifer at Fotofest in 2012.  She wasn't on my list of reviewers, but I knew about her and her gallery and wanted to make that connection, so I emailed her before the event asking if she could make a little time for me, and she was so gracious and said yes.  During our meeting, she gave me some of the most helpful and honest advice I got the whole review and helped connect me with David Bram of Fraction Magazine who then featured my work in Issue 39.  In the months that followed, Jennifer and David invited me to their Flash Powder retreat in Astoria, which I attended earlier this year.  I knew about the Crusade from the beginning and followed its adventures, but it was at the retreat that I got to meet Lady Blue and become even more invested in supporting Jennifer and her vision.  I was so happy when Jennifer asked me to take part in the Brooklyn Crusade soon after getting home from Astoria.  I think it's a really creative way to get people into the idea of collecting art and meeting artists.  And most artists I know are eager to build an audience for their work but not really sure where to start.  I knew it might be a little awkward to walk up to a stranger on the street and say "Are you interested in collecting some art for free today?" And it was!  But it was also a great exercise in practicing my "elevator pitch" and hang out more with Jennifer, which is my definition of a win-win.

Were you excited to participate in the Local Photographer Showcase?  Why or why not?

Hell yeah! I love being part of Lady Blue's journey. It taught me a lot about creating your own buzz and finding ways to reach people so that they too become invested in your project.  With my book coming out in September, it was fun to tell random people on the street about it.  I brought a notebook and got names and emails of the folks I talked to about my work.  For the people who walked away with my print, that's just even more incentive for them to check out and hopefully buy the book when it comes out.

How did the event go for you?  Was it like you expected or different?  Better or worse?  

It was disappointing that the van couldn't join us in Brooklyn for mechanical reasons, but overall I was really excited about the people I met and who walked away with my prints.  The first couple I met and shared my work with already collect photography from local DUMBO photo gallery Klompching, so that was great!  And right after I talked with them for a few minutes, I met a female artist and we talked about making work and getting it out in the world.  Despite the heat, I met some great people and really enjoyed hanging out with my fellow artists and Jennifer. The post-Crusade drink with the gang was also a highlight.

What do you hope will come out of the experience for you - personally and professionally?  Do you think those are realistic expectations?

Jennifer is a powerhouse of great ideas, so it was worth it just to talk with her more about my book project and brainstorm ways of spreading the word about that.  By getting contact details for the people I met, I helped grow my audience for future events, books, and shows.  And if a print sale comes from this, that would just be the cherry on top of the sundae.  In the end, I just like being part the Crusade for Collecting family, and if any future collectors come out of it, great!

Tell us about the image you gave away at the event and how to see more of your work.

The image I contributed is from my series "May the Road Rise to Meet You." The project is about my father's life on the road selling telephone poles, and the image, titled "Recognition Lifts the Human Spirit, Spring, Texas," is a bird's-eye view of his desk at home.  The title of this image comes from an inspirational phrase he wrote to himself on his day planner. More info about the book can be found on my website www.saramacel.com and at www.maytheroadrisetomeetyou.com. The book launch party will be Sept. 21 in Brooklyn at United Photo Industries, and all summer until October you can see images from my series "Rodeo Texas" along The Fence at Brooklyn Bridge Park (http://fence.photovillenyc.org/) sponsored by Photoville and UPI. Please sign up for my mailing list on my website for more updates and follow me on Instagram and Twitter @saramacel.

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Astoria Retreat (Season 4!): #flashersforlife

When David Bram and I started planning our first invite-only retreat for photographers over a year ago, we never could have imagined how powerful these experiences would be - for everyone.  David and I leave each and every one completely blown away by the talent, energy and drive of these artists.  And then there's the bonding. . . something about living all together in a house for five days, talking non-stop about your art and life. . . it easily makes the retreats one of the most special and rewarding things I do. I have often said that living in the house together is like The Real World without the hot tub, and when I started my tour, so many of the photographers who have participated on the retreats either came along on a leg of the trip or participated in a pop-up or just showed up in a city for an in-person high-five. It started to feel like The Real World-Road Rules Challenge, with photographers from one retreat meeting photographers from another and sharing stories from what they all knew was a completely unique experience.  "What retreat were you on?" sounded very much like "What Season were you on?".  

Sean Dana and Kurt Simonson (Season 1 - aka Astoria 7/12, aka #Astoria6) drove with me from San Francisco to Portland, where we met up with Bill Vaccaro, who was also Season 1 and participated in the New Orleans pop-up (so did Kurt!) and met up with the Crusade in Cleveland.  In Portland I saw Julia Vandenoever (Season 2, aka The Cat Cave) and Elizabeth Clark Libert (Season 3, aka The Bone Collectors) and Brandon Thibideaux (who was soon to be Season 4, aka Flashers).  Sarah Moore (Season 2) was my co-pilot from Chicago (where we met up with Matt Crowther - Season 4) to Cleveland (enter Bill Vaccaro and Matthew Conboy - on Sarah's season) to New York (where she reunited with Muema from Season 2 and met Sara Macel from Season 4 and Charlotte Strode, who will be Season 5 in July).  And to bring it all home, Heather Evans Smith (Season 3) met me in Richmond to celebrate the final Crusading days.  Whew.  Confused?

In all of the traveling excitement, I have not written up the last retreat (Season 4 - held in Astoria, Oregon in April).  This group bonded straight out of the gate.  It was almost alarming.  We always try to put together people from different places, photographic experiences, types of work, etc. so that the participants learn from each other as much as they learn from us.  And although this group had the usual amount of diversity, they were besties nearly instantaneously.

We had the usual agenda of intensive work on portfolios, sequencing, artist statements (my favorite!), and hours and hours of more, followed by after-hours bowls of Butterfinger ice cream and more photo talk.  We also explored Canon Beach (Goonies rock!), made friends with some locals, rocked the DQ,  and became flashers for life.

This crew. . . damn special.  They all are, honestly.  David and I say it constantly - we are so lucky to do what we do.

Make sure you check out the work from this talented group: Matt Crowther, Elizabeth Fleming, Sara Macel, Brandon Thibodeaux and Annick Sjobakken.

Are you a photographer interested in getting a project ready to launch? Check out Flash Powder Projects here.

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Brooklyn - Too Hot to Trot

Honestly, this is a tough one to write about.  The photographers were awesome, as usual - enthusiastic and excited to reach out to people and share their work.  But it was so hot out, and the people walking by were. . . non-plussed.  Some really interesting connections were made, but a lot of the people did not want to stop.  They already "did the art thing".  Really?? It just goes to show, maybe the biggest impact is made where people are not already inundated with arts experiences.  DUMBO is way arty.  We'll see how people strolling through the National Mall feel. . . every day is a new adventure!

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