SLIDESHOW Northampton takes a selfie: Slideshow at Historic Northampton features a photo portrait of city

Last modified: Wednesday, November 05, 2014
It’s a record for the ages — a digital photographic record, that is.

This past May, Historic Northampton invited people to take a collective snapshot of the city over a two-day period, submitting up to 12 pictures each of whatever took their fancy — people, buildings, workplaces, scenic areas, hidden corners. More than 100 people, from high school students to senior citizens, responded to the call, sending in more than 1,000 images that are destined to serve as a permanent archive on the life of the city.

Now the Northampton museum is throwing a party to celebrate the May 2-3 project and showcase the work of the city’s citizen-photojournalists. On Aug. 23, selected pictures from “Midnight to Midnight: Northampton’s Self-Portrait in 48 Hours” will be screened on the museum grounds from 7 to 9 p.m., and complementary ice cream will be served, courtesy of Herrell’s Ice Cream.

The screening will feature about a third of the photos from the 48-hour project. Two slide shows later this fall, at Forbes Library and the A.P.E. Gallery, will showcase the others. Some of the photos will also appear in an upcoming calendar from Florence Savings Bank, which contributed funding for the project.

For participants like Kathy LaCroix, taking part in the project has been “a real honor and just a great experience. To know you’re doing something along with all these other people creates a real feeling of community.”

LaCroix, who lives in Easthampton but was born in Northampton and lived there for years, says she’s a veteran amateur photographer but has become more serious about it — attending workshops, getting a digital camera, staging an exhibition at the Easthampton Chamber of Commerce — since retiring a few years ago. For the 48-hour project, she concentrated on downtown street scenes, like the Saturday morning Farmers Market on Gothic Street and the annual Pride Parade, held the weekend of the photo shoot. One of those pictures presents a riot of color and energy, as stilt-walkers from Easthampton’s Show Circus Studio stand near the rainbow crosswalk by Thornes Marketplace; they’re being photographed in turn by other members of the performing group and passersby, many of them colorfully dressed for the Pride Parade.

“I like people,” LaCroix said. “A community is all about its people, and I wanted to capture that.”

Stan Sherer, a professional photographer and vice president of Historic Northampton’s Board of Trustees, was a key organizer of the show. He says he was impressed with the variety of images that people took — all were sent in electronically — though cataloging them, with assistance from members of the Northampton Photography Group, a hobby club, was a huge job.

“There are some really nice interior images of businesses — Northampton at work — some good architectural pieces, and outdoor shots that are well-presented,” he said. Sherer and other organizers gave participants suggestions for possible subjects, such as city businesses, but otherwise let people decide for themselves what to document.

“The idea was really just to try to show a couple days in the life of Northampton,” said Paul Griffin, a member of the Northampton Photography Group. Griffin also contributed to the exhibit: His images include one of a waitress taking an order from a table of four at the Florence Diner, while another shows employees sewing the cloth liners for coffins at the Florence Casket Co.

The 48-hour project was an outgrowth of a smaller exhibit the Northampton Photography Group did last year at Historic Northampton, in which the club’s roughly half-dozen members captured various city scenes. Sherer said general discussion with his fellow trustees and the Photography Group about a follow-up project led to inviting the public to contribute images for an even bigger exhibit.

Ultimately, the 1,000 photos will be put on Historic Northampton’s online data base, Sherer notes, and some will also be archived at Forbes Library. “It should be a good resource for researchers and a great document of a certain time and place in our history,” he said.

Two days in the life

It’s hard to categorize such a vast group of photographs, but in general, most were submitted by amateur photographers, some more serious than others; some professional photographers, or people who have taught photography, also contributed images. There are many scenes of day-to-day life in town: long views of Main Street; a group of firefighters outside the station; people examining the goods at a neighborhood plant sale; a lone customer, looking at his cellphone, as he sits at a small table outside Serio’s Market.

Some offer intimate portraits. A photo of 6-year-old Nate Norsen, playing in the Cal Ripken youth baseball league, highlights his huge grin as he tosses a baseball from his right hand. It could be a recruiting poster for the Grand Old Game itself, such is the joy on the boy’s face. He’s so small the baseball looks nearly as big as a softball coming out of his hand.

Michael Root, a city resident who has worked in engineering and software administration, is a serious amateur photographer and has documented some of his recent trips, including across much of the United States. One of his photos for the 48-hour project looks down the bike path near the Jackson Street overpass to show a handful of people along the trail; the emphasis in the picture, though, is on the budding trees overhead and the way they frame the trail.

“I wanted to capture the natural and rural areas of Northampton that people don’t usually think about as part of Northampton,” Root explained. On May 2, he said, he rode his bike along West Farms Road, Sylvester Road and a few others spots, finding unusual things to photograph, like a banner on climate change hanging from a tree. From Leeds he took the bike path into town and stopped near Jackson Street to take the shot.

“I think the buds on the trees that time of year are beautiful, especially after a long stark winter,” he said.

Some other photographers have captured similar bucolic images, including The Meadows, the Mill River, and the Oxbow area. A photo by Linda Tropp of Northampton shows The Meadows at sunrise, revealing furrowed fields, crop rows laced with water, in the lower part of the picture; trees are silhouetted in the middle of the image, while overhead, fissures of sunlight thread through dark pink clouds.

Joel Emrick of Leeds, 66, contributed a number of pictures from in and around Leeds, like a crossing guard holding up his “Stop” sign at the elementary school to let a young girl cross the road. He says he’s been taking photography lessons at the city’s Senior Center, which is how he and other retirees learned of the 48-hour project and decided to take part in it.

But Emrick also had further inspiration. His grandfather, Robert Emrick, was “one of the best amateur [photographers] around” in Northampton in the first half of the 20th century, Joel Emrick says, and a substantial collection of his documentary photos of the community from that era is housed at Forbes Library.

“I imagine I take pictures because of him and I’ve been taking pictures since I was a child,” Emrick said.

Sherer, who made adjustments in color and exposure on some of the photos to improve their overall look, says he’s encouraged so many people contributed to the effort. “It shows they have an interest in their community and in preserving images of it for the future.”

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at spfarrer@gazettenet.com.

The Aug. 23 screening at Historic Northampton of “Midnight to Midnight” takes place from 7 to 9 p.m. and is free. The event includes complementary ice cream, live music and a blacksmithing demonstration. Rain moves the slide show indoors, where seating will be limited. Selected photos from the project can be viewed at www.historic-northampton.org.