FMoPA's new UPA Gallery showcase offers a candid look into souls of Tampa's best photographers

The show is up through September 30.

click to enlarge UPA Gallery 7th Annual Artists Showcase - Photo courtesy of UPA Gallery
Photo courtesy of UPA Gallery
UPA Gallery 7th Annual Artists Showcase

In today’s world of social media, photography is everywhere. But what is just a snapshot and what is fine art? In other words, what’s worth seeking out in an art gallery or museum?

As President, Curator and Co-founder of UPA Gallery, a fine art photography gallery based in Tampa, Pierre Dutertre can tell you exactly what fine art photography is. “Good fine art photography is conceptually based,” says Dutertre. It starts with intent, continues through exploration and experimentation, and ends with a consistent body of work, he explains.

“The really good fine art out there is often a series of self-portraits by proxy,” says Dutertre, “It’s not about the landscape, it’s not about the possum, it’s not about the still life. It’s about the artist’s involvement emotionally and intellectually.”

click to enlarge Flaunt - David Monroe
David Monroe

Unlike the snapshots that are seemingly ubiquitous in the internet age, this level of photography is actually kind of rare. It’s not something you randomly stumble upon on social media. You have to seek it out. And you should seek it out. You should seek it out because it has the power to pull at your heart in a way your friend’s casual vacation photos never will.

Thanks to UPA Gallery’s partnership with the Florida Museum of Photographic Arts (FMoPA), it’s easy to seek and find great fine art photography right in downtown Tampa. Right now, FMoPA is hosting UPA Gallery’s annual artist showcase, an impressive collection of fine art photography from 26 of UPA Gallery’s 29 artists. About half of the photographic artists are based in Florida, mostly in the Tampa Bay area.

The first photographs I notice are David Monroe’s Portals of Interest. The Clearwater-based photographer has six photographs in the show. Each is round in shape, as though you’re viewing each photograph through a ship’s porthole. What you see are trees in a forest, but the focus is usually on a single tree. It’s a neat trick being able to isolate one tree in a forest. It takes some seriously clever framing and thoughtful choices in composition.

“David Monroe’s portals of intent is actually a spiritual growth-based project resulting from meditation when he takes the pictures,” says Dutertre. My favorite of these images is Flaunt, a black and white photo of a tree with beautifully curved branches in a forest of straight-trunk pines.

Lisa Fitch is sort of debuting her Keepsakes series at this show.

"It’s brand new work started this year,” says Dutertre.

Fitch usually does nature-inspired photography, but the death of her mother caused her to focus on something else entirely.

“Her absence in my life was compounded by the fact that, sadly, I had none of her physical possessions,” says Fitch in her artist statement.

In Keepsakes, Fitch works her way through this loss by photographing small antique items given to her by friends and motherly figures in her life.

“They’re done with natural light,” Dutertre tells me, “As a commercial photographer, I would have like half a dozen lights and power packs, and two assistants. And she does it with one window light in her kitchen. That’s it. One black background, one window light, nothing else. So obviously it’s based on the time of day, whether it’s cloudy, not cloudy. And that’s a genius approach…Technically, it’s brilliant because it’s so simplistic, but emotionally it is powerful.”

I have no idea what Maria Chapin photographed for her Dreams of Crystals series, now on display at FMoPA, but whatever it is, it’s a beautiful amalgamation of shapes and colors.

“The way [Chapin] sees the world is in terms of shapes, colors and form as it relates to her emotional attachment to the real world,” Dutertre tells us, “These are non-referent abstracts. You don’t know what it is. I don’t know what it is, and I don’t want to know what it is, which is very important for a pure abstract artist. What is it? You don’t answer that question. It is what it is.”

Florida-based photographer Michael Sheehan specializes in portraiture. Many of his portraits, posted on the UPA Gallery website, look more like classic paintings. For this show, Sheehan shared some black and white street photography he did in New York City. Out of the 60 images he submitted, Dutertre selected three. He chose these three because they “show the disconnection between people,” he tells us.

Three different Tampa Bay area photographers in this show feature the female figure in their work Michael Trefry, Jose Gomez, and Anne Rosse Gonzalez.

“Jose does pictures of the female form as self-portraits by proxy. He’s trying to explore the psyche of women going through grave difficulties, abuse, or whatever it is, to represent what he’s going through. Michael Trefry is more into form, and that’s interesting too,” says Dutertre, “Annie’s work is mostly self-portraiture. It’s a reflection of her current life what she’s going through.”

Each of these photographers takes their own approach to the female form, but they all exhibit interesting patterns of light and shadow in their work. Four photographs from Pierre and Cathy Dutertre’s current series, Living with Parkinson’s, were also included in the exhibition. The UPA Gallery co-founders, who are also husband and wife, often work together.

“The series about [Parkinson’s] is my way of being cathartic, and also exposing it to other people, who don’t know anything about Parkinson’s,” Pierre tells us, “The medication that’s prescribed for [Parkinson’s], together with the actual disease, produce hallucinations, which is what you see on the wall.”

In one of the images, Pierre stands alone, horses galloping in and around him.

“I can sometimes go out in my backyard and see horses at two in the afternoon,” Pierre says, “There are no horses there. That is one of the recurring things that I see.”

Over the past eight years, the Dutertres have been collecting fine art photographers from all over the U.S. and Europe. Each photographer has a unique message to share and an uncommonly artistic way of sharing it. Seeing these photographs reminds me that, despite today’s prevalence of casual photography, fine art photography still has the power to wow.

UPA Gallery 7th Annual Artists Showcase. Through Sept. 30; Fourth Friday artist talk with Lisa Fitch Fri., Aug. 23, 5 p.m.-7 p.m. Florida Museum of Photographic Arts, 400 N. Ashley Dr., Tampa. 813-221-2222,


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Jennifer Ring

Jen began her storytelling journey in 2017, writing and taking photographs for Creative Loafing Tampa. Since then, she’s told the story of art in Tampa Bay through more than 200 art reviews, artist profiles, and art features. She believes that everyone can and should make art, whether they’re good at it or not...
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