It’s an exciting time for Tampa Bay-area photographers. We’re in the middle of the inaugural St. Petersburg Month of Photography month, and the city’s about to crown its first photo laureate who will “create a document of Tampa Bay life, events, and its people for a year.”
Thirty-two local photographers threw their portfolios into the hat. From these, SPMOP organizers narrowed it down to five finalists—Selina Roman, Jaime Aelavanthara, Emily Will, Tristan Wheelock and Thomas Sayers-Ellis—whose work is currently on display at the Morean Arts Center at 719 Central Ave.
The photographer laureate award reception for St. Petersburg Month of Photography happens on Saturday, May 13 at Morean Arts Center in downtown St. Petersburg.
Some of them, like Roman and Aelavanthara, are already established as fine art photographers and photography professors in the Tampa Bay area. Others are students, journalists, musicians, and poets still making a name for themselves as photographers. All of them had interesting things to say when we asked them about inspiration, photography, and St. Pete.
Here are St. Pete’s photo laureate finalists in their own words.
What’s your biggest source(s) of inspiration?
“The poetic reality of humanity—all of humanity—as I encounter it in its state of continuing creation. And the creative process. Simple acts, complex interactions and invisible actions. I like predicting, camera in hand, the wondrous exchanges.”—Thomas Sayers-Ellis
“As Chuck Close says, ‘Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just show up and get to work.’ It may sound like hubris, but I truly believe this. I draw influence from various sources, but I don't wait to be inspired. I just follow intuition.”—Tristan Wheelock
“My grandmother, Carol Upham, was my first inspiration. She introduced me to the world of photography and the art of storytelling. When I started to travel internationally, it then became my fuel of inspiration. Exploring new places and cultures while capturing the unique beauty and essence of each location is not only for me to revisit but also to share with others my perception of the world.”—Emily Will
“Florida is so mythic and mysterious—mermaids, mayhem and murder—to name a few. This state has always been my biggest source of inspiration at so many levels—the colors of its architecture, its history and its people, its mystery and myths. It continues to fascinate me, and I couldn't imagine living anywhere else because my work is so rooted in the region.”—Selina Roman
“Outside of the visual arts, literature and the written word often inspire my image-making. I also find inspiration in my everyday surroundings, whether that’s a pocket of light, or a discovery made on a walk such as a bird's nest, or an insect wing, or other found object that I can work into a photograph.”—Jaime Aelavanthara
What excites you about the prospect of photographing St. Pete for a year?
“I'm a boots-on-the-ground photographer. I walk. I talk. I meet. I learn. I befriend the shadows where both delight and despair can't hide from exposure. Physical St. Pete and social St. Pete are uniquely layered in a great conversation about Florida, old world and new. I'm excited to be its visual listener.—Thomas Sayers-Ellis
“I have a long history with this community. I went to high school here. I left for years. I eventually returned and bought a house on a whim before prices skyrocketed. I've watched a great transformation begin, and I believe it will only continue. I love the idea of pointing a camera at that and creating a kind of historical record.”—Tristan Wheelock
“My family contributed to the early history of St. Petersburg. Photographing the city I was born and raised in would be an honor and a privilege. I would love to honor their vision and showcase the growth and diversity the city has to offer while also learning more about my own home.”—Emily Will
“What excites me about the prospect of photographing St Pete for a year is going beyond the obvious and discovering the hidden gems that the area has to offer—places and people that may have been overlooked but still add so much to the fabric of the city.”—Selina Roman
“St. Pete is a multi-faceted, vast place to explore, and that excites me! You can go from being in an urban setting, to white sand beaches, to a location that looks like it hasn’t changed since the Jurassic Period. Kayaking through the narrow mangrove tunnels at Weedon Island Preserve was an early immersion into Florida coastal wilderness and a place that kicked off the potentiality of the natural wonders that St. Pete has to offer.”—Jaime Aelavanthara
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What do you hope to accomplish with your images of St. Pete?
Photo by Tristan Wheelock
“A new alphabet, a reservoir of images that any curious eye can feast on and wonder about the many here-wheres and elsewheres that make up St. Pete, the kind of testimony that suggests that both geography and biology need one another in tropical life, one grand environment!”—Thomas Sayers-Ellis
“I hope to show people all sides of this community. There's, of course, the small geographical pocket the people want to occupy, but there's also an entire world outside of that. There is a lot of underrepresentation in our community. As a photojournalist by trade, I feel equipped to document and share the stories of those who aren't heard or seen. It's valuable; it might even be a catalyst for positive change.”—Tristan Wheelock
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Photo by Jaime Aelavanthara
“My main hope for photographing St. Pete is to showcase the beauty and individuality of the city, highlighting its distinctive features and landmarks, and capturing the essence of the local culture and lifestyle. I aim to create art that provokes thought, emotion, and a deeper understanding of the uniqueness of St. Pete.”—Emily Will
“My work is about finding the beauty in non-traditional places. I want viewers to be surprised and see the city in ways which may not be familiar to them.”—Selina Roman
“I hope to capture a sense of magic in our everyday surroundings. I constantly think about how we are all connected in this world and what unites us; to me, that is the shared human condition. I hope to continue examining our connection with the natural environment, each other, and with the places we inhabit to create a shared experience and sense of connection.”—Jaime Aelavanthara
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Photo by Thomas Sayers-Ellis