Seeing the big picture

click to enlarge Seeing the big picture - Suzanne Camp Crosby
Suzanne Camp Crosby
Seeing the big picture


Photography is a mind-altering experience. We may have walked down a street in our neighborhood hundreds of times, but when a gifted photographer homes in on a detail of a porch that we had never paid much attention to, our understanding is expanded.

That’s what happens to me when I take a walk with my friend, gifted Tampa photographer Amy Martz. I’m amazed at the beauty she captures (like that of Plant Hall’s lacy veranda) that I had just passed by without noticing.

What does this expanded world-view have to do with this column, “Transforming Tampa Bay”? Everything. Human beings experience life through our senses. This enhanced vision makes us more cognizant of our world’s beauty and motivated to change the discordant.

Over a decade ago, as a Tampa City Council member, I championed a Public Art Committee initiative called “The Big Picture,” a nationally acclaimed program that gives local photographers a rare platform for their work. The year-long tenure of a Photographer Laureate allows the competitively chosen artist to document and explore Tampa Bay though his or her individual vision.

The ten artists who have been selected for this honor have widely varying points of view and differing photographic techniques, but they all succeed in broadening our understanding of this community through their images. They receive $20,000 in return for 20 photographs to be created within the year of their award. This body of work premieres in a gallery exhibition before becoming part of the city’s Portable Works Collection, which graces the walls of public buildings.

The moody, evocative images created by Stephen S. Gregory shake my senses. His dramatic photograph of the endangered historic structure at Mann Wagnon Park feels like a thundering chord by Tchaikovsky, compelling us to look and care.

Gregory was the city’s fifth Photographer Laureate, and his work could not have been more different from that of his predecessor, Suzanne Camp Crosby, who juxtaposes props and real settings in a surreal fashion. By placing a toy pirate ship on the Bayshore Boulevard balustrade, she plays with our expectations and sense of scale.

A completely novel approach was developed by Rebecca Sexton Larson, an early Photographer Laureate, whose work currently hangs in Tampa City Hall’s Chambers. A close-up of the brick streets of Ybor City, in which embroidered words underscore the handwork of that bygone era, is paired with an image of casitas. The grainy, aged feeling of the images evokes nostalgia.

These gifted artists, by thoughtfully selecting images for us to focus on, to edit, to enhance or to erase, provide us with a specific viewpoint which can alter our take on things. We all benefit from their shared vision.

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