Friday, October 22, 2010

REVIEW: In-Sight Photography Project Annual Silent Auction and Exhibition in Brattleboro

By Jamis Lott

For me, the art world never runs out of surprises.

My latest venture into Brattleboro led me to The Vermont Center for Photography building, a quaint headquarters for the In-Sight Photography Project, and gallery housing the organization’s 12th annual silent auction and exhibition.

The gallery is a small half-pint space with walls blanketed in pictures: if any more were to be added, they would have to be the size of a baseball card. Below the framed and matted prints of various sizes are signed photography books, aligned edge to edge, devouring what’s left of the gallery’s space. All in all, the collaboration consists of 350 pictures and books, donated to the In-Sight Photography Project by more than 300 photographers.

“This is the most donators that we’ve ever had.” said Joan O’ Beirne, a former director of the In-Sight Photography Project. “These silent auctions generate some of the best talent all year. There’s such a wide variety of work, that there is something for everybody’s taste.”

I am amazed by the selection of photographers that have donated prints. The collection includes local photographers Lynne Weinstein, Evie Lovett, Robert George, and the late Mark Shaw, who was a family photographer for the Kennedy’s. The list of national donators includes Fred Cray, Duane Michals, Kevin Bubriski, and Lawrence McFarland, a prominent artist featured in New York City’s Museum of Modern Art. There is even a print (featured and for sale) by Edward Curtis, who took portrait pictures of American Indians in the 1800’s.

An additional shock came when I found out what these prints were going for. The opening bid for each piece is 20% of the actual price. Meaning that a signed book retailing for 30 dollars can sell for as little as 5 dollars. And a $2,500 Fred Cray has an opening price of 500 dollars.
It’s totally absurd.” said Sophia LaCava-Bohanan, one of the organizers of the In-Sight Photography Project. “There are these multi-thousand dollar pieces for 20% of the valued price, and there are a lot of works that don’t even have bids.”

The most highly-priced pieces offered are a book and print that are so valuable that the Vermont Center for Photography keeps the two under lock and key. The print is a limited edition by Jen Beckman. Her other prints of the same picture sold out elsewhere almost immediately, raising the price of this copy. The print is accompanied by a book, alleverythingthatisyouth, consisting of pictures by photographers Doug and Mike Starn. Joan O’Beime figures that the book is worth even more than the print. The opening bid for the two starts at $500, but the worth of the two by the end of the auction is yet to be unveiled.

“These silent auctions are our largest annual fundraiser.” said Sophia. “This silent auction determines our budget for the year and it is a very necessary event for us.” All profits go to the In-Sight Photography Project, for supplies and in scholarships for students who are unable to pay. Last year, 87% of students joining the program received full or partial scholarship, and the majority of the program’s money comes from their annual auction.

“Around 500 students, ages eleven to eighteen, are allowed into the program, regardless of their ability to pay.” Said Steve Dybas, one of the directors of In-sight.

Everybody wins: buyers pay for gallery quality art, while the money goes into teaching kids photography. Where else have you seen a system more fair and noble? In my life so far, I would have to say nowhere.

To learn more, visit

Mark Shaw,
Backstage Balmain Tartan Gown, 1954 printed 2007, Giclee Print on Hahnemuele Photo Rag paper, Certificate of Authenticity, 22 x 17 inches, Retail: $1,100

Edward S. Curtis, Untitled (Portrait of a Native American Man), Toned Gelatin Silver Print, 20 x 16 inches, Retail: $400

Fred Cray, Untitled Self Portrait, 2010-S, 2010, Archival Pigment Print, Signed, 20 x 16 inches, Edition 1 of 5, Framed, Retail: $2500

Daisy Frederick, Untitled, Gelatin Silver Print, Signed, 6 x 6 inches, AP 2 of 2, Retail: $60