David Todd McCarty has a lot of experience as a photographer. He’s photographed fashion models, home décor, food, beach scenes, vineyards, insects and animals, foreign cities, portraits and more.
But no other experience was quite like photographing fellow artist and friend Stan Sperlak outside his barn in the Goshen section of Middle Township. Sperlak’s head and shoulders were decorated with chalky blue and red pastels as he wore a kilt and nothing else on a warm November afternoon.
It wasn’t the first time photographer and painter had teamed up, but the circumstances were unique. Both are participants in the Clique exhibition, which showcases South Jersey artists through photographs taken by South Jersey photographers. The projects give new meaning to the idea of a painting within a painting.
“You’re getting a snapshot of artists in our area,” McCarty said, “and it’s kind of a celebration of these artists, but also photography as a whole.”
McCarty is one of eight photographers who won spots to participate in the exhibition through a submission contest. He said Bill Horin, founder and creator of the ArtC coalition, first encouraged him to enter. After winning a spot, he was assigned two South Jersey artists to photograph, one them Sperlak.
Photographs of 16 South Jersey artists by the eight photographers are on display at the Perkins Center for the Arts in Collingswood, Camden County through May 5. An opening reception will be held Thursday.
The exhibition will move to the Riverfront Renaissance Center for the Arts in Millville from September 16 to October 18. The project was sponsored by the ArtPride New Jersey Foundation and New Jersey State Council on the Arts.
“The energy around this project is inspiring, but not surprising.” Nick Paleologos, executive director of the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, said in a statement. “There’s an incredibly diverse population of artists in South Jersey doing remarkable work, as evidenced by this show.”
McCarty got into photography at a young age, following in the footsteps of his father, a self-taught photographer and designer. McCarty said he learned by watching and developed his skills in high school as a hobby.
Photography didn’t become his career until he started working for an advertising agency. He started by shooting people around him, family, friends and neighbors. He later developed his own style and client base, eventually launching Hopping Frog Studios.
“I’m usually looking for more personality,” McCarty said. “What I found was what I really liked doing was to try to bring out who the person was in the photo. I’m kind of looking for the picture the whole time. I don’t give a lot of direction to the person. I’m just trying to find who they are.”
It might seem as if he had it easy then while shooting Sperlak’s photo for Clique, but it was actually more difficult photographing someone he already knew well, he said. Sperlak is a well-known landscape pastel painter in the Cape May area and a graduate of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.
He teaches at his studio, Crow Creek Farm, and his work appears in venues such as the SOMA Gallery in Cape May, the William Ris Gallery in Stone Harbor and the Noyes Museum in Oceanville.
McCarty and Sperlak live a mile apart in Middle Township, but the rest of the Clique artists and photographers come from all over Atlantic, Burlington, Camden, Cape May, Cumberland, Gloucester, Ocean and Salem counties.
Their artistic mediums vary and their photographic styles are very different, yet they all have the same goal for the Clique project. Nastassia Davis, of Atlantic City, was tasked with photographing E.B. Lewis, an illustrator from Folsom, and Jacqueline Sandro, a ceramist and teacher at Cumberland County College’s Clay College.
Susan Grietka, a photographer in Hammonton, photographed oil painter Victor Grasso, of Cape May, and Molly Sanger Carpenter, a sculptor in Salem. Magdalena Kernan, of Ocean City, took on the task of photographing two more artists as one of the youngest photographers in the exhibition.
“It was the first time I’ve been chosen for something like this, and it’s really cool how they organized it,” she said. “I’m kind of nervous because I don’t know what the other artists are producing, if I’m doing it right. I’ll be interested to see how they all look in their different styles.”
Kernan had never before met Joanie San Chirico, a mixed media artist from Toms River, Ocean County, but was able to look at her artwork in photos. The two women spent time getting to know each other over the phone before the photo shoot.
“She told me she’d been working on these pieces and water rising was her inspiration,” Kernan said. “So we decided to go to the bay where there were green marshes, blue sky and water. It worked perfectly and her art piece really matched.”
When Kernan photographed her second subject, flautist Megan Emigh, of Haddonfield, Camden County, they went to a theater, and Kernan she enjoyed figuring out how to photograph the musician and her music.
Both Kernan and McCarty said they not only learned to photograph in different, unique ways, but they also learned different types of art from their subjects.
“To get all the different viewpoints, that’s what gets people together,” McCarty said. “It’s an archive of all these artists, a whole show of all these photographers and their takes on everything.
“But never ask your subjects their opinions on the photos. Everyone is a horrible judge of their own portraits. Everyone has their own hang-ups.”