Photography exhibit chronicles decades of self portraits

Jan 21, 2016

by Matt Krueger - The Daily News

BATAVIA — Joe Ziolkowski has been taking photos of himself for about 40 years — long before selfie was a word and an activity appealing to the vain. He photos himself in the car as it warms up on a cold day, in his classroom at Genesee Community College as he waits for his students to arrive, anywhere and everywhere.

As he puts it, he is chronicling his journey through life.

“Since my first photo class, I’ve done self portraits,” said Ziolkowski, a GCC photography professor. “It’s just subject matter.”

“It’s like people who go out for a smoke,” he added. “I photograph. It’s like breathing. It’s part of my DNA at this point.”

Ziolkowski’s photos are not limited to Batavia. He has taken shots in 47 of the contiguous United States — he’s only missing Vermont — and several countries. He returned last week from a trip to Okinawa, Japan, where he photographed himself isolated on an abandoned beach and a lush hilltop. This is what he does. He travels and takes photos of himself in isolated locations as well as among a throngs of tourists.

A collection of his work, called “Alone: A State of Being,” is now on display at the Genesee-Orleans Regional Arts Council’s Main Gallery.

Most of the collection is composed of 30 panoramas, art pieces pasted together from several photos taken over time of the same view. In each of them, a solitary figure can be seen, standing out from a beautiful landscape or conspicuously present in a crowd of people. The man shows only his profile, but he is marked by his identifiable orange hat.

In one of the panoramas, Ziolkowski is seen standing on a painted square in the middle of New York City’s Times Square. It’s actually 30 different photos pieced together, making it seem as though he is standing in the middle of traffic while the people of New York go about their business.

“There’s so much going on in the city, the signs are changing and so forth, that I had to piece them all together and layer them up,” he said. “I found out you’re not supposed to have a tripod in Times Square, especially with a camera on it, because people think it might be a gun. But I was walking around with that and the orange hat on, and all of these surveillance cameras were following me. This fire chief guy was watching me the whole time.”

The orange hat seen in each of the panoramas is a tribute to his parents, both deceased. He had started wearing them as protection when spending time with his hunting enthusiast relatives. Then the hat became a trademark.

“That’s an artist statement,” he said. “After both of my parents passed, I was still wearing it. It was like they could spot me out from where they are. It means they’re still with me.”

On the outside wall of the exhibit, arranged in symmetrical precision, is a display of time-intensive pieces that involve a labored process. They are still shots taken with a pinhole camera that uses film, but no lens. The exposure can last anywhere from several seconds to 20 minutes, creating an artistic subject that is impossible with a modern digital camera. Waves crashing against rocks look like an ethereal mist; sun flares look like ribbons of light cascading to Earth. But the real work comes months later when Ziolkowski creates prints in a darkroom, scans them and then manipulates them through his computer.

“It’s 160 years of technology, from the old camera without a lens to Photoshop,” Ziolkowski said.

An opening reception for the exhibit will be held from 5 to 7 p.m. tonight at GO ART!, Seymour Place, 201 East Main St. The exhibit will remain on display through Feb. 25. Gallery hours are 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and by appointment. For more information, visitwww.goart.org.