By Madeline Ury
Pittsburgh Current Intern
The Pittsburgh Photo Fair is unlike any other celebration of photography. In fact, it is the only art event in the area that promotes photography. It is small and intimate, but draws quite an eclectic audience each year.
Beginning in 2012, only six exhibitors were featured in the event. In its seventh year, the Pittsburgh Photo Fair has grown immensely and will feature 17 exhibitors. It is also the fifth year that the Carnegie Museum of Art will host the event in the Hall of Architecture.
Co-director Casey Droege has been with the fair since 2016. In just three years she has witnessed how much it has evolved.
“We have tried to bring in a range of galleries and exhibitors, and even just sort of more photo projects,” she says.
Droege was originally approached by founder and co-director Evan Mirapaul to help with the 2016 fair. After a successful event, the two wanted to expand the fair and help maintain it as a long-term project. Moving the fair under Droege’s business Casey Droege Cultural Productions was the next step in doing so.
Droege and Mirapaul work together to select the projects to put on display. The goal in making these selections is to connect the community and make the works feel as accessible as possible to the audience. When the work is accessible, the audience can always find something to relate to and appreciate.
Droege explains that they work hard to maintain the original vision of quality work and presenting topics that anyone can enjoy, even without an art or photography background.
In preparation for the fair, the art and galleries are hand selected and invited by the directors themselves. The focus is typically on galleries, art dealers, collectives and photo-focused projects.
“The people we invite are asked to come because they show interesting work,” Droege explains. “We like what they present, and they’re good at talking about things in a way that is very accessible.”
The energy of the fair is always lively and fun for people of all ages. Being held in a museum — a rarity among other photography exhibitions — a wide variety of people and families are constantly passing through. The bright, naturally lit Hall of Architecture creates an inviting atmosphere for lots of activity.
“Our exhibitors often mention that our venue is the envy of many other fairs. We are proud of and grateful to the Carnegie for all of their support and curatorial guidance,” Mirapaul says.
Droege explains that picking her favorite part of the event is tough, but what she really enjoys seeing is when audiences have somehow connected with one of the exhibitors, and they leave wanting to explore a topic in more depth.
“I really love when it just clicks for people,” Droege says. “Maybe they just find a really interesting photo book, and they leave the fair feeling really excited about what they found.”
Leading up to the event, PGH Photo Fair hosts a monthly occuring lecture series at the Ace Hotel since February. Among the speakers have been writers, museum curators, photographers and more.
The aim of the lecture series is “to augment the already rich art and photography scene in Pittsburgh with speakers who will focus on the nuts and bolts of collecting including connoisseurship, the state of the art and an insider’s view of the market.”
On April 27, the first day of the fair, will be the final lecture in the series with Matthew Porter, an artist involved in film, whose Flying Car series is one viewers won’t want to miss. The series features ordinary cars doing some impossible things against beautiful backgrounds.
Porter’s series is just one of many exhibitions that audiences can enjoy throughout the weekend. While many exhibitors are traveling across the country for the event, it will also host a little piece of Pittsburgh, as the city’s own Silver Eye Center for Photography will be in attendance.
Each will be unique and make viewers think, hopefully drawing them in with something they can connect with. As Droege emphasized, accessibility has remained a constant, high priority for the event, and this year is no exception.
For more information on the participating galleries and a schedule of events for the weekend, visit pghphotofair.com.