District Hosts a Week of Photo Mania

Posted November 14, 2008 at 4:18pm

Theo Adamstein, a local architect and photographer, had the idea about a year ago: to create a week highlighting local photographers and their achievements.

“It occurred to me that Washington photographers had never been rewarded for great work on a city-wide level,” he said.

As co-owner of the architectural firm Adamstein & Demetriou with his wife, Olvia Demetriou, Adamstein has participated in the annual gala and awards show the local chapter of the American Institute of Architects holds. He brought the idea to create FotoWeek D.C. to Paul Fetters, co-president of the D.C. chapter of the American Society of Media Photographers, seeking help.

Adamstein “called and said we architects have a thing that every year we get together and hand each other awards, and at the end of the evening we’re all really glad we’re architects,” Fetters recalled. “Photographers need something like that.”

Fetters was enthusiastic, and soon the founding board also included his co-president, Irene Owsley; George Hemphill, owner of Hemphill Fine Arts near Dupont Circle; and Lynn Ackerson, a contributing editor at National Geographic Traveler. The group promoted the event at a cocktail reception at Adamstein’s home in January and by reaching out to the ASMP’s 215 local members. The imaging lab Adamstein owns, Chrome Inc., became the week’s founding sponsor.

FotoWeek D.C. will bring in big-name talent from around the world and showcase local photographers. It kicked off on Friday with a private party in the spaces at 3333 and 3338 M St. NW known as FotoWeek Central, and it will last until Saturday when winners will be announced at a closing gala at the National Geographic Society.

Fetters compared the week to the kind of events that take place in New York City and said that D.C. really is a hub of world-class photography. He pointed to three shows from renowned photographers in a recent week as evidence.

“Boy, if most cities had one of those shows in a year they’d be thrilled,” he said.

Other than the closing gala, all events held in association with FotoWeek D.C. are free. And there are more than 100 shows, talks and night projections at more than 60 galleries around the city to choose from. A complete list can be found on fotoweekdc.org.

FotoWeek Central, the two spaces on M Street donated by Anthony and Isabel Lanier of EastBanc Inc. for the week, will also display photography and photography books. At 3333 M St., visitors can see “Contact/s: The Art of Photojournalism from Contact Press Images,” “50 Years of American Photojournalism 1939-1989, From the Black Star Agency,” and “Katrina: An Unnatural Disaster” from the Open Society Institute Documentary Photography Project.

The FotoWeek D.C. advisory committee members, who were not allowed to participate in the competition, will display photos there as well.

Across the street at 3338 M St. the finalists’ work will be on display. From more than 5,000 entries, 70 finalists were chosen in four categories: professional, student, amateur and spirit of Washington.

One hopeful competitor is Kaveh Sardari, a finalist in the professional division, who won his only photography honor in 1979. He was 15 and had just moved to Indiana from Iran when his art teacher noticed he had a talent for photography. She entered two of his photos in an Indianapolis Star contest, and one got a prize.

To be fair, Sardari hadn’t entered another photography competition until now. He’s been too busy shooting inaugurations, conventions and fundraisers for candidates and political parties to do something fun like a contest. Yet FotoWeek D.C. inspired him to compete again.

The fun isn’t limited to adults. FotoWeek D.C. reached out to children, sponsoring a competition for local shooters from kindergarten through high school with the Washington Post. It drew 1,800 entries, which have been whittled down to 37 finalists.

The nonprofit also exercised its “strong philanthropic mission,” donating $5,000 worth of cameras to art teachers to use in D.C. public schools, according to Adamstein. They plan to expand the program, called Cameras for Kids, next year.

Sardari’s 7-year-old daughter, Sophie, also entered a photo in the competition. She got her first camera in the past year and has “a great eye,” according to her father.

Sophie’s father’s photo of now-President-elect Barack Obama at a rally in Fredericksburg, Va., is one of 21 photos competing in the professional category. Sardari was at the event to take a photo of an American Federation of Teachers representative with the Senator backstage beforehand, and he remained there when the event began.

Sardari watched as the sky opened and a drenched Obama removed his jacket and worked the rope line, then turned back one last time to wave to the crowd.

The photographer didn’t have anything to protect his camera from the rain, so he was bringing it in and out of his jacket between shots.

Sardari said the frames before and after this one showed Obama looking away and with his hand down.

“As soon as I got the shot, I just had this feeling that it was something very unique,” he said.

It might just be unique enough to end that 30-year drought.