State of the Arts: The Different Lenses of Summit County

Mar 15, 2019

There are 419 square miles in Summit County. But how do you capture such a wide area in a single photography exhibit? On this week’s State of the Arts, WKSU’s Mark Arehart heads to Summit Artspace to find out.

"There's a lot of different interpretations of people's ideas of Summit County," Thomas Skala said through a throng of people admiring the work that lines the walls of Summit Art Space for the new exhibit "419 Square Miles of Summit County: Photos of People and Places."

More than expected
Instead of a stream of smiling faces in parks or action shots of the Goodyear Blimp, the exhibit is focused on the people and places that make Summit County distinct. Skala’s photo "Verticalibration" is a view down an Akron alleyway between several popular restaurants.

Keeping everything in the same focus, Skala created an image so flat and detailed that the buildings seem to bleed into one another.

Thomas Skala's 'Verticalibration' is a unique view down an Akron alleyway. It placed second in the exhibition.
Credit Thomas Skala / Summit Artspace

"And then if you look off in the distance towards the top you can see the Y Bridge and then the far end of North Hill there are some cars going up the street," Skala said. 

The image was printed onto canvas in gray-green, almost sepia colors. That caught the eye of exhibit juror and Kent State photography professor Gary Harwood.

"It was clearly Akron, but it was captured in a way I had not seen before," Harwood said. 

He likens the photo, with odes to industrialism, to a scene out of the classic silent film, "Metropolis."

"It was very complex, there was stuff going on everywhere, in all four corners of the frame. And it was just really kind of amazing to experience that," Harwood said. 

Life in Summit Co.
Across the exhibit you see different views of life in Summit County. You’ll find an intimate portrait of a mother nursing newborn twins, or a morning's view of a frozen lock near Peninsula that makes you long for warm spring days.

"It’s not as simple as you think it is when you say 'What is Summit County?'" Summit Artspace Executive Director Kamelia Fisher said. 

She loves the less-than-picturesque views of Summit County found throughout the show from an abstract shot taken from under a bridge to the dance of basketball player's legs on a cracked outdoor court.

"Everything in Summit County is not a pretty sight, but it’s our sight," she said.

Summit Artspace Executive Director Kamelia Fisher's favorite piece in the exhibition is 'Untitled 2' by Jacob Mollohan.
Credit Jacob Mollohan / Summit Artspace

In the kitchen
The photo that placed first in the juried competition was taken in a hot, cramped kitchen tucked away in Akron’s North Hill neighborhood.

"It's Fred's Diner; you'd never pick it out on a street," Debra-Lynn Hook said. She wanted to capture an under-the-radar yet iconic Summit County eatery.

"But you walk in there, and it’s full of life and pizzazz and good food, if you like the kind of food they serve, which is piles and piles of bacon and eggs and hash browns and all kinds of comfort food.”

And the food takes center stage in her portrait.

"This particular photo is of the proprietor’s son who is a rapper by night, heir-apparent by day. And he’s holding a pile of bacon because bacon is sort of their claim to fame."

And she’s not kidding, Fred’s Diner serves 14 tons of bacon each year. But if you look past the delicious breakfast food, you’ll see important little details called micro composition.

Over the shoulder of the young man holding the bacon you see a young woman looking straight into the camera. You also see the inner workings of a bustling kitchen.

Harwood said everything is framed perfectly. "If you move a couple inches to the left, a couple inches to the right, you could ruin that. It’s that exact. It’s that precise."

"419 Square Miles of Summit County: Photos of People and Places" runs through March 30th at the Summit Artspace in Akron.