LOOK3: Photography in Charlottesville

Joel Sartore’s “Photo Ark,” featuring endangered wildlife, is this year’s “TREES” exhibition on the Downtown Mall. Joel Sartore’s “Photo Ark,” featuring endangered wildlife, is this year’s “TREES” exhibition on the Downtown Mall.

Look up in the trees when you’re having coffee on the Downtown Mall this June. Note the Budgett’s Frog facing off with the Green Tree Python, mouths agape, outside of the Nook. Check out the Indian Rhinoceros, the Golden snub-nosed monkey, the Sulawesi Crested Macaque and the Matchie’s Kangaroo. The larger-than-life animal images on the 20 double-sided banners on the Mall right now represent just 40 of the 3,500 species thus far documented by National Geographic photographer Joel Sartore. Each annual TREES exhibition is a natural history lesson, a visual delight, and the most widely seen presentation put on by LOOK3, a non-profit group whose purpose it is “to celebrate the vision of extraordinary photographers, ignite conversations about critical issues, and foster the next generation of artists.”

LOOK3 has been bringing shutter bugs and arts lovers to Central Virginia since 1988, when National Geographic photographer Michael “Nick” Nichols began holding evenings of “peace, love, and photography” in his Albemarle County backyard, drawing as many as 500 people from as far away as Washington D.C. and New York City.

Each summer, for three years running, LOOK3 presents festivals on the Downtown Mall showcasing contemporary photography with exhibitions, presentations and community events. The group sets aside every fourth year for its LOOKbetween, a series of programs devoted to mentoring and celebrating an international selection of early-career photographers.

“We think of 2014 as the Year of Emerging Visionaries and Endangered Species,” says new LOOK3 director Victoria Hindley of this year’s LOOKbetween goings-on, which will bring emerging photographers together with established pros June 13-15 at Deep Rock Farm in White Hall. Joel Sartore’s public presentation at The Paramount Theater on Wednesday June 18, his workshops at ten area schools, and two public evenings of photo projections will round out this year’s array of LOOK3 events.


Photographer, speaker, author, and conservationist Sartore developed an interest in nature as a child, when he read about the last passenger pigeon in one of his mother’s Time-Life picture books. As an adult, Sartore has produced more than 30 stories on the natural world for National Geographic in his 20 years with the magazine, traveling to every continent on the planet and being chased by wolves, grizzlies, musk oxen, lions, elephants and polar bears in an effort to . . . well, save their skins.

What Satore is up to is documenting endangered species and landscapes “in order to show a world worth saving. It is folly to think that we can destroy one species and ecosystem after another and not affect humanity,” he says. “When we save species, we’re actually saving ourselves.” After reading an essay on amphibian decline, “I needed to do something to show these species to the world before they were gone forever.” What he did was begin his Photo Ark Project, a series of animal portrait photos taken at zoos and rescue facilities and funded by National Geographic and online sales. The photos on the Mall are drawn from this project.

“My goal is to photograph as many of the world’s captive species as I can before time runs out,” Sartore says. “I’m at about 3,500 now, and just getting started. I work mostly at zoos and aquariums, today’s keepers of the kingdom. Many species would already be gone without their heroic captive-breeding efforts.”

The Photo Ark project and TREES exhibit give the public the opportunity “to look these creatures in the eye, and care enough to save them while there is still time,” Hindley says. “LOOK3 transforms the Charlottesville Mall into an immersive arts experience.  An acquaintance recently described the TREES exhibit as “magical.” It will run through July 8th.

Sartore will show large-scale projected images from the Photo Ark project, and share stories from his life’s work, on June 18 at 7:30 p.m. at The Paramount Theater. Tickets are $16.50 for adults and $13.50 for children 18 and under.

Fostering the Next Generation

As part of its focus on mentorship this year, LOOK3 is underwriting a day-long Sartore workshop for local high school students on June 17th. Photography and art teachers at Charlottesville’s ten public and private high schools have chosen the thirty students who will participate. “This event will be a special opportunity for these young students to learn from a master photographer about the importance of conservation photography,” Hindley says. “Our hope is that the students will take away a deeper understanding of photography, their own work, and how their work can advocate for important causes.”

While Sartore’s workshops will help promising area teens develop their techniques and artistic visions, the LOOKbetween programs at Deep Rock Farm will mentor up-and-coming professionals who will camp onsite, share meals under a tent, and present their work to the public and each other under the open evening skies.

LOOKbetween is the anchor event of our Mentorship Program—and it takes place only once every four years,” Hindley says. “The purpose of is to identify early-career photographers with exceptional skill, commitment, and vision—and to foster their growth by uniting them with leaders in the field with whom they actively engage in presentations, discussions, and collaborative projects. From over 230 nominations made by 70 photography leaders worldwide, LOOK3 selected 75 visionary emerging visionaries from around the globe. LOOKbetween attendees come from 22 countries and 15 American States. With voices represented from all over the US and as far as Tanzania, Bangladesh, Egypt, and Brazil, we expect—and encourage!—a dynamic and diverse dialogue.”

With visual culture changing radically across the globe, LOOKbetween events “provide a forum for exploration and reflection in the midst of this flux, a place “to openly engage the questions that arise in the face of this revolutionary time in photography—and history,” Hindley says. Questions like “How does the unprecedented amount of imagery affect our work and our audiences? How do we as photographers continue to make relevant, provocative, and meaningful work?” LOOKbetween intends “to create an environment that supports such exploration—that helps attendees deepen craft while provoking new ways of seeing. In this way, we think of ‘inbetweeness’ as a rich territory for experimentation beyond boundaries.”

“We’re thrilled to have this extraordinary group of international early-career photographers with us,” Hindley says, “as well as leaders in the photographic field from around the country – people like James Wellford, a New York-based photography editor, curator and former International Photo Editor at Newsweek, and Alice Gabriner, a senior photo editor at National Geographic magazine.”

Hindley calls Deep Rock Farm, a site provided by LOOK3 founding board member Jessica Nagle, “a spectacular setting for LOOKbetween. In fact, it’s hard to describe just how picturesque this enchanting place is.”

The public is invited out to Deep Rock Farm to see everything from fine art photography to international photojournalism to human-interest stories at two evening dinner parties and projection events on June 13th and 14. $49 tickets for either the 13th or 14th include dinner at the farm, evening projections, plus round trip transportation departing from Bank of America at Barracks Road Shopping Center at 5:30 p.m. and leaving the farm at 11:30 p.m. Parking is also available for ticketholders who prefer to drive their own vehicles. Dinner starts at 6:30 p.m. Projections begin at 8:30 pm and will end by 11:30 pm.

$20 tickets ($12.00 for youths 18 and under) provide admission and parking, beginning at 8:00 p.m., for the evening’s projections. Alcohol and pets are prohibited. Deep Rock Farm is 20 miles west of town out Garth Road.

Where Photography and the Arts Flourish 

Hindley came to town as the new Executive Director for LOOK3.” I had been to Charlottesville once before, but many years ago,” she remembers. “I kept hearing great things from friends and colleagues about how it had developed, and I love the lifestyle born of a thriving pedestrian center. Plus, I am a big fan of hiking. I have to say that I find this to be a wonderful place to live. The reality truly exceeded my hopes.”

Christian DeBaun, LOOK3’s Volunteer Coordinator, has been attending and volunteering at LOOK3 events since 2009. A photographer himself, DeBaun remembers when the festival “was a much smaller thing than it is now,” operating “out of a tiny office across from Fellini’s.”

“It’s a lovely thing – it brings a lot of visitors to Charlottesville, a lot of money to our city,” DeBaun says of the festival today. “People get so excited. Photographers from all over the world come here to enjoy it, and when you see what a good time they’re having, it makes you feel kind of nice because you’re sharing something artistically not only with the local community but with people from the international community.”

“Charlottesville has to be one of the best places in the mid-Atlantic region for people who love live performance and live music and all sorts of art and sculpture, and we’ve obviously got an extremely artistically-minded community. It’s like having all the trappings you might get in a big city like New York or Washington here in a smaller, more intimate community. I think we’re very, very lucky to have Charlottesville be as artistic as it is.”

DeBaun has made his own contribution to the local arts scene, co-founding the Charlottesville Photography Initiative, a social and educational non-profit, in 2009. “Seven or eight of us would get together at C’Ville Coffee with laptops,” he remembers, “and we’d look at each other’s photos and do a little informal critique, and talk about different photography problems we were having.”

Now headquartered at 300 W. Main Street, the group numbers over 525 members. “Besides doing field trips and workshops and educational types of things, the other 50 percent of what we do is community outreach,” DeBaun says. “We reach out to the UVA Children’s Hospital, the SPCA, and other non-profits that couldn’t normally afford a photographer.”

LOOK3 has grown from its informal backyard roots into an internationally recognized organization, often noted as the preeminent photography festival in the United States. This year’s events are the second quadrennial LOOKbetween. Full festival programming, with multiple artists talks and full-screen projections at the nTelos Wireless Pavilion, will resume in 2015.

“Having joined LOOK3 after working in the arts in Europe for the last five years and for over ten years in the US prior to that, my belief in our mission and the power of photography has never been stronger,” Hindley says. “I see, time and again, how photography and visual storytelling not only have the power to deepen awareness about the forces that shape our world—they really can, and do, change it for the better.”

by Ken Wilson

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