Berkshire Museum Camera Club: Long-running photo club hangs new exhibit

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PITTSFIELD — Several people were occupying the BerkshireNow gallery space at the Berkshire Museum on Wednesday morning when more faces started to appear on the walls.

"I'm going to put Hope's next to mine because ... let's just say they're equally different," Berkshire Museum Camera Club treasurer Bruce Panock said before hanging two portraits next to each other. Panock's was monochrome. Unlike the others that had been hung at that point, the photo featured a head turned away from the camera, face buried in a Tanglewood sweatshirt's hood.

"We all wear masks," Panock later said of the picture's meaning.

Hope Young's was a bit more similar to the others, with a woman staring into the lens. But the red light cast upon her and some exaggerated black eyeliner ascribed a darker quality to the image amidst some surrounding smiles.

"Those look good together," said club president Lynne O'Connell of the two portraits, viewing them from a distance.

The photos were part of the Berkshire Museum Camera Club's latest display for its ongoing Berkshire Museum exhibit, which O'Connell, Panock, secretary John Mathys and member Michael Bufis were assembling on Wednesday in advance of Pittsfield's First Fridays Artswalk. "BerkshireNow: Images from the Berkshire Museum Camera Club" opened on Oct. 6 and runs through Dec. 31, celebrating a club that has been associated with the museum since 1937. The club's competitions have dictated a new theme for each exhibit month; prior to December's portrait focus, the photographs were related to volunteerism and giving.

"Different themes draw people [to the club]," said O'Connell, a 59-year-old Pittsfield resident whose portrait, "Wise Guy," is of an owl.

The club meets twice per month from September through May. There are typically seven print and digital competitions during that span. Usually, five have specific prompts, while the other two are general.

"Some of our categories stretch you," said vice president Dave Simmons, a 70-year-old Lee resident, who started taking photographs in earnest when he was 65.

"The club really takes you out of your element," said Bufis, a 70-year-old professional photographer, who noted that portraits can be a particular challenge for introverts shunning conversation with their subjects.

In each contest, photographers can submit up to three images across three different categories: monochrome print, color print and digital (monochrome or color), with no more than two photos entered in any one area. A judge awards points based on composition, whether the photo fits the theme and a few other factors. First-, second- and third-place ribbons are awarded to those tallying highest in black-and-white prints, according to the club's website. Color prints and digital shots honor the same rankings, but in two separate groups, regular and advanced, the site says. Point totals accumulated over time determine people's levels. Additionally, the site says annual prizes in the three categories are handed out.

With all of these competitions, it may not sound like the club is welcoming. But that impression would be wrong, according to some of its approximately 30 members.

"It's not cut-throat," O'Connell said.

"They make you feel comfortable," Simmons said of his fellow members. He was "a little bit timid" when he first joined because he hadn't had technical training, but quickly found the group to be "pretty amiable."

Mathys, a 40-year-old freelancer, said the support and constructive criticism from other members mitigates self-criticism. "It's not as bad as I thought it was," he said he often finds himself realizing when presenting his work to his peers.

After hanging the "different" portraits, Panock had moved to a corner of the room for some more hammering and leveling. During a break, Panock conveyed his passion for photography that began about 15 years ago. Initially, it was a "diversion" from his job as a certified public accountant. Now, the Sheffield resident, like many of the club's members, makes photography a central part of his life.

"I do something with the camera every day," he said.

Benjamin Cassidy can be reached at bcassidy@berkshireeagle.com, at @bybencassidy on Twitter and 413-496-6251.

If you go ...

What: BerkshireNow: Images from the Berkshire Museum Camera Club

When: On exhibit now through Dec. 31

Where: Berkshire Museum, 39 South St., Pittsfield

Information: /berkshiremuseum.org


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