Alt Photo Revolution: Washington, DC

The Alternative Photo Revolution show will be making two US stops before coming back to Toronto for the Contact Photo Festival in May 2017.

The first stop will be in Washington, DC with our contacts at Photoworks

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Photoworks is a photography education center and exhibition space in Glen Echo Park, a former real estate development turned Chataqua learning center turned amusement park turned arts community.

The park was originally intended to be a high-end real estate development to attract wealthy Washingtonians away from the malaria and yellow fever infested swamp upon which DC had been built. Begun in 1888, the only resident ever to build there was Clara Barton. The developers, seeking a halo client who they thought would attract other paying customers, gave her the land and built her house for her to her specifications. She had them construct what amounted to a big barn to provide storage space and offices for the American Red Cross.

In 1891, the Chataqua Union of Washington partnered with the developers to turn the property into a campus for their education programs. A steam and electric railway was constructed to bring people from Georgetown out to Glen Echo. The Chataqua program only lasted a year after a malaria scare caused by misinformation about the death of one of the instructors. Today all that remains of the Chataqua structures is the Stone Tower.

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By the beginning of the 20th century the property was re-developed into an amusement park featuring a large swimming pool, roller coaster, midway, bumper cars, a dance hall, and what is to this day the centerpiece of the park, the 1921 Dentzel Carousel. The park operated until 1968 when it was done in by the converging factors of the rise of regional parks like Kings Dominion and Disney World, the post-war automobile culture, growing safety regulations and the battle over de-segregation.

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In 1970, the park was reborn yet again as a community arts center. Today the historic structures provide a backdrop for glass, pottery, stonecarving, jewelry and silversmithing, painting, dance, children’s theater and photography programs. It is operated as a joint activity between the US Park Service and Montgomery County, Maryland.

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Photoworks first opened its doors in 1973 in a dank and rusty room in the basement. Formed as a collective of creative photographers looking to share resources and ideas, it has grown into a major education center offering over 30 courses a quarter taught by 40 some faculty members drawn from the finest photographers in the DC metropolitan area.

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Courses offered range from introductory digital photography to advanced wet darkroom to theoretical and practical photographic thinking. Photoworks draws on the resources at hand to inspire and sustain their activities from the Smithsonian and the National Gallery of Art to the programs and facilities of major universities in the area such as George Washington and American Universities.

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Photoworks maintains a robust exhibition schedule, showing ten to twelve juried exhibits a year. 2016 has featured Talking About My Generation – a youth photography exhibit, Rendering The Spirit – alternative process photographs featuring artists from the region, across the United States, and Switzerland, Germany and Japan, and an upcoming video installation show.

Local Attractions

In addition to Glen Echo Park itself, there is the historic Clara Barton House, directly across the parking lot from the park entrance. The house will be closed until sometime in 2017 for major restoration and stabilization efforts.

Just down the hill from Glen Echo is the historic C&O Canal which opened in the 1820s to connect the mountainous west of Maryland and Virginia to the markets and port of Georgetown (at that time an independent city). Today the canal provides scenic vistas of the Potomac River and walking, hiking, biking and boating opportunities. Some of the old lock keepers’ houses are even available for short- and long-term rentals.

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At the end of Glen Echo township, a few hundred yards from the park, sits the Union Arch viaduct, a stone bridge built to carry the Washington Aqueduct over the Cabin John Creek. A single span stone arch, it rises 101 feet above the creek and spans 450 feet in length. A single lane of traffic and a walking path cover the top, allowing vehicle, bike and pedestrian traffic to cross this engineering landmark even today.

A bit further north along the C&O Canal is Great Falls, a series of dramatic cataracts providing some of the most challenging whitewater rafting and kayaking on the east coast. There are miles of hiking trails ranging from moderate to strenuous providing access to vistas of the falls on the Maryland side, and on the Virginia side you can also explore the ruins of an earlier canal surveyed by George Washington to bypass the falls and ease river travel for raw materials and finished goods.

Places to eat

In the park itself there is a small café featuring fresh gourmet sandwiches, salads and desserts. Immediately adjacent there is the Irish Inn, featuring traditional Irish cuisine, a full bar, and live music.

A few minutes’ drive down MacArthur Boulevard toward the District of Columbia can be found Sur La Place, a Belgian bistro, Et Voila! And Bistroquet, two French restaurants, Chen’s Gourmet and Bambu Asian Cuisine. Further down MacArthur is 7th Hill Pizza (wood-fired hand-tossed gourmet pies that are some of the most authentic this side of Rome) and their next-door neighbor, Blacksalt Fish Market and Restaurant (both Barbara Bush and Michelle Obama have been known to dine here – perhaps you’ll see the next First Lady/Gentleman at the next table?). If you take MacArthur Boulevard all the way to its end, you’ll land in Georgetown with its eclectic mix of restaurants, including El Centro DF, a Mexican restaurant specializing in the cuisine of the Mexican capital region, Filomena, an Italian bistro, Bodega Spanish Tapas,  Sea Catch, a fresh seafood restaurant, Miss Saigon Vietnamese restaurant, and Chez Billy Sud, another French bistro and FLOTUS favorite.

If none of the above tickles your food fancy, head into downtown Bethesda, Maryland, also a very short drive from Glen Echo and home to over 100 restaurants within a 10 block radius of the Bethesda Metro station. There’s plenty of shopping to be had too, from a large Barnes & Noble (which has an excellent photography section), an Apple store, a surprisingly well-equipped Ritz Camera, and specialty boutiques carrying everything from yoga pants to specialty teas to fitness and outdoor gear to high-end furniture.Places to see photography:

Downtown Washington DC, on Pennsylvania Avenue and just a two block walk from Mathew Brady’s studio (the building still stands and if you go into the alley behind you can even see the skylights from his portrait room) is the Newseum, a museum built to collect, display and celebrate journalism from the dawn of the United States to the present day.

Across the street is the National Gallery of Art, which is finally getting in to regularly featuring photography from its own collections as well as traveling exhibits. Check out their calendar of exhibits to see what’s on display.

Perhaps the single best venue in Washington to see world-class photography is the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery and American Art Museum.

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The two museums are housed in the same building, the 1836 Patent Office, and the transition from one to the other is not immediately obvious when traversing the building. As part of their US Civil War 150th anniversary commemorations, they have been featuring a gallery of original and reproduction albumen prints of Mathew Brady CDVs that rotates periodically to display the breadth of subjects who sat for his camera during the conflict. The building itself has some magnificent spaces, and the new centerpiece is a courtyard designed by Norman Foster.

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Two blocks from the National Portrait Gallery is the Leica Store which, in addition to selling the famous red dots, maintains an exhibition space showcasing contemporary photography.

In commercial galleries, just across the river in Alexandria, Virginia there is the Torpedo Factory, so named for the original purpose of the building. Today, the building houses painters, photographers, sculptors, printmakers and mixed-media artists both in galleries and in individual studios.

There is a busy pop-up gallery scene in Washington. FotoWeek DC sponsors a series of events every November, but if you’re coming to town outside of FotoWeek, check their website for events and exhibits.

All Photos/Scott Davis

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