By Jane Kaufman

Photography comes into focus this fall as examples of many genres and techniques appear in 18 exhibitions in 13 venues for the inaugural Cleveland Photo Fest.

A total of 110 photographers from Northeast Ohio and a dozen more from across the country and around the globe will exhibit their images in galleries in downtown Cleveland and points south, east and west of the city. While the festival’s dates are bookended by Sept. 1 and Oct. 31, the concept has inspired events and additional exhibits that opened as early as mid-August and will close as late as January of next year. 

“We want to showcase the incredible homegrown talent from Cleveland because there is so much of it here,” says Herb Ascherman Jr., director of the Cleveland Photographic Workshop and Cleveland Photo Fest. “It’s not underrated, it’s under-exposed. Unfortunately, as you well know with the art scene, you have to go elsewhere to establish a reputation, because there’s no art-buying market in Cleveland. What we hope to do with our exhibitions is show Clevelanders that there is value in investing in Cleveland artists. We are the avatar.”

Ascherman is one of three photo fest directors. The others are fine art photographer Laura D’Alessandro and Jim Szudy, the freelance photographer behind 440 Photography and founder of Berea-based Gemini Developers.

Ascherman used a single word to describe what attendees can expect from the exhibitions: “Variety.” 

“They can expect a range of work going from 19th century absolute traditionalism classic imagery and pictorialism to the most contemporary, visionary, literally, digitally driven available today.”

From left, Cleveland Photo Fest directors Jim Szudy, Laura D’Alessandro and Herb Ascherman Jr. – all with their cameras of choice. / Photo by Michael C. Butz

How it started

The concept for this festival came from D’Alessandro. 

When the Cleveland native returned from several years of living in New Orleans, it took her awhile to find her footing in her hometown. That was complicated by the birth of a child and facing a diagnosis and treatment for breast cancer.

“I had this really aggressive rare kind of breast cancer,” she says, adding that when she finally emerged from treatment, she had a revelation. “I should be doing what I’m meant to be doing and not just cleaning all day.”

D’Alessandro, 48, spoke first with Ascherman, 72, a portraitist, about a year ago. Through a mutual friend, she met Szudy, 41, and discussed her hope to create a festival in Cleveland similar to PhotoNOLA, the New Orleans Festival of Photography.

In February, the trio began meeting weekly at Algebra Tea House in Cleveland’s Little Italy neighborhood to plan Cleveland Photo Fest.

“I know the old guard,” Ascherman says, “but (Laura) is extremely fluent in contemporary photography and contemporary photographers in Cleveland,” adding that Szudy, who is also marketing manager, is the group’s media savant.

“The three of us have this synergy,” D’Alessandro says. “If three people with not much money can pull this off, anybody can do anything with their dream. It’s just crazy. It’s just very exciting, too.” 

Under the auspices of the Cleveland Photographic Workshop, which Ascherman founded in 1978, Cleveland Photo Fest short-circuited the lengthy process to win nonprofit status. But the festival still must wait a year to win eligibility for grant funding. 

D’Alessandro said by siting exhibits in venues throughout Cleveland and its suburbs, the three photographers hope to make the exhibits as accessible to as wide an audience as possible.

“Even if somebody doesn’t have a car … you could at least get to a couple places,” she says.

“Cutting Edge Fauve 4, for Henri Matisse,” Archival Digital Print, 17½ x 13 inches on 20 x 16 inches. © Abe Frajndlich 2019.

Key events

The Cleveland Photo Fest will feature educational programming and artist talks – most of them free. 

“ART: as in ARTiculation: From 19th Century Techniques to the Smart Phone. Photography as Creative Expression,” a moderated panel at the Cleveland Museum of Art at 2 p.m. Sept. 21, will include audience interaction and discuss historical and contemporary impact of the creative photograph on modern culture. 

The panelists will be Ascherman; Linda Butler, secretary of the Friends of Photography; Cleveland photographer Donald Black; and Dr. Unni Krishnan Pulikkal, founder of PhotoMuse, India’s second photography museum. The moderator will be Ben Hauser, Column & Stripe Philanthropy co-chair and Cleveland Museum of Art educator. Attendees will be encouraged to turn on their cellphones to see visual examples of what the moderators are referring to during the discussion. That event is the result of a collaboration of Column & Stripe: The Young Friends of the Cleveland Museum of Art and Cleveland Photo Fest – one of many collaborations in the festival.

Among the panoply of offerings, there will be a fashion show featuring fashion photographers shooting models during IngenuityFest 2019: Dreamscape, Sept. 27-29 at the Hamilton Collaborative in Cleveland.

In addition, there will be at least one bit of performance art: Larry Rakow will play Professor Optix in The Magic Lantern Show, which takes place at 2 p.m. Oct. 12 at The Good Goat Gallery in Lakewood. Rakow will take the stage dressed as an itinerant preacher from the 1890s, donning a top hat and using a type of technology that was first created in the 16th century. His color slide show will include hand-painted slides from the 19th century, which captivated audiences at the time, offering the then-novelties of projected color images that featured movement. Rakow found the script for the morality play he will deliver in the bottom of a box of the handpainted glass plates.

There will be two poetry readings accompanying photography exhibits related to the written word at Mac’s Backs – Books on Coventry in Cleveland Heights.

Local photographers will hold a sale and pop-up show at the Sell and Show Show at The Good Goat Gallery. At that event, photographers will set up tables to sell their works from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Oct. 5. Then, the artists will hang works of their choosing to create a pop-up exhibit as art enthusiasts enjoy a reception.

“It’s completely democratic,” Szudy says, regarding the fact that photographers will make their own decisions about which images to hang.

Accompanying an exhibit of 19th century silver, platinum and gold techniques, Ascherman will speak about those early approaches to the medium at the Oct. 10 opening reception at Foothill Galleries of the Photo-Succession in Cleveland Heights.

D’Alessandro and fellow fine art photographer Samantha Bias will offer an opportunity for people to make sunprints on handmade paper at 2 p.m. Oct. 19 at Prama Artspace in Parma, using natural light to create art on
photo-sensitive paper.

Just in time for the winter holidays, Ascherman will lecture on “Taking Better Pictures” at noon Nov. 15 at the Orange Art Center in Pepper Pike. 

Dr. Unni Krishnan Pulikkal 2019. From the exhibit “TRANSFORMATIONS,” which will hang at Foothill Galleries of the Photo-Succession in Cleveland Heights during Cleveland Photo Fest.

Ubiquitous images

All three organizers view the cell phone as both a blessing and a curse to the field of professional photography.

“The once proud profession of professional photography has become eroded by the fact that everyone has a cellphone and everyone can take pictures,” Ascherman says. “On the other hand, that very fact has democratized the process to the point where everyone can take pictures and share them accordingly.”

“We want to show something greater than Photoshop, something greater than the image on your phone,” Szudy says. “We want to show the necessity of the actual printed image of a picture.” CV

On View

383 Broadway

• “FireFish Festival 2019“ and “U MIX” (Sept. 20 and Sept. 12; reception 4 to 11 p.m. Sept. 20) at 383 Broadway Ave., Lorain.

Cleveland Botanical Garden 

• “Forests, Gardens and Friends” and “Wayne Mazerow: Texture and Light” (Aug. 13 to Oct. 6; reception Aug. 13) at 11030 East Blvd., Cleveland.

Cuyahoga County Public Library, Beachwood branch

• “Beachwood Photography Group Annual Exhibition: Portrait Perspectives” (Nov. 3-30; reception 2 to 5 p.m. Nov. 3) at 25501 Shaker Blvd., Beachwood. 

Doubting Thomas Gallery

• “Off the Wall” (Dec. 13 to Jan. 12, 2020; reception 6 to 9 p.m. Dec. 13) at 856 Jefferson Ave., Cleveland.

Foothill Galleries of the Photo-Succession

• “Transformations” (Sept. 11 to Oct. 8; reception 5:30 to 8 p.m. Sept. 11) and “Silver Platinum Gold” (Oct. 10 to Nov. 1; reception 5:30 to 8 p.m. Oct. 10) at 2450 Fairmount Blvd., Suite M291, Cleveland Heights.

Gallery Ü Cleveland 

• “Repeat” (Aug. 30, Sept. 6, Sept. 27-29, Oct. 25, Nov. 29; receptions 6 to 10 p.m., Aug. 30, Sept. 27, Oct. 25, Nov. 29) at 5401 Hamilton Avenue, Cleveland.

The Good Goat Gallery

• “Cutting Edge Cleveland” (Sept. 6 to Oct. 3; reception 6 to 9 p.m. Sept. 6) and “Sell and Show Show” (Oct. 5-30; sale 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Oct. 5; reception 4 to 6 p.m. Oct. 5) at 17012 Madison Ave., Lakewood.

IMAGES Photographic Art Gallery 

• “UPHEAVAL: Richard Margolis, Photographs: Anti-War and Ku Klux Klan Rallies 1965 – 1966” (Sept. 15 to Oct. 12; reception 3 to 7 p.m. Sept. 15) at 14406 Detroit Ave., Lakewood.

IngenuityFest 2019: Dreamscapes

• “Cleveland: The Rhythm of Fashion” (Sept. 27 to Sept. 29) at 5401 Hamilton Ave, Cleveland.

LIVE Publishing Gallery

• “Darren Feist: London Fashions” (Aug. 8 to Oct. 15) and “Portraits: New Faces in Portraiture” (Jan. 9 to March 30, 2020) at Murray Hill Schoolhouse, 2026 Murray Hill Road, Suite 103, Cleveland.

Mac’s Backs – Books on Coventry

• “Poetography” (Aug. 30 to Oct. 15; reception 6 to 8 p.m. with poetry reading at 7 p.m. Aug. 30) and “Altered Landscapes” (Oct. 25 to Nov. 30; reception 6 to 8 p.m. with poetry reading at 7 p.m. Oct. 25) at 1820 Coventry Road, Cleveland Heights.

Orange Art Center

• “Masters of Portraiture Invitational” (Sept. 13 to Nov. 18; reception 6 to 8 p.m. Sept. 13) at 31500 Chagrin Blvd., Pepper Pike.

Prama Artspace

• “Take a Good Look! Brush High School Student Exhibition” (Aug. 23 to Sept. 18; receptions 6 to 8 p.m. Aug. 23 and Sept. 18) and “Beyond the Camera – Manipulated Photography” (Sept. 18 to Oct. 24; receptions 6 to 9 p.m. Sept. 18 and 6 to 8 p.m. Oct. 24) at 5411 Pearl Road, Parma.


• “Laura D’Alessandro: Into the Ether” (July 19 to Sept. 13) at 1365 W. 65th St., Cleveland.

For event listings and additional information, visit

Lead image: Bruce Checefsky “Garden Scan Series” 2018. From “Cutting Edge Cleveland,” which will hang at The Good Goat Gallery during Cleveland Photo Fest.