Moravia photographer reflects on a lifetime of making art

A black-haired woman of oriental descent looks at the camera with a circle of light reflected on her head and the wall behind her, looking like a halo

A retrospective of Fred Price’s photographs is on display at the Schweinfurth

AUBURN, NY (Aug. 28, 2023) – Artist Fred Price, of Moravia, has worn many different hats in his 86 years, but photography is a passion that has lasted his lifetime. “One Christmas, my brother and I got a Kodak darkroom kit,” he said. The family’s coal bin became their darkroom, and thus began his love of imagery.

“I am a picture maker; photography is my medium,” he said. “Almost all of my pictures are rectangles. Filling those rectangles is my art; shapes and textures and contrast are among my tools.”

A selection of his pictures will be on display Sept. 1 through Oct. 15, 2023, in a solo exhibit, Reflections of a Photographer, at the Schweinfurth Art Center in Auburn, NY. He chose that title because, in looking back at his work, he noticed that most of his pieces involved reflections in glass.

“I am drawn to reflections because of the surprise that is possible,” he said. “It is a purely visual thing. I am drawn to city streets and store windows because of the way things look.”

a head-and-shoulders shot of an elderly white man with a white beard and mustache wearing wire-rim glasses, a cap, and a bandana tied around his neck

Life’s journey

Price began his varied occupations soon after his 1955 high school graduation in Youngstown, Ohio, when he joined the U.S. Army. After leaving the Army in 1958, he worked in a Youngstown steel mill before deciding to move to New York City in 1959. He was lured there by the ability to listen to live jazz music.

He lucked into a job with a professional photographer shooting products, starting as a darkroom assistant and gofer. He worked his way up to a staff photographer job, which he discovered he hated. “The job is interesting as long as you barely know what’s going on,” Price said. “But once it is mastered, it’s the same every day.”

He lived on and off in New York City for nearly 30 years, with time away for a 91-day world tour that included stops in Paris, Copenhagen, Bangkok, Beijing, and more. He also spent time in Mexico, California, and Vermont during that time, all the while capturing images.

And through the years, he worked a variety of jobs, including moving man, plumber’s helper, carpenter’s helper, laborer, baker, painter, farmer, orchardist, mushroom grower, poultry farmer, and – possibly his second favorite job – DJ at a jazz radio station in the Catskills.

In 1988, he and his wife, Faye, moved to the eastern Catskills and they ran a bed and breakfast while Fred ran a gallery. But the devastating 2006 floods sent them packing to the Finger Lakes.

Playing with reflections

Price’s exhibit comprises his entire art career. His pieces in “Reflections of a Photographer” range from 1970’s Cubist VW Traffic Mirror to 2022’s Cylinder Speeds. And most of them include reflections, some on glass surfaces in front of the main subject of the image while others play with light reflected onto the subject.

A reflection almost obscures the three mannequins in an image of a storefront window

“My misunderstanding of cubism is what lead me to cubism,” Price said. “I read, as a kid, that the cubists were trying to show more than one aspect of reality at the same time.” To him, Manhattan storefronts offered the perfect way for him to translate cubism into photography, showing both the image and what was physically behind the camera.

“My reflections offer a view of a reality that speaks to me: odd juxtapositions of images, the reality of the store window display, and the reality of those reflections,” he said. “They combine to show a reality we would not have thought of, and it is always a surprise.”

Faye says that the reflection pictures are her husband’s most distinctive work. “We all take pictures of things or scenes, but (he doesn’t),” she said. “(He approaches) the picture like a painter. People don’t know what they’re looking at.”

Since moving to the Finger Lakes, Price has become a frequent visitor to the Schweinfurth, amusing staff and visitors alike with his jokes. But one thing he doesn’t joke about is his connection to jazz. In fact, he equates his process of image making to playing jazz.

“A jazz musician will take the same tune, play it for maybe 50 years, and still find new and inventive expression in it,” he said. “I feel that the artist with a camera doesn’t have to wait for inspiration. The picture is always there. It’s up to the artist to feel, to get in touch with what’s there and what he can do with it.”

If you go …

WHAT: “Reflections of a Photographer” exhibit by Fred Price

WHERE: Schweinfurth Art Center, 205 Genesee St., Auburn

WHEN: Sept. 1 to Oct. 15, 2023

HOURS: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays and 1 to 5 p.m. Sundays

OPENING: 5 to 7:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 1, 2023

ALSO ON DISPLAY: “Member Show 2023” and “Rural Voices Rising” by Susan Hoffer