ROCKLAND – Emily Schiffer explores the world noticing small details.
A photographer, Schiffer pays attention to the things that most of us look past. “Photography helps you see what’s in front of you with more insight. Photography slows things down,” says Schiffer, who grew up in Boston, lives in New York and is spending time at Maine Media Workshops.
“I’m living in an apartment that’s a three-minute bike ride away from the darkrooms at Maine Media Workshops. I have my own private darkroom, which is not something I have in New York. I’m really soaking it up, going to the darkroom all day every day,” she said.
Schiffer is the winner of the first Arnold Newman Prize, sponsored by the Arnold and Augusta Newman Foundation with support from Maine Media Workshops, the American Society of Media Photographers and Photo District News.
The Arnold Newman Prize recognizes an innovative approach to portraiture, and awards the artist $15,000 and an exhibition at the Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland. The panel that judged the prize included Farnsworth chief curator Michael K. Komanecky.
Schiffer’s portfolio documents youths on the Cheyenne River Reservation in rural South Dakota, where she founded a photography program in 2005.
She followed a childhood friend from Massachusetts out to the high plains. Her friend had taken a job at a rural YMCA, and suggested that Schiffer venture out to set up a photography program for the local kids.
She began the My Viewpoint Youth Photography Initiative on the Cheyenne reservation, where she continues to teach and photograph. Her timing was perfect.
“Everybody was transitioning from analog to digital,” she said. “It was a good time to donate equipment. We ended up with 75 cameras, an enlarger, a full darkroom — everything that was on my wish list was donated.”
Her message to her students is simple: “I base my life around the fact that seeing is fun. I love seeing. My goal is to get the students to experience the reflection you get after you have taken a picture and then go back to see what you saw.”
The Farnsworth show includes images that Schiffer captured of her students. Schiffer took photographs alongside her students. This body of work is documentary in nature, telling a narrative about her relationship with her students and their relationships with each other, as told through Schiffer’s eyes.
Schiffer was the recipient of a 2006-07 Fulbright Fellowship in Photography, the 2009 Inge Morath Award, presented by Magnum Photos and the Inge Morath Foundation, and was the 2010 winner of the PDN Photo Annual Personal Project Category.
Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or at: