Every morning is like Christmas morning for Andy Adams. Waiting for him are emails, tweets and Instagrams sent overnight from photographers in time zones across the Atlantic.
“It’s my hobby to correspond with photographers,” he said recently over tea in his dining room on Madison’s isthmus. “Some people watch TV; I look at photography.”
He founded the online photography channel FlakPhoto in 2006 as a way to feed his “insatiable appetite” for digital photography and share it with others. Eight years later, in addition to publishing a daily photo and curating galleries on the FlakPhoto website, he’s in daily communication with some 38,000 Twitter followers, 8,100 Instagrammers, 53,300 Facebook fans and a private FlakPhoto Facebook group with a membership of more than 12,000.
This week FlakPhoto is going local and offline.
The FlakPhoto Midwest Print Show opens Friday at Central Library and highlights the diverse work of 42 Midwestern photographers, out of the 500 who answered Adams’ call for submissions. The exhibit is in cooperation with The Bubbler, Madison Public Library’s hands-on programming arm. It coincides with the Society for Photographic Education Midwest Conference, taking place in Madison in October.
Also on display through Oct. 30 at Central Library is a reading room of about 100 photobooks Adams curated from the library’s collection of more than 1,000.
FlakPhoto’s global scope won’t change, but Adams wants to keep funneling some of its networking power into bringing local and regional photographers together.
“I’ve evangelized on the benefits of Web 2.0,” he said. In addition to his FlakPhoto project, he works as Overture Center’s digital media manager. Still, “there’s novelty in saying, ‘Let’s come together in person.’ It’s Human 1.0.”
Sonja Thomsen, a Milwaukee-based photographer , said she’s looking forward to experiencing Adams’ aesthetic in person. “I’m really interested in the physicality of seeing,” she said. “The thing about seeing on the Internet, a lot of subtlety gets lost.”
Her photo in the show is of swans and ducks swimming in the eerie mid-day twilight of January in Iceland. She originally displayed it next to a companion image of her husband, in which the back of his hand mirrors a swan’s back. The companion image won’t be in the FlakPhoto show, but its absence is an enticement to the viewer.
“Each one of these prints is intended to be an entree into each photographer’s work,” Adams said.
Bringing people together and exposing regional talent are the goals of the Midwest Print Show. The collection isn’t inherently Midwestern in content or inspiration. “At this point, I don’t think there is a Midwest aesthetic,” Adams said. For the purposes of the show, the Midwest is simply a geographic boundary.
“I used Wikipedia to define the Midwest,” he said. Including Missouri and Kansas, the 12-state Wikipedia definition is more inclusive than the 10 states counted for job growth in the campaign ads for Wisconsin governor. (Both draw the line at Kentucky.)
For Adams, the show is a celebration of creativity outside the usual hubs of New York City, Los Angeles, London and Paris. He started FlakPhoto as a sister site to the now-defunct Flak Magazine, an early online publishing platform founded by a group of UW-Madison and Daily Cardinal alums. At the time, he lamented the lack of a strong photography scene in Madison and planned to move to New York.
Instead, he stayed. Through FlakPhoto, he discovered kindred spirits on the other side of the world and in his neighborhood. It brought him to a profound realization: “Yeah, we can live here. I love this place.”
“I can be creative here and be fulfilled here because the Internet,” he said.
One of the photographers in the show, Jason Vaughn, moved to Madison from Los Angeles in 2011 when his wife started medical school here. Professionally, he’s thriving. He’s wrapping up a photography series on rural Wisconsin deer-hunting stands. He has work on display at Crystal Bridges, the prestigious Bentonville, Ark., art museum. A photobook is in the works.
But he’s still seeking the kind of professional artistic community in Madison that he grew up with in California. He senses that the people and energy are here. The FlakPhoto show could be the spark that inspires more communion.
“We all have something to learn from each other,” Vaughn said. ￼