A new photographic project that captures the joy in Ellenville | General Arts & Culture | Hudson Valley

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  • Forward-looking Ellenville Coalition
  • Charles Purvis discussing his portraits at a Coalition of Forward-Facing Ellenville event

If you stroll down Market Street in Ellenville this summer, you’ll likely come across a shop window covered in portraits. The people featured in the photos come from all walks of life and smile against a plain white background. The artist behind these portraits of Ellenville residents is Rosendale-based photographer Charles Purvis.

Earlier in his career, Purvis worked as a commercial photographer in New York City, but lately has focused his practice on large format abstract art photography at his studio in Rosendale. Outside of his typical subject, Purvis has borrowed a studio in Ellenville to photograph anyone who comes in as part of a new project called Portrait Ellenville. After taking their picture, Purvis prints a copy of the portrait for the window and another for the subject to take home for free.

“[Charles’s] The whole point of these photo shoots is to find what he calls the moment of joy and capture it, and he does it incredibly well,” says Paul Vilinski, who works as an artist in Ellenville and helped organize the project. Purvis’ use of ordinary lighting and a white background is intentionally austere, hoping to highlight a moment of joy without any distractions.

“My connection to people is to bring out that experience of joy in them and capture it in a picture,” he says of his current focus. This direction came naturally when Purvis took on the project. “When I started, I really didn’t know what it was and what it was supposed to be,” he says of the project. “My interest was really to follow this thread of curiosity.”

Purvis and Vilinski noticed this shared joy in each portrait as they stood outside the studio one night looking at all the photos taped to the window. Not only do they all share the joy, but when viewed as a collective, the differences between the people in the photos seem to blur.

“What fell was all those differences that the press always reminds us of, like race, economics, privilege, that are real and we don’t ignore them,” Purvis shares, “Yet what was present in the images was something that united us, it was clearly in all of us as human beings, and it’s that spark of life, that joy and that light in our eyes.

Purvis’ method of instilling joy is different with each person. “Each connection will have a different opening or entrance,” shares Purvis. “For some it’s about connecting with them in an empathetic way so they can relax, and for some it can be playful.”

The sense of community helps people open up when having their picture taken. “When people walk in there, they can wait for an impression or they can sit and hang around,” Purvis says, “People are going to congregate there for a while and they’re going to start cheering each other on.” He also found that by giving away the portrait for free, people are compelled to give back. Along with Vilinksi and Purvis’ initial funding for the project, they were able to sustain it through donations.

This photography project is part of a larger project underway in the village called the Forward-looking Ellenville Coalition, a new non-profit organization designed to onboard new residents, enliven the existing community, and support social service partnerships. A committee of this new non-profit organization is the Ellenville Arts Collective, currently made up of four community members whose goal is to connect and support area artists.

“We are looking for ways to engage the creative community in Ellenville and surrounding areas with a current focus on community building,” Vilinski said. The Ellenville Arts Collective currently consists of Poppy Cannon, Kathleen Anderson, Evan Trent and Paul Vilinski. They have set up monthly meetings for artists in the area to network. Although currently purely social, they plan to facilitate more structured discussions and reviews for artists to grow and connect.

The next Artist Gathering for Ellenville Arts Collective will likely be in September and the next Portrait Day for Portrait Ellenville will be July 8 from 1-6pm at 6 Market Street in Ellenville.

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