Building a first-rate photography festival from scratch, and filling it with world-class artists in a town never known for it's aesthetic acumen, doesn't exactly sound like a snap. But Patrick Kahn, the producer behind this weekend's five-day Snap! Orlando art event, is working to prove that with enough passion, you can make the semi-impossible appear easy. Last May, the first Snap celebration snuck up on me, and I was pleasantly overwhelmed by the event's ambition. This week, Kahn and the Lucie Foundation, a national nonprofit promoting photography, make good on their promise to make Snap more than a one-shot deal.
After the first Snap, I praised the choice of venue (the long-neglected Church Street Exchange) but bemoaned the scheduling (which conflicted with the Fringe Festival). This time, they've conquered the calendar issue by bumping the festivities up to the first weekend of the month, two weeks before the theatrical madness gets started in Loch Haven. Church Street, sadly, no longer plays host, but the festival's new home is equally intriguing. The brand-new 25,000-square-foot GAI Building, developer Craig Ustler's eco-friendly office building on the corner of South Street and Summerlin Avenue, will be the event's primary exhibition venue.
Writing after last year's event, I expressed regret that I hadn't given it enough advance attention; apparently the Snap staff felt the same because late last month I and other local arts journalists were invited to a preview at Thornton Park's Urban ReThink. Obviously keen observers of reporters' habits, Snap sponsors Peroni and Enlightened Grain supplied us with pre-presentation beer and rosemary-and-lavender-infused vodka, respectively, the latter of which makes a mouth-watering mojito. Once well warmed up, we were welcomed by Urban ReThink's founder, Darren McDaniel, then walked through the Snap schedule by Kahn. Highlights of the super-sized weekend, which starts on Wednesday, May 4, and runs through Mother's Day, include:
• Snap! Kickoff (May 4, 8:30 p.m.- 11 p.m. at the Kress Building, 130 S. Orange Ave.): If it's still Wednesday and you've got your hands on this week's OW, there may still be time to make it to the start of Snap. At 8:30 p.m. Mayor Buddy Dyer will flip the metaphorical switch, making the facade of the Kress Building (across Orange Avenue from the Plaza Live Theater) come to life, courtesy of a large-scale projection mapping demonstration designed by PaintScaping Inc. of California. Similarly stunning digital displays, which can make solid buildings seem to shimmy or splinter, have been seen on Disney's and Universal's ersatz castles, but this will be the first free-to-attend attempt in downtown Orlando. If you miss the debut showing, the four-minute spectacle will run every half hour until 11 p.m.
• VIP Preview (May 5, 7 p.m.-11 p.m. at the GAI Building, 618 E. South St.): On Thursday night you can spend $125 to eat heavy hors d'oeuvres, be entertained by Kostya Kimlat ("the official magician of the Orlando Magic") and get your mug shot taken at the unveiling of Barry Kirsch's Murder City Project. I was tantalized by a taste of Kirsch's hyper-real art noir series, and seeing all 24 crime-scene stagings together is guaranteed to tweak the way you look at our homicidal hometown. And if the idea of artistic artificial assassinations makes you uneasy, rest assured that proceeds benefit Central Florida CrimeLine. If VIP tickets aren't in your budget, $10 gets you into Orlando Museum of Art's First Thursday, which features a gallery of local photographers' works.
• Opening Night (May 6, 7 p.m.-11 p.m. at the GAI Building): The public grand opening doesn't include food and drinks like the VIP event does, but the passes are only $20 ($10 for students). On Friday night you have the chance to interact with Snap's featured photographers, like Jerry Uelsmann - the godfather of old-school analog photomontage - and his wife, Maggie Taylor, who is a master of digital image manipulation. Images from 100 Portraits, an online exhibition curated by Andy Adams and Larissa Leclair, will be projected during the reception and accompanied by spoken-word performances led by local poet Tod Caviness.
• Fashion Show (May 7, 7 p.m.-midnight at the GAI Building): Kahn claims that the surreal and arresting images created by 30-year-old Russian artist Elena Vizerskaya are "so provocative" that he "can't put some of them in the show." The pictures that did make the cut were still sufficiently stimulating to inspire a collection of couture curated by Fused Fashion. Snap will host a runway show of designs patterned after Vizerskaya's photos, preceded by interactive video projection displayed on models' bodies.
• Youth Art Reception (May 8, noon- 5 p.m. at the GAI Building): After photojournalist Dan Eldon was stoned to death in Somalia, his mother, Kathy, posthumously published his elaborate travel scrapbooks, kicking off a craze in creative art journaling. Kathy Eldon, who recently executive produced an Extraordinary Mothers television special with Julia Roberts for Oprah's network, will spend Mother's Day encouraging young artists who are inspired by her son's work. For $5, you can join Eldon for her family-friendly showcase and get a "Mom & I" portrait from photographers Kinzie Riehm.
While Kahn feels Snap pulled off a good event last year, this time he's aiming for "beyond great." In his words, he's "trying to make a difference" in our community by building an "overstimulating" celebration of photography on the order of Miami's Art Basel or Washington, D.C.'s FotoWeek. But Khan insists Snap isn't just a photography show, but a cultural event for the city. In other cities, Patrick says, this would be just another event because we'd be "exposed to photography all the time." Snap is "trying to change [people's] perception of art in Orlando ... . We don't have to go to New York or L.A. to get it." Whether Snap returns for year three or not will be determined by how many photography fans pay up this weekend to support Kahn's premise.