GLOVERSVILLE – Walking into the Fulton Montgomery Regional Chamber of Commerce, visitors are greeted by a gallery of portraits, each zoomed in on the figure’s eyes. Some seem joyous as though they might be smiling; others seem worried or distant.
Guessing which emotions are playing out across each face featured in the photographs is a big part of “Through Their Eyes,” an exhibit by Michael Tondreau that opened earlier this week.
Tondreau, a Northville native who resides in Gloversville, began working on the series of portraits during the pandemic, inspired in part by a photograph he’d taken of a friend a few years back. It was a close-up shot of their stunning iridescent eyes, lined with shimmering pink makeup.
“It sat around, I didn’t do anything with it. I think I posted on Facebook and Instagram and didn’t think anything of it and then the pandemic hit,” Tondreau said. “I’m like ‘This is now a relevant image.’”
As people donned masks, the eyes became the key place people could show and pick up on one another’s emotions. It became more of a challenge to engage with other people, though no less important to try, Tondreau felt.
“Did you take the moment to pay attention to somebody’s eyes? Did you make eye contact? Did you distance yourself so much during that, that you forgot that there’s a lot of emotion going on in somebody’s eyes, their eyebrows,” Tondreau said.
That idea makes up the backbone of “Through Their Eyes.” Thanks to a grant writing workshop hosted by Glove City Arts Alliance and with help from his partner Vanessa, he was awarded a $2,500 grant from Saratoga Arts’ 2022 Community Arts Regrant Program.
Tondreau, whose photography business is called James Bandit Photography, sought out a diverse group of people to feature in the series, including people from a variety of races and genders. To get the shot, he had to get up close and personal, holding the lens just inches from the person’s face.
“I would take the image. I would wait about a week and then send the image to the person . . . and [ask] what do you see when you look at this image?” Tondreau said.
He named each piece with a title inspired by the emotion the subject said they were feeling at the time.
Visitors can guess what emotion is depicted in each of the pieces and submit their answers. Tondreau will later read through them and plans to respond to those who leave their contact information and let them know which emotions they correctly identified.
“Just to interact with someone who’s interacted with my work,” Tondreau said.
The project is a step in a new direction for Tondreau, who usually focuses on nature photography. Though he doesn’t have formal photography training, Tondreau grew up taking photographs in the Adirondacks.
“I had a really crappy Kodak point-and-click camera,” Tondreau said. “Since I was like 12, I’ve been camping and hiking in the Adirondacks, just with friends. So I’d bring a camera along and just document things.”
For a period of time, he co-owned a photography business focused on weddings but he found that that wasn’t his passion.
“Most of the photography I do . . . has all been nature and it’s all macro photography,” Tondreau said. “You can see the pollen in the flowers in a lot of my pictures . . . This case is the first time I’ve worked with people in six [or] seven years.”
While the “Through Their Eyes” series is a departure from his usual work, he hopes it will have a lasting impact on visitors and serve as a reminder to be kinder to one another.
“I’d like for people to remember to make eye contact. To be personable with people, to see what somebody’s going through, even if they don’t tell you,” Tondreau said. “To realize, hey, that person doesn’t look like they’re having a great day and maybe say a friendlier hello or [ask] ‘Hey, is there anything I can do for you?’”
It will be up through October 21 at the Chamber, which is open from 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. Monday – Friday. There will be two artist receptions: 5-7 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 31 and 5-7 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 5.
As part of the exhibit, Tondreau is collecting donations for the Gloversville-based not-for-profit I Can Breathe & I Will Speak which seeks to bridge gaps between communities and law enforcement.
For more information visit jamesbanditphotography.com.
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