Abby Simmons loves the Finger Lakes. Perhaps that’s why its rolling hills, rural landscapes and colorful foliage feature prominently in her photography.
One night, heading to her parents’ farm in Bellona, Simmons crested a hill near Tomion’s Farm Market (off Route 14A) and noticed a tractor in a nearby cornfield. She pulled over and was absorbed in taking dozens of photos of the tractor’s silhouette against the setting sun, when her parents drove by. They stopped when they saw her wading through the field with her camera.
“They catch me doing that a lot,” Simmons said with a smile.
The tractor at sunset image and many others will be featured in the Lightner Gallery at Lightner Library at Keuka College Sept. 2 – Oct. 31. An artist’s reception will be held 4:30-6 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 19, where light refreshments will be served. Gallery hours may be found online at lightner.keuka.edu.
This will be Simmons’ first solo show. Her work first caught the eye of Melissa Newcomb, assistant professor of art and curator of the gallery, during last winter’s staff and faculty art exhibit. Simmons has worked as a staff member for Keuka’s D.R.I.V.E program for the last year-and-a-half.
Simmons, now a Geneva resident, attended Penn Yan schools. She received her first camera at about age 10,, when her father wanted to keep her occupied in the car during a long road trip. A limited-edition Polaroid model, it produced tiny images on the center of a thin strip of film paper.
“On the trip, I took pictures of everything I saw – the beach and birds – and from then on, I was obsessed,” she said. “I was constantly asking him to buy me more film for it and it was getting expensive.”
So a few years later the teenage Simmons “went half-and-half” on a Kodak Easy Share digital camera with her dad.
“I took that everywhere with me, and then in high school, I took my first film photography class. I was the student who would always stay after school and take the late bus home so I could use the darkroom. I would enlarge pictures and hang them all over my bedroom,” Simmons said.
While attending Finger Lakes Community College and working as a framing consultant at Michael’s, Simmons received her first referrals to shoot weddings. Along the way, she upgraded to a Canon Rebel T3i digital camera, and now freelances on weekends, shooting weddings, engagement, family, or baby portraits. The job in framing also led to an artistic discovery: Simmons hated the glare created by placing glass over a work of art, and much preferred a way to present a finished photo more like a canvas. A friend suggested Simmons try matting some images on wood. The result was exactly what Simmons wanted.
“What works best for me is particle board,” she said, noting that she will often buy large 12 x 6-foot sheets at Lowe’s and her boyfriend will cut them down to her preferred size. “I paint the edges and put glue on and put several layers over the image. I use matte finish Modge Podge. I go through a lot of Modge Podge,” she said with a laugh.
After graduating FLCC, Simmons worked for the Yates ARC for about two years before joining the staff of Keuka’s D.R.I.V.E. program. While friends have suggested she should make photography her career, “for me it’s more an escape from working. I love my job but I love doing photography to relax. I’d like to continue to do weddings and family photography once in a while, but I don’t want to make it my career, not yet anyway. The photos in the show are what I take in my free time, what I consider art,” she said.
Sometimes “free time” can have a unique meaning. One image in the show, of a blue heron flying overhead, came about when a tire on Simmons’s truck went flat near the town of Stanley.
“As soon as I got out of my truck, I saw the blue heron coming and it flew right over me and I got that shot,” she said.
It’s not uncommon for Simmons to pass a property that strikes her for its scenic beauty, and stop to ask the owner if she can take photos of its barns, vineyards or other visual icons, which happened on another drive as she passed a farmer’s barns. Not only did the farmer grant permission for Simmons to take shots of his farmyard, but he directed her to an abandoned house down the road he also owned.
“That kind of thing happens all the time, wherever I go,” she said. “I see beauty wherever I go, that’s why I always have my camera with me. I hope to make people notice things around them and notice what a beautiful region we live in and to really appreciate it.”
To see more of Simmons’ photography work, visit abbyjophoto.blogspot.com