A focus on local art

Local ‘Photofriends’ are displaying photography exhibit at Visitor Center through Nov. 2

By Samantha Bambino

The Times

It’s ‘lenstastic’: The ‘Photofriends’ are (from left) Terence Hamill, Rebecca Haegele, Valerie Stein and Jeanne Black. “Lenstastic” is on display at the Bucks County Visitor Center, 3207 Street Road, Bensalem, and is free to attend. Source: Jeanne Black

One of life’s greatest pleasures is finding someone who shares the same passion as us. Someone we can chat with for hours about a shared hobby or interest. Though sometimes difficult to find, it’s not impossible.

For the past decade, Chalfont resident Jeanne Black has been fortunate to surround herself with three such individuals — Bensalem’s Valerie Stein, Ambler’s Rebecca Haegele and Landsdale’s Terence Hamill. All have beloved children, all enjoy exploring new places, and all exude an unwavering love for photography.

Currently, these “Photofriends” are celebrating their first-ever exhibit at the Bucks County Visitor Center in Bensalem. Free to the public and running daily through Nov. 2, “Lenstastic” spotlights the talents of each, with displayed photos depicting everything from nature and wildlife to the city lights of Philadelphia.

Upon her return from Sanibel Island, Florida, where she (not surprisingly) spent time photographing birds and other outdoor scenery, The Times caught up with Black, who shared the history of “Photofriends,” the highs and lows of her craft, and how the four always manage to incorporate their beloved cameras into busy daily lives.

It was about a decade ago when a local photography group Black and Stein were a part of disbanded. Stein, whom Black said always had a knack for springing people into action, encouraged her to start her own. Though Black’s new formation underwent some changes over the years, transitioning from a meetup group to the Facebook-based “Delaware Valley Photofriends,” something truly special was created when Haegele and Hamill joined the lineup and “Photofriends” was established.

According to Black, the group applied to exhibit at the Visitor Center nearly two and a half years ago, but because of the space’s high demand among local artists, they were placed on a waiting list. When they finally got the call earlier this year, the call they had anticipated for so long, they were shocked and, naturally, a little stressed. Not only did they have to put their work on canvases and frame it, something they don’t do on a regular basis, they had to narrow down years of accumulated photos to a select few.

“The worst part was choosing from thousands and thousands of images,” Black said. “But we pulled it off and we pulled it off well.”

Many of Black’s photos on display depict nature and wildlife, a favorite subject since her husband gifted her with a Canon Rebel XTi more than 10 years ago. Today, with four digital cameras to her name and countless lenses, Black travels throughout Bucks County to spots like Churchville Nature Center and Core Creek Park, capturing the beauty and serenity of the ever-changing seasons.

Often, the “Photofriends” will travel as a group, allowing for learning and bonding opportunities.

“We all play off of each other. It’s not really a competition,” Black said.

While driving together, whoever is stationed in the passenger seat is tasked with scouting new places to photograph. Even if the location isn’t ideal for pulling over, they manage to find creative (and sometimes risky) ways to make it work. Black, who’s the self-described “mom” of the group, reflected on one adventure where Haegele climbed a tree for the sake of a good shot.

“Photographers do some really crazy things sometimes,” she said with a laugh.

For Black, who is an “old-fashioned girl in every way,” her most daring action has been joining the confusing, ever-evolving digital age. To stay relevant in the industry, she explained how photographers must stay current with their skills.

“I’m not a young kid. I had to learn all the digital world to be able to do my photography,” she said.

Black is self-taught in social media, Photoshop and hard drives, but she said her abilities are nothing compared to those of Stein, a proud mother and grandmother.

“Val will do all kinds of stuff. I call her an impressionistic digital photographer,” Black said. “Val will take a picture, and even if there’s not water in the scene, she’ll put water in there.”

As for Haegele and Hamill, both are considered “naturalist” photographers like Black, only adding subtle tweaks to their images rather than heavy edits. While Haegele does professional photography at weddings and other events, Hamill boasts a bit of a different background — he’s a chemist and a motorcyclist.

“It’s not two things that you would ever put together,” Black said.

Hamill, who regularly travels abroad to places like England and Italy, can often be found venturing across the country on one of four bikes, constantly in search of the next perfect landscape to capture on his Nikon.

The “Photofriends” understand each other. If a member can’t make a photography trip because they need to babysit the grandkids, there are no hard feelings. All are in similar stages of life, and each has the same goal — to practice photography for as long as they’re able.

“It’s an escape for all of us,” Black said. “There’s always something new you have to learn. It’s always a challenge, but it’s fun.” ••

If you go…

“Lenstastic” is on display at the Bucks County Visitor Center, 3207 Street Road, Bensalem, from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily through Nov. 2. This event is free to attend. All exhibited work is for sale. For more information, go to visitbuckscounty.com/event/lenstastic-photography-exhibit/12518.

Samantha Bambino can be reached at sbambino@newspapermediagroup.com