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Tuesday, April 24 News

Westport focus: Silver's photo retrospective showcases golden images

Forty years ago a young couple, with three small children in tow, arrived in town.

"The guy was strong -- with big hair. He was a tough guy, raised in the Bronx," said Bruce Silverstein, referring to his father, the noted photographer Larry Silver. "His wife," Silverstein's mother, Gloria, "was wearing leather pants and macrame," he added.

Silverstein said the couple was looking to move from New York City to Connecticut and took an exit somewhere off the interstate. "They went into a real estate office and the man told them they might want to get back on the highway and get off at the next exit," Silverstein said. "They did -- and that's how Larry and Gloria arrived in Westport."

Silverstein was speaking to the many friends and relatives attending the opening night of the exhibit, "Larry Silver/Westport Visions," featuring many of his father's photographs at the Westport Historical Society. It's a retrospective of the community life Silver documented from the time he moved his family here.

Silverstein said his father became part of a growing movement: "At that time photography was not an art form, but a hobby. But my dad disregarded that."

During his years in Westport, Silver went on to produce many iconic photos like the Compo Beach images, Beach Showers (1980) and Dancing on the Jetties (1979).

For those attending the opening of the exhibit Thursday night, it was a portrait of times past preserved in photographs of open fields, images of beaches, favorite haunts and just everyday life.

"I'm pleased with the exhibit and glad it's taking place here," Silver said. "There were so many photos to choose from."

"They represent Westport as we all have known it," said Silverstein, who runs the Bruce Silverstein Gallery in New York City. "It's all very natural to me and I'm grateful to have someone with my father's vision."

The historical society's Mollie Donovan Gallery was abuzz as attendees inspected the display, moving from framed photograph to photograph.

"This is an iconic photo of a runner," said resident Ricky Baldwin. She said she's known Silver for a long time. "I think his work is incredible -- fascinating," she said.

"He has such a strong body of work," added friend Nate Gibbons. "His heart is in everything he does. You can feel the love coming out of his work."

"There are so many great images of long ago," said Mardy Durham. "You can see how things have changed over the years by looking at the photos."

She said it would be hard to capture the same images today "with digital" photo technology.

"What we have here is a treasure," she said.

Joel Davis and his wife Carol, 49-year town residents, said they enjoyed seeing the photos of Westport in past eras. "They really are amazing," Joel Davis said.

First Selectman Jim Marpe said the photos "capture the spirit of Westport that we all celebrate."

Not all those attending were town residents. Diane Bader came from Fairfield with a friend. "I read about it and knew about his work and just wanted to come and see," she said. "It's just wonderful. They are such great snapshots of life."

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Town Art Curator Kathie Bennewitz said exhibit organizers went through "hundreds and hundreds of photos" before deciding on those featured in the exhibit. "They all brought back memories," she said.

Silver's work is currently in more than 29 museum collections, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. He said when he was first approached to have the photo retrospective he wondered if a historical society was the appropriate place. "But it is history," he said.

The exhibit, which includes more than 50 gelatin silver prints, many of them vintage, runs until Oct. 18 at the Westport Historical Society, 25 Avery Place.

For more information, visit: http://bit.ly/WFdYtQ