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Swope stays focused on Miss Maryland Pageant

April 28, 2000|By ANDREA ROWLAND

Beautiful, talented women surrounded Dale Swope on Friday at the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts in Hagerstown.

Some of the women wore glittering evening gowns. Others sported furs and feathers. Some of the women danced. Others pouted, peeked out from behind foliage, posed on pointe and flashed dazzling smiles.

All were framed. None breathed.

Swope's series of Miss Maryland portraits dating from 1974 to the present will hang in the museum's Bowman Gallery through the first week in July.

Many of the portraits' subjects are expected to attend a gallery reception during pageant week in mid-June, said Swope, 63, owner of Photography by Dale in Hagerstown.

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"Without them, I'm nothing," he said. "This is the closest I get to photographing celebrities."

Swope became involved with the Miss Maryland Pageant soon after it moved to The Maryland Theatre in Hagerstown in the early 1970s. The Washington County native was working full-time as a commercial photographer for Potomac Edison and part-time for a studio charged with photographing the pageant and providing publicity pictures, Swope said.

He found a creative outlet in portrait work and hoped to one day open his own shop.

Ballerina Susan Wohlfarth sparked Swope's portrait career flame.

Miss Maryland 1974's beauty and grace while dancing intrigued the photographer, who saw in Wohlfarth many of the elements which make a photo appealing, Swope said.

"I felt that I wanted to create something of beauty, that had content, that was going to establish me as something other than a snapshot artist," Swope said. "Maybe I had to prove something to myself."

He asked the Potomac, Md., resident to come back to Hagerstown for a photo shoot. She did.

"Dale had a lot of good ideas," said Wohlfarth, 47, who owns and teaches dance at Ballet Arts of Potomac.

She stood in front of her portrait, the first in the Miss Maryland series.

"I was a lot thinner," Wohlfarth sighed. "It's a beautiful picture, but dancers can always look at a photograph and see faults with themselves."

Swope knew the pictures were good while he was shooting the film more than two decades ago. When he saw the proofs, "Wispy Ballerina" popped right out at him, he said.

"It has the grace of the dance."

Swope used softening filters to shoot the ballerina against a stark white background. Billowy draping material lends movement to the still picture.

Wohlfarth said "Wispy Ballerina" hangs in her dance studio, and many of her students think it's a painting. The portrait hung in Swope's first one-man show at the Washington County Free Library, and won state and national photography awards, he said.

Swope opened his shop in 1979.

Since photographing his first Miss Maryland, Swope has used a variety of lighting and composition techniques. Swope tries to incorporate in the portraits the attire chosen by his subjects for competition in the Miss USA contest in Atlantic City, N.J., he said.

Each portrait features a local backdrop.

Miss Maryland 1979 Shelly Peiken's burgundy gown flows into the deep red seats of the newly refurbished Maryland Theatre. Crinkled aluminum foil and yellow film gel create a golden sun-dappled studio backdrop to highlight 1992 pageant winner Tammy Wyatt Roberts' sparkling gold halter dress.

Miss Maryland 1977 Donna Silvestri's playful nature shines through as she peeks from behind a tree at Hagerstown's City Park.

Swope's experience in working with people has enabled the photographer to capture their personalities on film and bring out the best in his subjects, he said.

There are few things he enjoys more.

"It's the human element of knowing you've done something that's brought some pleasure to someone's life," Swope said. "And it's out there for everyone to see."

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