Edgy image takes prize for Mercersburg photographer

Ryan Smith won best of show for his portrait of a country singer who moonlights as a lumberjack

January 19, 2011|By TIFFANY ARNOLD |
  • Mercersburg, Pa., photographer Ryan Smith won Best of Show with this portrait, "J.P. Harris."
Courtesy of Ryan Smith

J.P. Harris isn’t smiling, and that’s the vibe photographer Ryan Smith is going with.

Harris faces the camera directly, with his arms at his sides and a cigarette pinched between his fingers.

The bristles of his beard flare wildly, like an overused paint brush. A scrunch of wrinkles points toward his nose and at the mustache that hides his upper lip.

You can see his hairy chest and a splay of tattoos because his khaki shirt is unbuttoned completely. He appears to be standing in the middle of a field on an overcast day.

This portrait is instantly curious — enough to pique the interest of the curators of the 78th annual Cumberland Valley Photographic Salon, a photo contest which opens Saturday, Jan. 22. The show displays photos by amateur and professional photographers in the Tri-State and D.C.-metro regions.

Ryan Smith, a 30-year-old commercial photographer from Mercersburg, Pa., won best of show for his submission, “J.P. Harris,” a portrait of a New England-based country singer who moonlights as a lumberjack. His photo will be one of the 65 photos picked by juror William F. Stapp, a photo historian and former photography curator with Smithsonian Institution’s National Portrait Gallery.

Smith said, artistically, to successfully capture a moment means striking the right balance between indulging and restraining his artistic intent.

Sometimes, it’s an instant connection between the subject and photographer.

“The instant I saw Harris, I knew I wanted to photograph him,” Smith said. “He has such an interesting face.”

Harris and his band, the Tough Choices, were visiting Ryan and his wife, Larissa Chace Smith — one of the sisters from the country-roots rock band the Hello Strangers — while on tour.

The best way to think of J.P. Harris and the Tough Choices, at least according to the band’s Myspace page, is “as the perfect gentlemen to bring home for Christmas, if only you could get the stains off their Wranglers and the cheap whiskey off their breath.”

And that’s the vibe that came through, Smith said, when he finally got his chance to photograph the band.

Smith, who is a native of Mercersburg, said the WCMFA exhibit will be the second time his work on display. His first exhibit was at the Chambersburg Council for the Arts, about a year ago. The CAC exhibit was comprised of photos from a road trip West and is also when he photographed “Crazy Woman Creek,” a nighttime landscape that won a Juror’s Choice Award in the Photo Salon and will be on view at WCMFA.

Exhibiting his work is something Smith said he’d like to do more.

“But the bills are always there,” he said.

Smith owns Chace + Smith Photography in Mercersburg with his wife. He carves out time for creative exploration when he can, posting the fruit of the creative process on his blog,

“If you have an idea, you need to caress it,” Smith said. “It might not work the first time — sometimes you’ll find out immediately — but there might be a spark in that idea, something that keeps your attention and tells you that it is worth doing.”


If you go ...

WHAT: 78th Annual Cumberland Valley Photographic Salon

WHEN: Saturday, Jan. 22 to Sunday, March 6.

Visitors are invited to vote the Popular Prize Award during the exhibit’s opening reception and awards ceremony, 2:30 to 4 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 23.

WHERE: Washington County Museum of Fine Arts, City Park, Hagerstown. The park is off Virginia Avenue; the museum is at 401 Museum Drive, accessible from Key Street.

Free admission, donations accepted.

CONTACT: Call 301-739-5727 or go to

MORE: The museum is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday; and 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday.

Cumberland Valley Photographic Salon award winners

Best of Show, $300 prize

• Ryan Smith of Mercersburg, Pa., “J.P. Harris”

Juror’s Choice Award recipients, $250 prize  

• Rodney L. Clark of Waynesboro, Pa., “Tied Up for the Night”

• Dave Romero of Cumberland, Md., “Cold Geometry II”

Juror’s Choice Award recipients, $150 prize

• Brian McEntire of Frederick, Md., “Shock”

• Christopher C. Davis of Martinsburg, W.Va., “Surreal Seas”

• Ryan Smith of Mercersburg, Pa., “Crazy Woman Creek”

• Michele Marsili of New Market, Md., “Flight”

Best photograph by a Washington County photographer, $100 prize

• Brenna House of Hagerstown, “Harmonia Axyridis”

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