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Phil Pantano's Photographs at MAIN(ST)UDIOS

Phil Pantano's American workers: The Fireman, The Musician, The Nurse, and The Steelworker.

The American Worker

On Friday evening, June 14 at 7pm, local photographer Phil Pantano will open his exhibit of black and white photography at MAIN(ST)UDIOS. It’s a series of prints depicting 19 local residents after a day on the job.

“This is what the job spits out at the end of the day,” said Pantano, remarking that all of these people showed up for their photo shoot in their work garb with the sweat, grime, and stress of their day very visible. And if you’re wondering how this is different from the many on-the-job photos shot over the years by another local photographer, Milton Rogovin, Pantano points out that “Rogovin’s photos were taken on-site. I wanted viewers to focus on the workers without the distraction of the backgrounds.” This is also part of the reason Pantano chose black and white over color. “I wanted to keep the mood,” said Pantano, adding that some of that got lost in color.

That’s the thread which runs though the series. You can almost tell, even if you look past the dirty outfits, that these people have just put in a full day. It’s in their faces; it looks back at you not with a “I hate my job” look, but rather with a “Well, that’s over with…for today, anyway” look.

The whole series was carefully thought out, even though in the beginning it wasn’t a series at all. Pantano, who knows a thing or two about not-so-white-collar work (during the day he’s a computer analyst for Republic Steel, located on part of the old Bethlehem Steel grounds), took the photo of The Steelworker (who goes by the nickname “Elvis”) one day after he showed up in his office at the end of a work day. Elvis, who’s worked 16 years in the steel mills, is a fourth-generation steelworker whose father died in the mill. “I wanted you to see the feeling in his face,” Pantano said of Elvis as he was setting up the shot. It was after looking at the finished product that a light went off in Pantano’s head; this could be something more than just a photo of Elvis.

Looking for subjects, he started going through the list of his Facebook friends, trying to find suitable subjects for the yet-unnamed American Worker series. The next photo ended up being of The Musician two weeks later. From there things started to roll. Without giving it all away, there’s also The Nurse, The Fireman, The Tattoo Artist, and 14 more.

“Every day we work harder and harder, “ Pantano said, “and this is the story of the work that goes into the American dream.” And just what is the American dream to the American worker these days? “Not necessarily money,” he said. “No, it’s to be happy with what they’re doing.”

In between the 19 photos are some snippets of the stories of these 19 workers. There are statistics about the American working public. Some of the photo subjects are pretty grimy-looking, but not all of them are blue-collar workers. Odds are though, that after you’ve viewed each photo, you’ll guess the profession. There will be QR codes attached to the statistical and background information to further enhance the experience.

The show was originally going to be called The Working Man. But of course, this being the 21st century, Pantano couldn’t limit it to just men. He also didn’t limit it to Facebook friends who probably wouldn’t be recognized by show-goers. Anyone who’s lived in the Western New York area for a while will certainly know who some of the subjects are. Heck, they may even recognize one or two as a neighbor. One thing for sure though, according to Pantano, he wanted the people to walk away and think about what they’d seen. If they didn’t know these people when they went in to the show, they’ll certainly feel like they know them on their way out.

The show runs through Thursday, June 20. It’s free and open to the public (including the opening reception). MAIN(ST)UDIOS is located at 515 Main Street, across from the Hyatt Regency.

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