Photographer’s talent ‘was extraordinary’

Exhibit showcases Ohio native’s work.

The gallery walls of the Troy-Hayner Cultural Center will provide a natural backdrop for the fine art and journalistic photography of Jim Witmer, an Ohio native whose images were published in newspapers and publications worldwide.

The work, interests and life of Witmer, who died in fall 2020 at age 61, is the focus of “Jim Witmer: A Retrospective Photography Exhibit,” opened Friday, Oct. 21, and continues through Nov. 27.

Area residents may well have been the subject of his photography when Witmer worked at the Troy Daily News and then the Dayton Daily News as part of a 35-year career as newspaper photographer and videographer. He also had worked at The Miami News in Florida before bringing his talents to Ohio to stay in the mid-1980s

The exhibit is curated by Witmer’s daughter, Carly, who said she and her two siblings were no strangers to the center, where they took art and dance lessons and participated in school art displays.

Like her father, Carly attended Ohio University, earning a BFA degree. She and her father shared a show at Hayner in 2007, featuring his photography and her paintings.

Witmer’s interest in photographer began as a boy on a family farm in northern Ohio, where he put together a bathroom darkroom.

“His interest in photography was completely integrated into his life, and really defined how he engaged with the world,” Carly Witmer said. “We have some of his cameras from those early days, and more; he collected vintage cameras, and we’ll have some on display, including his favorite, an ‘Ansco Shur-Flash.’”

The exhibit will include newspaper and magazine works — ranging from daily life in the local community to the celebrations and tragedies of life, to major sporting events, and everything in between.

Among publications sharing his works were The New York Times, Time and Life magazines, Sports Illustrated, United Press International and The Associated Press worldwide. Witmer won numerous photography awards, including Ohio and Regional Photographer of the Year.

The exhibit also looks at his fine art photography and the adaptation of his work to changes in technology over the years when the dark rooms were replaced by digital equipment.

“He was endlessly experimenting, setting up creative shoots for fun on his days off, and stopping any vacation in its tracks to get a good shot. And, as the art of photography changed so rapidly and thoroughly in his lifetime, he always had lots of avenues to explore. In the show, we feature some of these experiments,” Carly Witmer said.

Linda Lee Jolly, director emeritus at the Troy-Hayner Cultural Center, worked with Witmer as a member of the center exhibit’s committee for several years.

“Jim’s talent was extraordinary,” Jolly said. “He had an exceptional eye as a photographer.”

Witmer was featured in a popular Hometown Evolutions exhibit at Hayner and proposed and curated a photojournalism exhibition that featured nationally known photographers. He presented workshops and tours for Troy High School students in conjunction with the exhibit.

David Lindeman of Troy was an editor at the Troy Daily News, working with Witmer for a number of years.

“Some photographers take great pictures but don’t get along with people. Some photographers work well with people, but their work is nothing exceptional. Jim was rare in that he took spectacular photos, worked well with people and even got along with editors like me,” Lindeman said.

For Witmer’s family, the exhibit is a sampling of his work.

“We do our best to pay homage to Jim Witmer the photojournalist, though to be honest, we would need a much, much larger gallery to really do justice to that work,” Carly Witmer said. “It was decades of his photos being published every single day. We know that many in the community have his photos in their scrapbooks, so the memories of those who attend will hopefully add to the work that we’ve decided to display.”

Curating the show, she said, is the greatest honor she’s had as an artist.

The Troy-Hayner Cultural Center is located at 301 W. Main St. in Troy, just west of the county Courthouse downtown. Hours are Monday, 7 to 9 p.m.; Tuesday-Thursday, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; and Sunday, 1-5 p.m.

The Opening Reception for the exhibit will be from 5 to 6:45 p.m. today.

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