Ed Panar's job is to wander around Pittsburgh with a camera, looking for the beauty hidden in nooks and crannies of the city. He's an accomplished photographer who has published numerous books including: "Nothing Changes if Nothing Changes," "Salad Days," "Animals That Saw Me" and "Same Difference."
Born in Johnstown, Mr. Panar, 36, has lived in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Michigan and New York City, but he now calls Lawrenceville home. In his walks and bike rides (he tries to cover 50 to 100 miles a month) he finds the city's bridges, homes, staircases, nature and wildlife unique to any other city he has photographed. He is co-founder of Spaces Corners, an artist-run photo-book gallery and project space, which was established in 2011. It is relocating to a new Pittsburgh spot.
He will be one of eight photographers from around the country showcased in "Making it Home," an exhibition at UnSmoke Systems Art Space in Braddock opening Saturday. You can see his photos, which have been displayed internationally, at www.edpanar.com or www.spacescorners.com. He also is part of CSA PGH, an artist-driven cooperative (www.csapgh.com).
What is the most beautiful location in Pittsburgh to photograph? My favorite spots are the ones that surprise me or catch me off guard, like finding the hidden pathway or staircase through the woods or the unexpected opening in the trees that gives you a panoramic view of the city and hills beyond.
What is your favorite time of the year in Pittsburgh and why? Each season and month has its unique qualities that I equally enjoy. Spring and fall are the most dramatic in terms of color and the types of changes that occur. Summer has its luxurious verdant and lush greenery and long days, and I love photographing in the winter, when there is a silence hanging over everything and you can catch views and perspectives of the landscape that are hidden when the trees are full.
What is your favorite picture that you've ever taken? I don't think I could choose a single picture, but in general my favorite ones allow me to immerse myself in them again and again and tend to reveal different layers over time.
What can you discover about Pittsburgh through photography that you would not have otherwise discovered? The landscape of Pittsburgh is surprisingly difficult to show in photographs. You don't really get a sense of scale, or the feeling of walking up and down hills and staircases, or how special and surprising the discovery of an unexpected view can be from a single photograph. Trying to learn how to make photographs that adequately convey this complexity is an ongoing challenge and has helped me learn a lot about the city and its relationship to its rugged topography.
What do you think of the arts community in Pittsburgh? How is it changing? Pittsburgh has a vibrant art scene that seems to be growing and evolving. I don't know what it was like even five years ago so it's hard for me to say how it has changed over time, but I am glad to be a part of it and hope to contribute something positive in some small way.
How does Pittsburgh's vibe and scenery differ from other cities? Pittsburgh is a hidden city, and it moves to its own rhythm. This is both its charm and, at times, its frustration. There are so many hills and hollows, you often have the feeling that we are in the middle of a forest, which I suppose we are! The logic of the street layout is the logic of these old hills and rivers, and while that might make getting around town more complicated and even confusing at times (especially to the visitor!), I enjoy the endless variety. The blend of urban and rural you find here is absolutely distinctive and one of the features I am most fascinated by. Every street and road that leads out of town turns into a country road at some point, sometimes within city limits.
What is your favorite hidden spot in Pittsburgh? How did you find it? I keep finding places and feel like there might be an infinite number to discover yet! Schubert Street in Spring Garden tapers off into a wooded trail that wraps around the hillside and is one of my favorite recent discoveries. I spend a lot of time studying Google Maps with the terrain visible, to learn which streets go up and down each hill and to scout out possible walks and bike rides. I noticed the map says this road connects to the hilltop but there was no street view, so of course I had to go there to investigate.
What do you like best about your job? I get to write my own job description, set my own hours and goals.
Pet peeve about Pittsburgh: Aggressive drivers with no regard to crosswalks or sharing the road can make walking and biking unnecessarily stressful and sometimes dangerous.
The best gift I've ever been given was: Being alive in such a strange and exciting moment on Earth.
The accomplishment I'm most proud of is: Being able to continue making photographs and books regardless of my situation at the time.
Someday I'd like to: Develop the 450-plus rolls of 35mm film I have stockpiled from over the past five years.
My perfect weekend: Anything that involves a long walk or bike ride to a previously unexplored area. And maybe some reading time and good food to round it off.
I'm surprisingly good at: Making lots of photographs even when it feels like I have no time to make photographs.
The best advice I've ever gotten: Drink from the well, not from the bottle.