Our Opinion: Eyes on Main Street a world-class exhibit in our own backyard

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Downtown Wilson is ready for its closeup.

With some of the world’s best photography adorning shop windows, thousands of eyes and hundreds of camera lenses will train their sights on the historic downtown district today as the fifth Eyes on Main Street Wilson Outdoor Photo Festival begins.

The brainchild of Wilson transplant and professional photographer Jerome De Perlinghi, Eyes on Main Street began with a 100-day display of 100 poster-sized images representing an eclectic blend of fine art photography, portraiture and photojournalism. It’s grown to include gallery shows, a lecture series and adult master class. A rotating monthlong artist-in-residence program makes the festival a year-round endeavor.

Our unique splash of art and culture has been featured internationally in Vogue magazine’s Italian language edition, Yahoo News and the British Journal of Photography and closer to home in regional media including the News & Observer, WUNC radio and, of course, The Wilson Times.

Over the next 100 days, thousands to tens of thousands of spectators will stroll downtown to take in the captivating photographs and participate in festival events. They’ll see a Wilson in the midst of metamorphosis, with some impressive downtown revitalization projects completed and others underway.

For only the second year since its November 2017 grand opening, the Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park will greet Wilson’s guests, allowing tourists to merge the artforms of photography and kinetic sculpture into a single experience. Across the street, the former Hi Dollar tobacco warehouse has been transformed into a 67,000 square-foot mixed-use development with apartments ready for lease. Bateeni Mediterranean Grill & Cafe will soon open for business in the space, dubbed Whirligig Station.

On Nash Street East, the former Cherry Hotel will be carefully restored in an $18.5-million project to bring a boutique hotel, bar and ballroom to the historic district.

Eyes on Main Street shows off Wilson to the world as Wilson showcases a set of compelling photographs. The city’s putting its best foot forward as the festival draws curious passersby. Visitors will be sure to appreciate the “artsy alleys,” downtown murals and painted fire hydrants that add a bohemian flair to downtown’s historic charm.

The 100-day celebration of photographic excellence is a boon for civic boosters, but let’s not overlook the festival’s significance for the preservation and promotion of the visual arts. In an age when most pictures are taken on smartphones and edited with Instagram filters and Snapchat animations, Eyes on Main Street reminds us that photography can still be a high art and that camera equipment, composition and technical mastery still matter.

Columbia College of Chicago professor Peter Fitzpatrick led Eyes on Main Street’s children’s program, which provides Canon digital SLR cameras to nearly 100 Wilson students who capture scenes of their hometown. The work is displayed in a children’s gallery at 203 Nash St. E. that’s open six days a week beginning today.

“I always say that if you insert 10 photographs from those kids into the main show, I don’t think you would be able to find the photographs from the kids because their photographs are so good,” De Perlinghi told Times reporter Drew C. Wilson this week.

Bravo to Eyes on Main Street for teaching the craft of photography to the next generation of shutterbugs. The children’s gallery is a hopeful sight to behold.

“We trust them with a nice piece of equipment. We empower them to be creative and the kids love it,” De Perlinghi said. “They just basically go out there and grab the world with their images and that is a very powerful statement.”

The 100-day photo festival kicks off today with a 5 p.m. launch party at 217 Brew Works beside the Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park. Festivities include a free blues concert by Marquise Knox from 5-7 and food trucks will be on hand serving hearty fare to complement 217 Brew Works’ local craft beer.

For a full list of attractions and events and more information on featured artists, visit www.eyesonmainstreetwilson.com.

From nature scenes to stark portraits to gripping snapshots taken around the world, Eyes on Main Street offers a feast for the eyes and imagination. Photography’s the star of this show, and downtown Wilson plays a pivotal role as supporting actor.

Wilsonians and neighbors should plan to take in all Eyes on Main Street has to offer. Take a self-guided tour of the 100 photographs on display, visit the children’s gallery and artists-in-residence gallery and consider attending some festival events. It’s a world-class attraction, and it’s happening in your own backyard.