A world of dreams: In first American exhibition, photographer Pop showcases Chautauqua

Roxana Pop is a Chautauquan.

She wasn’t always — raised in Romania, Pop attended the University of Missouri while she was a Fulbright scholar pursuing a master’s degree in photojournalism. In 2013, that program led her to a photography internship at The Chautauquan Daily. And from the minute she set foot on the grounds, she felt herself changed.

“When I got here, I didn’t really understand it,” she said. “I couldn’t wrap my mind around it. It was so beautiful. But I couldn’t understand why people came here, and I wanted to discover more.”

Pop returned the following summer to work on her master’s project, diving deep into the community she had fallen in love with. She spent hundreds of hours photographing and interviewing on the grounds, recording life at Chautauqua Institution.

The end result: “Chautauqua Dream World,” an exhibition of photographs currently on display at the Hultquist Center. Pop’s exhibition — her very first in the United States — runs through July 17.

Her project encompasses nearly 40 photographs and more than a dozen videos (available for viewing at http://vimeo.com/112206402). The photos, taken with her Nikon and her iPhone, run the gamut from Institution icons (the Amphitheater, the bronze fountain outside the post office) to smaller, quieter moments (a woman’s hands wrapped in a fur, a colorful shower curtain in the morning light, flowers silhouetted against the dusk).

The iPhone photographs on display in Hultquist also garnered her a 2014 College Photographer of the Year Award in the interpretive project category.

Her goal for her project, Pop said, was to talk to “everyone, literally everyone” on the grounds.

“I wanted all perspectives. I didn’t want just one, I wanted all of them,” she said. “The Chautauquans who have lived here for decades, the kids who grow up here, the employees, the first-time visitors, the students, everyone. Even [President] Tom Becker.”

Associate Director of Education and Youth Services Matt Ewalt, who previously worked as Daily editor, first hired Pop as a photographer, and later was instrumental in her returning for her master’s project, and for her 2015 show.

The show, he said, is a culmination of her work as a photographer, and begins a new chapter in her life as a Chautauquan.

“During her two summers on the grounds as a photographer and member of this community, Roxi developed a special relationship with so many Chautauquans,” he said. “This summer, her last before returning home to Romania, she deserved an opportunity to share her work — and her love of this place.”

A group of about 50 gathered for the opening of “Chautauqua Dream World” last Monday; friends, colleagues and Chautauquans Pop had met during the course of her master’s project. She shared her journey with the audience — her physical journey from Romania as well as her photographic journey through Chautauqua. Her life, Pop said, has been changed by this place. She eventually hopes to publish “Chautauqua Dream World” as a book and find a way to return to the United States and to the grounds.

Chautauqua, Pop said, is a place filled with people with strong work ethics — “people who want to achieve things, who want to do things, who want to learn things.”

It is, as she was told by interviewee Kwasi Buffington, a 2014 lighting engineer for the Chautauqua Theater Company, a place of second chances.

“He didn’t realize the opportunity that exists here for people to achieve things,” Pop said. “Chautauqua is so much about that. People come here to learn, to engage in dialogue, to follow their dreams and goals.”

Ultimately, Pop said, she wants people to come see her show. She wants to meet them, as many as she can, before she returns to Romania after “Chautauqua Dream World” closes.

“I want people to see this show, not through any kind of egocentrism, but because I just want to share it,” Pop said. “It’s important for me to share my work with the people I have photographed and this community. It’s important for me that others understand what this place is, how special and important it is, and how much it means to me.”