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Stand in the Place Where You Live

Downtown redevelopment has been a hot topic among Tucsonans for years. But what people think of when they hear the word "downtown" generally does not involve City Council meetings, or building codes, or even the seemingly never-ending construction; instead, they think of the sights, smells, sounds and memories of time spent there.

This sense of place-making--how people and things come together to create a quality of life--is the idea behind a new photography exhibit by Jim Boehme and Leigh Spigelman, said Monica Surfaro Spigelman, an organizer of the exhibit.

Leigh Spigelman discovered photography in college, and Boehme began photographing in the early 1970s as a hobby. The two discovered their mutual love of photography when they met in 1975 in Newark, N.J., where they both worked in the security industry.

"When I went to visit his apartment, I saw all these beautiful photographs of Africa," Leigh Spigelman said. "All throughout this period, almost up to the present, both he and I either worked with each other or, if you will, were in loyal competition."

Rooted in Place will be the first exhibit together for the two Nikonians, or Nikon users.

The concept behind Rooted in Place began to gel when Leigh and Monica moved to Tucson three years ago from their home in New York. They were charmed by the downtown area and started to photograph the city. Boehme, who is still based on the East Coast, came to visit several times and photographed the city as well.

"One of the things we really enjoyed and liked was the funky downtown. It has so much potential and obviously reminds us of our original home, New York," Leigh Spigelman said. "The concept of place just started to make a lot of sense to us. We realized that place wasn't a specific place, if you will; it was a place in the mind. That's how this concept started rolling."

They all decided to create an exhibit around the idea of place. The resulting show features more than 40 photographs taken all over the world--in Africa, Italy, Hawaii, New York, Tucson and elsewhere--between the 1970s and today, Boehme said.

"Every one of the shots is sort of a community within itself," Boehme said. "You can look at a shot--at least in our eyes--and ... understand the community of that picture."

The opening of the exhibit will be a celebrated with a big dose of Tucson culture. Local musicians Beatnik Dream Vacation will play, and "The Burrito Files," a local performance-art project that asks people downtown what Tucson would have in it if it were a burrito, will also be on hand.

In an effort to further the concept of place-making, the show will include a map on which visitors can put a pin in a meaningful place, and then write about what that place means to them in a journal, said Surfaro Spigelman. A basket of gifts from local stores will be raffled off at the opening.

In conjunction with the exhibit, the organizers have launched a new Web site, featuring local businesses and organizations that have contributed to Tucson's sense of place, said Surfaro Spigelman.

The exhibit's organizers make the case that local places create a sense of community and should be celebrated.

"Malls are malls; it's very impersonal," Boehme said. "Rooted in Place is also a community of people, a community of thought. You can exchange ideas; you can exchange products. It's a community."

Perhaps when the topic of downtown redevelopment comes up, we should not think about the political haggling or lofty plans that seemingly are never realized; instead, we should think about the last time we spent a night out on Congress Street.

"We think at the core of every place, there's a uniqueness about it," Leigh Spigelman said. "That's where the downtowns come into play, because they're all completely different. They have a different feel about them, a different look about them. And Tucson certainly is different--and that difference should be nurtured."

An opening reception for Rooted in Place will take place from 6 to 10 p.m., Friday, Dec. 5, at the Arts Incubator Gallery, 108 E. Congress St. The exhibit will be on display through Dec. 31. Gallery hours are Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 5 p.m., and by appointment. For more information, call 792-4503, or visit imaging123.com.

More by Claire Conrad

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