Walking down the bustling Murray Avenue sidewalk, one can feel far removed from the sights and scenes that make Pittsburgh famous. But the city’s iconic bridges, elegant rivers and captivating parks are never far away.
That is made abundantly clear by the new exhibit on display in the windows of the Friendship Circle of Pittsburgh, which showcase the photography of Michael Supowitz, 25, a longtime member of the organization. The Friendship Circle is a nonprofit which, according to its mission statement, “engages youth and adults with diverse abilities in a full range of social activities.”
With a simple pocket camera — no tripod or other posh devices — Supowitz attempts to capture the essence of the Steel City. The six photos of his currently on display at the Friendship Circle encompass a wide range of Pittsburgh scenes: from a snow-drenched river bed to a viridescent forest cut through by a railroad.
Since the age of 15, Supowitz has taken to photography, according to his father, Martin L. Supowitz. Still, Michael doesn’t go out to take photos on a “regimented” schedule, but rather whenever it piques his interest.
“It’s a casual hobby, but it’s something he’s really good at,” Martin Supowitz said. “When he would go for walks along the river, he would just stop mid-stride and…something caught his eye and he would want to capture that image.”
For years, though, his talent remained only a family secret.
“For Michael, I think what’s great about the camera is it’s an outlet to allow his creativity to come out and sort of see the world through his eyes,” said pop artist Burton Morris, Michael’s cousin. “That’s what I really find fascinating.”
Three years ago, the Supowitz family agreed to provide one of Michael’s photos for the Friendship Circle’s annual fundraising auction, and have continued to do so each year. Michael’s photos have sold for “a lot of money,” according to his father, and helped to put Michael “on the map.” Additionally, it has led to praise from numerous community members, including many strangers.
This spring, after much urging from Friendship Circle Executive Director Rabbi Mordy Rudolph, the family agreed to provide the Friendship Circle with enough photos to display across the entire facade of the building, allowing passersby to enjoy them. The new exhibit is a point of “pride” for Michael, according to his father.
Concurrently, Rudolph convened relevant parties to debate whether architects should strive for insularity when designing the Murray Avenue facade. The response was nearly unanimous.
“Parents overwhelming said, ‘No, people should be able to see our kids; our kids should be part of the community. They should not be a separate space. They should be very much a part of the fabric of who the community is and what the community is,’” Rudolph recounted.
So the Charles Morris Foundation gallery was built to serve as a “gateway to the rest of the community,” said Rudolph.
The space is also used for programming, board meetings and, in the future, possibly a weekly bake shop, according to Rudolph. Michael’s photos will be on display for the remainder of June.
Michael has been a member of Friendship Circle since its inception in 2006, according to his father.
“He’s had the good fortune of making friends with so many teens through the years,” Martin Supowitz said. “And it’s been a tremendous social opportunity for him.”
Morris praised Michael, calling him an “amazing” individual, and said he could take his artistic talents in many different directions.
“I just think that people should hopefully understand that this is a very special person and I know watching from day one, what Michael has achieved and accomplished over these years is incredible,” Morris said. “Knowing his story and what he’s had to overcome that most of us…take for granted.
“It’s a real heroic story for anyone with a challenge in their life,” Morris added. “I give him a lot of credit for sure.” PJC
Jonah Berger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.