Lambertville photographers share their view from the river

Before most of us leave the house, we slap our pocket or reach in our bags to check we’ve got, at least, our phone, wallet and keys. The essentials. Jay Garrison of Lambertville checks for one more thing: a camera.

“Every day I take a walk, and I always bring my camera,” says Garrison. “I have a rule with my photography; that I get my pictures from walking. I never have an intended target when I take my pictures. Sometimes when I leave my driveway, I go left and another day I’ll go right because those are my two choices. My path is directed by something along the way.”

And in his four years of living in Lambertville, Garrison has done his fair share of walking around the city, but has done his fair share, too, of sharing what he finds on his walk. Garrison runs the Instagram page Lambertville Life, where he shares photos of what is happening in the city and sometimes nearby river towns.

After bouncing around in the Philly area, Garrison decided to move up the Delaware to Lambertville. He always enjoyed the slower pace of Hunterdon County and packed his bags four years ago for the county’s only city.

He started Lambertville Life as a new resident in Lambertville wanting to get familiar with the community.

“The day I moved to Lambertville was the day I started Lambertville Life,” says Garrison. “When I moved to town, I didn’t know a soul, and I thought what better way to get to know people than through a camera and capturing images through a town. I figured maybe I’d get 300 or 400 followers if I was lucky, and now I have just under 7,000, which I’m thankful for.”

For most people coming to Lambertville from the Delaware Valley or the New York area, they often pair the trip with going to New Hope as well. Not only does Garrison capture images from the tourist areas, he also tries to get images from places that people wouldn’t normally visit in Lambertville.

“There’s a waterfall in the north side of town, the abandoned trains, and so many historical houses,” says Garrison. “So many tourists come up Bridge Street, make a left on Union, and come back on Bridge Street. I wanted to capture images of what the soul of the city is.”

And during the month of February, the soul of the city will be displayed on the walls of Bucks on Bridge with a reception on Feb. 18.  Lambertville resident and photographer Lizzie Mayer’s work will also be on display for the month of February.

One of the challenges that the duo faced with the exhibit was time: Mayer and Garrison only had two weeks to choose pictures to put up on the walls. 

“We put this together in a few days,” says Mayer. “We both had a lot of photos, and we had to decide which ones we should put on the walls.”

Mayer, like her counterpart, is interested in telling a story with photography, like a writer tells a story with words. 

“I am interested in people and their stories, and I tried to express that via photography,” says Mayer.

Mayer, a native of Allentown, moved to Lambertville a few years ago when she was finishing college at TCNJ.

“I was a little bit older when I graduated college and I wanted something that wasn’t the college campus lifestyle,” says Mayer. “I happened to find a nice spot in Lambertville and I started working at this coffee shop (Bucks on Bridge) during college. I found so many great people in this community, and Jay is one of them.”

Mayer’s photography contrasts with Garrison’s bright street photography, but the duo makes it work for the exhibition at Bucks on Bridge. Mayer got into black and white photography as a photo student in college.

“I enjoy the process of film photography,” says Mayer. “It’s easy to develop in the darkroom and print in black and white. I really like that process because it’s a slow meditative process unlike digital photography, which is very fast paced. You only have 32 shots to a roll in film photography, and you really focus on those 32 shots instead of taking millions of pictures on a digital camera.”

Garrison, on the other hand, originally wanted to draw, but in his words he “sucked” at drawing. He realized that photography allowed him an outlet for his visual creativity.

“I always had a sense of being creative,” says Garrison. “I found that photography allowed me to be creative and not have to draw. The picture is already drawn, and it’s up to me to find it. There are so many mediums of art, and photography allows me to be creative. It’s not uncommon for me to be walking at 3 in the morning looking for the perfect night shot or if it starts snowing in the morning, I’ll go out and shoot in the snow. There’s so many variables in photography like sunlight, clouds, day, night and people moving or not moving.”

And on Sept. 1, 2021, an unwelcome visitor named Ida brought many variables to the city of Lambertville and the rest of the Garden State: 11 inches of rain in Lambertville, tornado warnings, and costly damages. Seeing Ida wreck havoc on a town that Garrison loves was difficult for the photographer. He was unsure what to do in the days following the storm. 

“I remember walking around the morning after Ida and I brought my camera, but I didn’t take that many pictures,” says Garrison. “I was overwhelmed with my emotions, and even my house was flooded as well, but it was nothing compared to my neighbors. The reason why I didn’t take many pictures during that time is I don’t want to capture someone’s despair. That’s not the photographer I am. I understand that there are AP photographers and that is their job to show that, but that’s not the photographer I am. I felt out of place during it.

It wasn’t until members of the Lambertville community asked Garrison to capture photos during this tough time that he did. 

“I felt weird about shooting the aftermath of Ida,” says Garrison. “A community leader came up to me and said, ‘You’re getting good photos right?’ and I said I haven’t taken any photos. There was so much devastation and people had their lives upended. This person said to me, ‘You know, Jay, the way that you shoot, we want you to shoot it because five years from now you would have shot a major event in Lambertville.’ When I shot the aftermath of Ida I tried to show the positives like people helping each other or when Governor Murphy was here with his wife.”

While Garrison and Mayer both value the community that Lambertville provides, there is a worry that longtime Lambertville residents might be priced out.

“This is a community that takes care of each other,” says Mayer. “Even when I had COVID a couple months ago, my neighbors were bringing me food. It’s a community filled with great artists, but that’s becoming more challenging with New York money coming in and knocking down buildings.

“This show is emphasizing the parts of Lambertville that we love and want to keep,” says Garrison. “The art community and the nature aspect of Lambertville as well.”

The Lambertville Life Photo Exhibition will be displayed at Bucks on Bridge in Lambertville for the entire month of February. There will be a reception on Feb. 18 from 5-7 p.m. at Bucks on Bridge.