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Biennial in focus at Danforth

Mariliana Arvelo's 'Self-portrait #8' is part of the seventh New England Photography Biennial, at the Danforth Museum of Art in Framingham. Mariliana Arvelo's "Self-portrait #8" is part of the seventh New England Photography Biennial, at the Danforth Museum of Art in Framingham.

When Framingham's Danforth Museum of Art established its New England Photography Biennial some 14 years ago, the idea of regularly featuring regional photography was novel. Few people knew of the exhibition, and only a modest number of photographers submitted entries for the show.

Fast-forward to 2007. Both photographers and jurors are clamoring to either get into or to jury what has become one of the region's premier showcases for regional talent.

"This is a very, very important show," said Leslie Brown, curator of Boston University's Photographic Resource Center, who cocurated the 2005 Biennial. "It's just exciting. It's a real community builder, and a lot of people come up to see it and to see who's in it."

This year's biennial opens to the public on Sunday as part of the free, activity-packed Open House and Family Day. It is the most competitive biennial to date, with only 78 works out of 639 submissions by 148 photographers included. Many works dubbed outstanding by the jurors didn't make it in, due to space limitations.

Ask Karen Haas, curator of the Museum of Fine Arts Lane Collection, about the range of work chosen, and the excitement in her voice is palpable.

"Some of the work that we particularly loved felt very personal," said Haas, who cocurated this year's biennial with Arlette Kayafas, director of Kayafas Gallery of Boston. "For example, Robert Knight basically goes into people's homes with their permission, but without knowing them . . . and photographs their possessions and objects of meaning, and the images he captures are really very telling and really quite beautiful in the way they capture the light."

She goes on to discuss newcomer Josh Winer, who creates "fascinating images out of piles of raw materials with no sense of context, so you have no idea whether you're looking at a pile of sand or a mountain of it."

Then there's Amber Davis Tourlentes's portraits of alternative families, who she photographs while grouped together on a stage.

Or Erik Gould, who "takes the banal and makes it quirky" with a series of photos of, say, parking shacks.

And it just goes on.

From the traditionalists working with pinhole cameras or in black-and-white, to those working on the experimental frontiers, the collection ranges widely. Both photographs by unknowns and the surprising new work of New England stalwarts cover the gallery walls as well.

"Willard Traub is a very well-respected New England photographer and has been since the 1970s, but we judge blind, and I was completely surprised to discover that one set of work we chose was by him," said Haas. "He's apparently ill now and he's been working on a series of photographs shot in hospital rooms called 'Recovery.' The pictures are both very moving and very disturbing. I was struck by how beautiful they were, but also by how unlike his previous work the series was."

"You think you know what's out there," said Haas. "But things are always changing. If I wanted to get a good sense of photography in New England right now, this show is where I would go."

Also opening on Sunday, in the Children's Gallery, is "Space Boy," featuring illustrations from the children's book of the same name. Author/illustrator Leo Landry will be on hand for a book signing from 2 to 4 p.m. Family Day activities also include free art classes for adults and children, as well as museum tours led by teen docents.

The 2007 New England Photography Biennial Sunday through Oct. 28 at The Danforth Museum of Art, 123 Union Ave., Framingham. Opening reception for museum members only, 6-8 p.m. Saturday. Open House and Family Day, 1-4 p.m. Sunday. Gallery talk with biennial curators, 3 p.m. Sept. 23. Museum hours: Wednesday, Thursday, Sunday, noon-5 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Admission: $8 adults; $7 students/seniors; under age 12 free. Call 508-620-0050 or visit danforthmuseum.org.

MUSIC FOR ALL EARS: Just as fall gallery shows are opening, numerous music venues are kicking off their new season this week. Circle of Friends Coffeehouse in Franklin, however, was generous enough to add a benefit concert for HIV/AIDS resources on Friday, just one night before its own series begins.

The concert is a two-for-one, with popular Boston-based singer-songwriters Catie Curtis and Kris Delmhorst both taking the stage. WUMB's Dick Pleasants will emcee the concert, which is sponsored by RideFAR, a 500-mile fund-raising bike ride that starts in Provincetown. The concert coincides with the arrival of this year's bikers, who -- thanks to the circle -- will pass through Franklin for the first time since the yearly ride began in 1989.

Next up on Saturday, the energetic duo Kim and Reggie Harris put their fine harmonies to use performing an evening of tunes sure to touch on today's hot political topics.

And coming up later this fall are Amy Speace (Sept. 29), Aztec Two Step (Oct. 20), John Flynn and Amy Carol Webb (Nov. 3), and the a cappella group Five O'Clock Shadow (Nov. 17).

Catie Curtis and Kris Delmhorst for the RideFAR HIV/AIDS Benefit Concert 8 p.m. Friday at Circle of Friends Coffeehouse, First Universalist Society Meetinghouse, 262 Chestnut St., Franklin. $25. Also, Kim and Reggie Harris, 8 p.m. Saturday, $15. Call 508-528-2541 or visit circlefolk.org or ridefar.org.

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