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Holding Time

Panebianco’s Photography Talents, Father’s Old Slides Pay Tribute To Family

Cathy Panebianco came across this decades-old slide of her mother, Jean Wilcock, in a boat on Newboro Lake in Canada. Photo courtesy of Cathy Panebianco

With the table and chairs in place, seven football players from Jamestown High School and members of the coaching staff find their places at one end of McElrath Gymnasium for a photo shoot on a February afternoon.

Standing nearby, moms, dads, siblings and grandparents of the seniors who are announcing their college intentions, await their opportunity for their Kodak moment with their favorite Red Raider, too.

In the middle of it all is Cathy Panebianco, the true “quarterback” of the afternoon. Her cell phone camera at the ready, she is doing what she does best — publicizing the accomplishments of the folks within Jamestown Public Schools.

Soon, the social media world will know that Ty Shults and Sincere Green will be headed to Buffalo State; that Joey Delgado, Julian McGaughy, Caleb Bane and Nick Miraglia are all bound for Brockport; and that Jaylen Butera will be taking his talents to Mercyhurst.

All because Panebianco does her job so well.

Panebianco placed that slide, taken by her father, Glenn, and made it part of a larger photograph she took of Chautauqua Lake, and a book “project was born.” She did the same with a slide of her dad in photo below. Photo courtesy of Cathy Panebianco

But being the JPS communications coordinator is her vocation.

Her avocation?

Well, that’s pretty impressive, too.

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The box appeared on my desk at The Post-Journal last month.

Remembering a Wilcock Sunday supper. Photo courtesy of Cathy Panebianco

Inside it was a book entitled “Holding Time,” which is a visual conversation between Panebianco and her dad.

The backstory to it all is this: Every Christmas, her father would pull out the same box of slides he made in the 1950s and 1960s, project them on an old screen, making the family view them and hear the same stories over and over.

“He would gather us, and any visiting relatives, to tell tales about one another, each year getting a little bit more exaggerated … family dinners, road trips, summer vacations, weddings, and funerals,” Panebianco writes near the book’s conclusion. “We rolled our eyes, but secretly loved the nostalgic trip down memory lane, complete with popcorn and jammies. Our family moved a lot when I was younger. This holiday tradition made every place we moved, a home.”

Decades later, that holiday tradition has turned into an award-winning project.

“Five years ago or so, my mom was organizing the slides in her kitchen,” Panebianco writes in her book. “I was searching for a photo idea and came across the slide of my mom in the boat on Newboro Lake, a place in Canada where my family has been summering for over 100 years, and I thought … could I place that image on Chautauqua Lake, where I live today? I tried, it worked, and a project was born. It became a way for me to see how a past could meld with the present day — a way to better understand how your family influences who you become.”

So in an epically creative way, Panebianco placed the slides in a current landscape — “Either my home, my backyard, my daily life,” she said — that created a connection between the lives of her mom and dad and the many memories that they helped create over decades.

“She was my dad’s soulmate,” Panebianco writes. “I feel this is a tribute to her and the family she created and to my dad, who over 50 years ago, took those slides just so that one day her voice could be heard.”

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To suggest that Panebianco’s book, which has been exhibited widely in the United States and abroad, has made an impression would be an understatement.

Consider:

¯ Her project received the 2020 LensCulture Critics Choice Top Ten Award, 2020 CENTER’s Project Launch Award and was a 2019 Photolucida’s Critical Mass Top 50.

¯ The series featured in the book was a finalist for the Hopper Prize and a semifinalist for National Portrait Gallery’s Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition.

¯ The series also won the International Photography Award for Fine Art, was a finalist for the National Photography Award for the Texas Photographic Society, and received the San Francisco Bay International Photography Competition Portfolio Award.

So as Panebianco retold her publishing journey over a cup of coffee last month, it was clear that this was not a “project,” but rather a remarkable blending of her passion for photography with her love for her mom and dad, Jean and Glenn Wilcock.

“People can relate to this,” she said. “Everybody has photos at home, everybody has slides of their family. … I think it’s very easy for people to understand.”

Jean Wilcock passed away three years ago this week, but Panebianco views the slides her father created “as little spirits.”

“You realize the people you love never leave you,” she said. “They’re always with you, they surround you. They always surround you, right? This is just kind of a physical reminder of that, for me at least.”

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Irene Allison, a creative director of DER*LAB, a multidisciplinary team that offers curatorial tools to support photographic edition and production, provides the text included in the book, combining her literary talents with Panebianco’s photography gift. It’s the perfect publishing team.

In fact, at the book’s end — opposite Glenn’s slide of a lake at dusk — Allison writes:

Seasons passed so slowly when we were children. Do you remember?

Springs were for cozy sweaters. Summers for bathing in the lake. Endless autumns for raisin biscuits and crunchy leaves. Winters for chapped lips and snow angels.

There’s no before, and no after. Every now is forever. And every sunset brings the sadness of the evening, and yet the promise of a future that never ends.

Then one morning you awaken, and you’re suddenly a grown up.

In the click of a shutter, the present becomes memory. And behind you, a long road paved with images. Each shot is an antidote to fading memories. A pillar to mourn your loved ones. A sweet spell to keep your ghosts alive. A memento to remind you of all the things you used to be, and of all the things you have unexpectedly become.

But for every ending, there must be a beginning. Panebianco’s book dedication, which is contained in the first couple pages, reads as follows:

“To my father, who adored my mother.”

Seven words.

Resulting in countless memories.

Slide by slide.

Holding time.

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Panebianco’s book can be purchased at the following link: www.yoffypress.com. Yoffy Press is a photobook publisher in Atlanta, Georgia. A portion of the proceeds go to the Chautauqua County Humane Society and to Infinity Visual and Performing Arts.

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