Walking along the Downtown Mall in the mid-2000s, Charlottesville looked a lot like it does today with one key difference: there were no giant photographs, because there was no LOOK3 Festival. Jessica Nagle helped found LOOK3 Festival of the Photograph nearly a decade ago, and it has been drawing masters of the art form to Charlottesville ever since. LOOK3 is not the first project of Nagle’s to have transformed the Downtown landscape. With Reid Nagle, she and 8 employees moved SNL Financial from the New York area to Charlottesville in the late eighties. As the company grew from cobbled spaces above the Mall to the Jefferson National Bank building at 4th Street, it helped revive the Mall. Ultimately, SNL transformed the vacant, hulking NGIC building into its headquarters. With its 400 employees, SNL anchors the east end of Downtown, and now employs about 2,800 people worldwide.
What is LOOK3?
For three days, an extraordinary mingling of those who are passionate about the art form—including world-renowned and emerging photographers, photo enthusiasts, and the community—takes place in a variety of venues throughout Charlottesville. LOOK3′s mission is to share images, experiences, and insights in a noncompetitive environment where peace, love, and photography are the tenets. The Festival is designed to recharge you creatively and connect you to a family of people who share a love of the photographic medium. The city of Charlottesville is the perfect size and feel to make this happen.
How did it start? What was the inspiration?
LOOK3 began with 20 years of parties in Nick Nichol’s backyard (a National Geographic photographer, inspirational mentor, and cofounder of LOOK3 with Will Kerner and Jon Golden). At those parties, everyone was welcome to show work – being open and collaborative is central to LOOK3′s mission. I had heard Nick speak at UVA about his adventures crossing Africa and could tell that he had the passion and drive to make something new and exciting come to be.
What was the biggest set-back?
Financial – it is always tough to make something sustainable, but we are going in for our 9th year! Thank you to all our supporters who care enough to make the Festival happen here each June.
When did you begin to suspect this could be a success?
Immediately – our audience/our family travelled from all over the world to be part of it and we’ve been sold out every year.
What has been the biggest positive impact you have observed?
Running into a photographer in Los Angeles, NY, or Botswana who says “LOOK3 opened up new directions for my work – thank you.” Seeing smiling children looking up at the photos of animals in the trees on the Downtown Mall.
Have you founded other businesses or initiatives?
I cofounded SNL Financial in 1987. When we moved the company here in the late eighties, Downtown Charlottesville was a very different place. Gabe Silverman is one of the people who deserves credit for the dynamic growth we’ve seen Downtown. He was one of the first people I met in Charlottesville, when we were looking for office space. He really helped me think outside the box about all I could do, and I miss him.
How do you define Founding?
I prefer the words collaboration, faith, and risk. For me the fun is taking the “ride” not alone but with smart people who teach me something new every day.
What brought you to Charlottesville, and what keeps you here?
Soon after launching SNL in Hoboken NJ (just outside Manhattan), we realized it made sense for the company to be headquartered in a smaller town with a strong crop of recent graduates. So we opened up the Barron’s book of America’s best colleges. It came down to Charlottesville and Williamsburg. We haven’t looked back. Charlottesville is a highly unusual town. It attracts amazing, dynamic people here who want to call it home.
Every year, LOOK3 tries to improve programming and reach other communities around the world. I promise June 2015 will be full of great surprises!