Ellen Sweet and her partner Stan Hughes have spent the greater part of their lives working to maintain the memory of her brother Andy, a 28-year-old photographer who was murdered 34 years ago inside his Miami Beach apartment. They promote Andy’s work on social media, and Hughes spends up to 12 hours a day restoring his photography.
Andy Sweet’s photography is a visual time capsule and a testament to what 1970s Miami Beach was like in the “good old days.” The couple have made it their personal mission to make sure his work reaches audiences all over South Florida and beyond.
Sweet’s photography is on display at Miami Beach Cinematheque through the end of November. It’s Sweet’s first solo show in more than 20 years. The exhibit is free to the public and profiles the retired Jewish community, as well as the neighborhood of Miami Beach and the locals who lived there.
The color exhibit is a rarity for that era. Seven original prints are on display, as well as restored images by Hughes. Some originals will be on sale for $4,000 and restored copies for $1,000. The proceeds will benefit the Andy Sweet Photo Legacy, a nonprofit that helps pay for the costs of the photo restoration project and equipment.
Andy died years before his sister met Hughes, whose background in photography and visual art has helped him restore the Sweet archive since 2006. The process almost didn’t happen after a storage company lost Sweet’s negatives.
“Not only did he die but the best source of his images were lost,” Hughes said. “Everyone thought this was the end, but I went to the storage space, and I noticed he made test prints of thousands of images that he was thinking about printing. And I just knew the pictures would be good enough to be resurrected. It wasn’t the end just because the negatives were lost.”
Since then Hughes has worked on about 300 photos, digitally scanning and upgrading them with Adobe Photoshop, while still pursuing his own art. He says it’s difficult to think and see work through someone else’s eyes, but he has done extensive research on Andy’s earlier work as a guide. He’s also spoken to Andy’s best friend, Gary Monroe, who gave him advice on how to go about the process.
“I had to make sure I didn’t over-saturate the photos. I’d actually never seen a photo of Andy’s in color; they had all faded, and I had to ask Gary how saturated his colors were, and he said to think about a beach ball,” Hughes said.“We went to an art show, and when Stan pulled out the portfolio Gary started crying right in the gallery. He said, ‘Oh my God, this is not lost,’” Sweet added.
It’s been a strange process to work and get to know Sweet through his work, Hughes said.He has a goal to be able to finish as much as he can of the 1,800 images in the Miami Beach collection and have someone else take over the process once he has a core selection. Ellen said she doesn’t want to let go of the project until it’s popular enough to become a traveling exhibit or a book.
The couple, who have been together since 1994, said that this mission has brought them closer. Sweet said it’s incredible to watch Hughes work tirelessly and painstakingly, as he fixes each image and brings her brother’s work back to life.
They say they often walk around Miami and think of scenarios Andy would have photographed.
“When I first started, I thought that his style wasn’t the kind of photography that I really liked, but he deserved a shot, and he had a body of work, he had a vision, and got cut off just at the point that he should have started taking off,” Hughes said. “He died, and it just seemed unfair. Even if I didn’t like it, I wanted him to have a shot and the more I got into it, the more I was able to appreciate it deeply, and then I really got to like it and understand what Andy was all about: people."
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IF YOU GO
▪ What: Sweet: Photography by Andy Sweet
▪ Where: Miami Beach Cinematheque lobby, 1130 Washington Ave., Miami Beach
▪ Cost: Free to the public
▪ When: The exhibit will run until the end of November. Call 305-673-4567 for hours of operation or visit http://mbcinema.com/contactus/
The public may visit the exhibit even when a movie is playing.