Omar Shehata

A hidden art gallery in downtown Ithaca

From Omar's notebook.

Last night my partner and I were walking downtown looking for a place to grab a bite to eat. I'm pretty new to Ithaca, but downtown is mainly just one street, "the commons", densely packed with restaurants and shops. I didn't think there were many surprises left.

The Broomwell caught my partner's attention. We'd seen it before, it looked pretty, but what exactly were they selling? Plants? Antiques?

We stepped forward to take a closer look. The Broomwell was right next to this seemingly empty unit. No sign, pretty bare inside.

Here my attention was split. This empty store next door...there was a dog sleeping in there! And...two people! Just kind of standing around.

Were they customers of this unmarked establishment who just walked in? No way, not in this barren unit, with no furniture or anything, just a big empty space with a wooden floor.

The man waved, I awkwardly waved back and looked away.

Why were they waving at me? Maybe they thought we were lost. I had to gaze more intentionally into The Broomwell's window, to show that I was indeed where I intended to be.

Maybe they were the owners of whatever this store was going to be, planning to put a wall here, chairs over there, the counter right there. I was watching them with my peripheral vision now.

"What do you think that place is?" I asked my partner. "What place?" she asked. Here I panic. I dared not point. I dared not step to the side to show her, lest we risk making awkward eye contact again. I tried to calmly explain the situation to her. The people, the dog, the wave. What did it all mean???

It was too late. The woman inside stepped towards, waving us inside. Ensnared by social expectation, we stepped into the void.

It turns out this was an art gallery! We met the artist, Ben, and his friend, Audrey.

Ben described his style as minimalist. He had these beautiful photos of untouched snow across arid landscapes.


He also had these incredibly striking pictures of waterfalls taken at night. What he calls Nightfalls.


These photographs were enchanting in their own right, but I was completely awestruck because many of these were quite familiar to me. These were waterfalls in and around Ithaca. I had been there. I had stood at the base and looked up (with difficulty, fighting the wind and the water in my face).

And here was that same scene, still and serene. A static picture that somehow still captured the mighty flow.

Ben mentioned many of these were moonlit, others were long exposure pictures. That served to capture enough light in the scene, but also to transform the raging waterfall into a kind of ethereal & smooth flow.

I asked for a card to follow his work. He didn't have one, so he gave me a wooden block with his website written on it:

I never did figure out what The Broomwell was selling after all, but if you ever find yourself in downtown Ithaca, I highly recommend you check out Ben's gallery.