Photographer Susan Gietka of Hammonton, New Jersey, specializes in glamour shots for high school seniors. Last fall she was asked by ArtC — a South Jersey arts advocacy organization — to make a portrait of Molly Carpenter, a Salem County sculptor she had never heard of before.

She instantly felt a kinship.

"The symbolism in her work ... things I relate to," said Gietka. "Water. We have similar dreams of water and bridges, and mermaids and animals she relates to and uses over and over in her work. I was inspired by her work."

Gietka staged a highly conceptual portrait of Carpenter, involving a mermaid with a glass mosaic tail, puddles of water in a 19th century house, and lots of Photoshop.

"I think her photography is magical," said Carpenter, who lives in that 19th century house on a soybean farm in Mannington Township. "She captures that moment of creativity and the dreamlike quality I try to put in my own work."

The resulting portrait is part of "Clique," an exhibition of 16 conceptual portraits of South Jersey artists, taken by photographers in South Jersey. It includes junkyard sculptor Bill Clark, Camden playwright Joseph Paprzycki, and classical flutist Megan Emigh, captured in dramatic and sometimes highly theatrical ways.

The show was coordinated by ArtC and ArtPride, NJ, to promote the vitality of South Jersey artists. The artists have precious few opportunities to become aware of one another, much less collectively boast.

"We're considered a sleepy enclave down here in this part of the state," said Carpenter. "In actuality, there's a whole lot of very, very talented people here.

Eight photographers, chosen by a jury set up by ArtC, were assigned to work with the 16 artists. The president of ArtC, Bill Horin, made the assignments himself.

"I knew almost all of the artists involved, and I knew the personalities. Some are easier to work with than others," said Horin. "You kind of get a feel for who would work together. It wasn't always perfect pairings, but I think it worked out well overall."

The project is meant to connect artists with audiences, and with one another.

"We feel there's strength in numbers," said Horin. "The more we know each other, the easier it is for people to realize South Jersey is a real mecca for good artists."

Clique will be on display in Collingswood until May, then it will move to the Riverfront Renaissance Center in Millville. Adam Perle, president of ArtPride New Jersey, said the two communities have economies built, in part, on access to art.

"The two locations where the exhibitions are being held are prime examples of how arts can positively impact community development through quality of life, education, even through health care," said Perle. "It can be part of what brings New Jersey towns back to life with investment."