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An Eye for a Lens: Art League’s Photography Show Brings Out Simpler Pleasures

| May 14, 2011

Detail from Joyce Gatonska’s “Guarding the Temple of Wadi As-Sebua,” one of 75 works on display at the Flagler County Art League's 2nd Annual Photography Show, through mid-June. (© FlaglerLive)Detail from Joyce Gatonska’s “Guarding the Temple of Wadi As-Sebua,” one of 75 works on display at the Flagler County Art League's 2nd Annual Photography Show, through mid-June. (© FlaglerLive)

Detail from Joyce Gatonska’s “Guarding the Temple of Wadi As-Sebua,” one of 75 works on display at the Flagler County Art League's 2nd Annual Photography Show, through mid-June. (© FlaglerLive)

“You cannot say you have thoroughly seen anything,” the writer Emile Zola said in 1900, “until you have got a photograph of it, revealing a lot of points which otherwise would be unnoticed, and which in most cases could not be distinguished.”

That was before the age of Photoshop, when photographic details could not only be emphasized, but invented, though Robert Carlsen, the curator of the latest show at the Flagler County Art League, will tell you that Photoshop is only the latest, digital evolution of an old habit for photographers. The manipulation of pictures is almost as old as pictures themselves. It’s a little easier now, more tempting, making the get-away from straight-up journalistic photography as convenient as access to a computer and a $90 program.

2nd Annual Photography Show:

  • Opening at the Flagler County Art League May 14, through June 8. The gallery is located at City Market Place, 160 Cypress Point Parkway, Palm Coast. Call 386/986-4668 for details.

See the phenomenon on display. Few of the 75 photographs in the Flagler County Art League’s Second Annual Photography Show, which opened this evening, haven’t been Photoshopped to some extent. (It won’t be long before the word becomes a verb and is accepted as such by the Oxford English Dictionary.) That’s true of the color and black and white photographs: transforming a color picture into a black and white one is part of the Photoshop ethic for some photographers who, Carlsen says, may be looking for the greater emotional impact that black and white produces.

“For instance you can see here, the ‘Pinewood Derby, Great Expectations,’” Carlsen says, pointing to the black and white work by Charlie Badalati, “a sense of anticipation, the people looking to see, they’re waiting for the cars to come down. In colors, you’d see the colors would be there, and you’d be looking at colors. Here there is no color, so your mind is forced to see the action.” Carlsen continues the lesson with “2 Egrets,” a photograph by Louise Walker. “’2 Egrets’ could have been black and white or color, but notice the nice tonage, and the shading of the black and whites. It’s not only the subject, but it’s the shapes in the picture that the birds form, it’s this moment of tenderness that the birds are conveying, and it’s also the tonnage, the shading of the picture that makes that wonderful picture.”

The Photoshop elements are also apparent in color work, of course, which makes up the majority of this show. “This,” Carlsen says, showing Deborah Stuart’s “Angel Trumpets,” a leafy homage to Georgia O’Keeffe, “could easily be a painting, and it’s a photograph. So there’s a cross-over now, where photography is really an artistic medium, not just taking snapshots any longer. Same with this one, ‘Frosted,’ by Daniel Borougian,” placed opposite Stuart’s frame in this show, an autumn leaf brittle and jagged with end-of-life fragility, and surrounded by what looks like a vigil of leaves on a black background—what could be autumnal vegetation’s equivalent of Hospice care. “Wonderful composition, beautifully executed, beautifully framed and matted. This could be on display anywhere, but it’s really artistic. You know what I mean by artistic balance of it? The subject matter, the flow, the composition, the areas of light and dark: if you were to paint this picture you’d paint it similarly.”

Carlsen is the art league’s new director of shows and exhibitions. Photography and Photoshop are his specialty, but he and his committee will be setting out the league’s show themes from here on. He’ll be following up this exhibit with another photo show in December. Unlike this one, where artists were invited to submit in just two categories (color or black and white), the December show will have several categories, including portraits—presumably, human portraits, to avoid the cop-out animals provide in the genre.

This particular show has drawn artists from the St. Augustine Camera Club, the Daytona Beach Art League, the Photography Club of Flagler County and, of course, the Flagler County Art League. The cash prizes have improved the draw. There’s a $100 prize for the winner in each of the color and black and white categories, a $50 prize for the second-place winner, and $25 for third place.

In the black and white category, there are 13 works, one of them actually a monochrome—Carlsen’s “Marigot,” an Antillean balcony scene reflected against the rust-colored golds of Caribbean skies. There’s a rocking chair on a porch, given a burst of personality with a hat. A stately oak. An old barn. The shape of a woman encrusted on a tree’s bark, yielding the punning title:  “This Tree Hugger Really Gets Into His Work” (the photograph is by Clyde Finner).

The black and white show is bracketed by two works by Charlie Badalati, two scenes from the same pinewood derby Carlsen noted above, each using sharp contrasts of light and dark to drive the eye toward the miniature race about to take place, and to do so particularly through the eye of a young boy—whose face is not seen: you, the viewer, are his eyes. Whimsy is only occasional in this show, but it’s here, as in Krystyna Spisak-Madejczyk’s “All Alone.” You wouldn’t guess who, or what, the title is referring to: a lone roll of toilet paper on an Ikea rack, reflecting perhaps the crappy side of existentialism.

On the color side there are a lot of birds, three butterflies, fish, ducks, an eagle’s portrait, and a love bug. The love bug appears as the focal point punctuating a larger composition of pictorial and imaginative quotes by Sheila Crawford, to whom a photograph is a canvass where she can showcase her Photoshop skills, which create a third dimension without need of 3-D glasses. In “And She looked Out With Innocence and Wonder,” a little girl, from a much earlier part of the last century, looks as if through time across an antique pocket watch at the viewer, whose eye is constantly pulled back to the love bug feasting on the anthers of a flower.

Among the fish, one is very much alive, very much in your face, in Mary Conner’s “Here’s Looking at Ya Kid” (a frontal look designed as an affront), and one is as if fossilized, but against sand, its skeletal remains not yet finished decomposing.  Yet the dead fish appears even more alive than the live one. We might as well be witnessing the fish’s final throes. With his plays of light and contrasts, Badalati, the same Badalati of the derby scenes, could probably make a sarcophagus dance with life.
There is also an abundance of landscapes, of evening suns or moons, of flowers and trees and mountains. And the occasional still life, or life stilled in—again—Krystyna Spisak-Madejczyk’s ironic “Cracks”: a car’s windshield bashed in, but not yet shattered, its curvature suggesting that something, or someone, had a very bad end there.

What there is a great dearth of in this show is human subjects. They can be counted on one hand. And aside from Joyce Gatonska’s photograph of an Arab suspiciously returning the lens’s stare  in “Guarding the Temple of Wadi As-Sebua”—the photograph illustrating this article—there are no portraits here. A shadowy glimpse of the Virgin Mary doesn’t count. It’s a strange absence, similar to the photography show at Hollingsworth gallery by A.J. Neste’s Voice Program’s children last year. Children’s reluctance to take on the human form is understandable, their own human form—their own understanding of what it is to be a person—being so unformed yet. The Art League’s artists have been around the block a few times though: if there is a generation of artists that should be telling us what they know about their fellow humans, it’s that one. With coincidental unanimity, they’re choosing not to.

“When you keep a subject open, I think the vast majority of work that will be turned in will be landscape of some sort,” Carlsen says. “It’s easier to do, you can go out and put your camera on a tripod and take a beautiful scene of early morning and get a wonderful picture. It’s not so easy to get a wonderful portrait by taking a picture of a person. You need to know how to bring emotion out, to light a person correctly, so it’s a more difficult subject matter.”

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