A March Through SC’s Pee Dee Area – Viewing Exhibits Here, There, and Everywhere – Part Two

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Well, after the rush of the day, Linda and I arrive in Florence, SC, fairly early – long before the 5:30pm reception for the Pee Dee Regional Photography Exhibit 2011 – Photofabulous! at the Art Trail Gallery. So, we end up taking a driving tour of Florence, exploring areas where I have never been before. Florence is a pretty big city and it has spread out in all directions.

After we find the Sonic we head to the Art Trail Gallery to see if we could get in early to start viewing the massive photography exhibit. Linda is hooked on the ice Sonic puts in their drinks. And it happened to be the right time for 1/2 price happy hour on drinks (2-4pm daily). Linda’s also an ice chewer. One day she’s going to chip a tooth. And, I’ll be there to say – Aah Ha!

I figured that going early also might secure us a good parking space as I knew this reception was going to be big. We got a spot right out in front of the gallery. When we went to the door we could see a beehive of activity going on inside. A man came to the door, who looked like he could have been the head of security and said, “Jane doesn’t let anyone in early!” I believed him, but said I’m Tom Starland from Carolina Arts and I was wondering if I could get in early to start looking before it got too crowded to see anything. He said, “Carolina Arts, I don’t have to ask Jane – I’m letting you in.”

Man, I’m going to have to try that the next time we get an opportunity to go to Outback Steak House. Jane Madden, the head of the Art Trail Gallery soon came up as she noticed protocol was being broken, but soon gave us the A-OK. Which was a good thing, as I doubt I would have been able to see it all – at least three times and get some inside info on what was going on with some of the images. Once 5pm came (a half-hour early) – the crowd just kept growing, as did the volume inside the building.

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I think this was the crowd before 5:30.

The guy at the door was Benjamin Watford of F & F Photography in Florence – one of the photographers in the show. His partner is TJ McKay, also with works in the show. Watford is a disabled veteran from Iraq who is using photography as a tool to look at the brighter and better things in life. A veteran from Iraq – that explained the take charge attitude.

For the next couple of hours, Watford became the go to guy whenever I had a question about what I was looking at. He didn’t stop working – nobody stopped working in Madden’s work crew – from the minute we arrived to the minute we finally left. From time to time I sought him out. I thanked him for his assistance, but unfortunately it will prevent me from mentioning his works. But, from what I heard, F & F Photography will do just fine in the photography world.

At this point I’m going to state our background in photography. Both Linda and I have worked in camera stores, owned and operated a custom black & white photo processing lab; taught photography; owned and operated a photography gallery (with a few friends); organized the SC Photographer’s Guild; and were both active photographers – before we got in the publishing business.

We have known some of the most talented photographers in SC – both commercial and fine art photographers. Some of our best friends are photographers – if you can believe that.

We’re old school photography, yet I appreciate all of the technological advances that have taken place since we got out of it. So, I’m not an old school snob.

I also will include that I personally made the decision to stop trying to be a fine art photographer soon after arriving in Charleston – over 30 years ago due to the abundance of really great photographers I found there. And, I think I was pretty good. I decided to serve the photography community as best I could – in short I became a photography pimp.

The coming future of digital photography and frustrations about photography’s acceptance into the art world led us into publishing an arts newspaper. This latter factor is still a problem, but not as bad as it was 15 – 20 years ago.

With that said, I also want to add that I have seen a lot of fantastic photography – in years past and in doing Carolina Arts – so it takes a lot to get me excited when looking at photography and it doesn’t happen that often. It’s not a matter of being good – really good photography – it’s more a matter of seeing something really different – that hasn’t been done before and is done really well. At this point in my life I see all art through that frame.

I also thank my lucky stars I was not asked to be a judge for this show and hope I never will, and I tip my hat to those who did that job – Beth Anderson, Geoff Hughes, and Brian Nolan, who had an immense and difficult task in awarding the prizes in this show. Better them than me, as there was so much good work in this exhibit to choose from. I heard someone say there were 1,000 images on display. I didn’t take a count.

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Good thing I had already finished looking by now.

So here’s some things that captured my attention.

First, I found the coolest name for a photographer – Missy Davis Jones. She took a Second Place ribbon in the Portrait category. I liked Jones’ camera perspective and how she framed her subjects – sometimes from unexpected angles. Jones is not making cookie-cutter portraits. She also presented her works very well.

It should be noted that the photographers hung their own works in this show.

As I mentioned in Part One, I was taken by the “photographs” of Suzanne Muldrow – which don’t look like photographs in any way I was familiar with. I know about Photoshop and what it can do, but this seemed to be a step beyond, but probably not that uncommon these days. My favorite of her works was Liquid Silk, an image of a vase of colorful flowers which I bet would have looked good as a straight image, but this blurring (liquid) technique gave the image a nice effect. The technique, whatever she calls it doesn’t always work in my opinion, but it did for Liquid Silk.

I could write volumes on how the public loves photographs that don’t look like photographs, but I’ll spare you all that tirade.

Over the years my tastes in art has moved towards abstract art. I don’t know why, but it happened and macro photography lends itself to the abstract. The short depth of field (depth of the focus) causes things in the background of whatever the photographer is trying to capture – up close – in exacting detail, to be blurred – creating abstract backgrounds.

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Flower Candelabra by Linda Borek

This effect captured my attention in several images, one being Linda Borek’s Flower Candelabra, and Sandra Anderson’s Blue Dragonfly. In Borek’s image it was the purple anthers of a flower against a fuzzy yellow background – the petal walls. And, in Anderson’s, it was the sharp image of a blue dragonfly against another fuzzy yellow background. There were several other images of dragonflies in the exhibit, but it was the background that made this image stand out. Selective, controlled focus is the key in macro photography.

Ann Klein had an image of a pink flower against a black background which used some of these same techniques of a sharp image against a solid background, but in her image it was the perspective that made the difference – she gave us a look at the back of the flower and the rest of the image was dark space. It made the image. I liked the image when we used it in the paper, but I really liked it up close in person.

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Image by Ann Klein. I didn’t get the name as she came up just as I was writing notes.

When it came to black and white images, Linda and I agreed on this – something that doesn’t happen that often, but in this case it was easy. Jimmy Gordy’s infrared image titled, Galivant’s Ferry was our favorite. I was glad to see that some people are still doing black and white photography. I’m grateful that there are still people in this world who see the beauty in a black and white world. I know to some folks using infrared film is thought of as a trick, but again Gordy’s image would have been good as a straight image. The effects of the infrared just added the right touch.

In the artsy category, one of my own making, I liked the image calledHands Relaxed, by Renee Fitch Smith – dark hands in motion against a dark blue background. It’s a simple image, but it rivaled Flower Candelabraas my favorite in the show. Boy, that’s got to tell you something about my taste in photography – for those who saw this exhibit. But, not really. Each viewing of a collection of images is different – a moment in time – never to be repeated – much like the official judging of this competition. We could all return a month later and pick totally different images as our favorites or category winners in the judges’ case.

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Hands Relaxed by Renee Fitch Smith

Look, this show wasn’t juried. There was no making the cut, but it was judged after the fact and anyone who has the guts to put their images on public display – open to public comments and a judge (three in this case) – is a winner. But, it doesn’t mean you can’t improve or learn from others. I would advise the photographers in this show to not get too concerned about whether you received a ribbon or not – for all you know, your unrecognized image was someone’s favorite. And, it might not even have been your mother. There’s always another competition just around the corner and the results can be totally different – even if the works were the same. I’ve seen it happen.

So which image was my favorite? You noticed how I strayed away from that subject. In this country our vote is a private thing. I cast my ballot for the People’s Choice award and like all elections – I’m willing to accept the results. I might bitch about it later, but that’s the American way.

There were a lot of interesting portraits in this exhibit. You could tell a lot of these folks were in business – professionals. I’d have to say David Childers was my favorite, but not by much. I also was drawn to Nathan Hasenjaeger’s portraits, which was a little disturbing. I guess he was in a category called “That’s Different”. You got that right! After the third viewing I heard my inner voice saying, “Luke – come back to the Force. Pay no attention to the Dark Side. You don’t need to look at Mr. Hasenjaeger’s photos anymore.”

But, like I said in Part One – as an artist, he should be happy. He captured my attention and got me thinking. And, his images are locked in my brain with all the others that did the same.

There were images in the exhibit that were made by children. Now I don’t know what the age cutoff was to be considered a “youth” image. They were marked with blue tape, but some would have passed without it. I always like the perspective young people have. They see things totally different than we adults do.

Photographer Jeff Smith showed how to tell a story with photography with his “Tobacco Tales,” presentation celebrating the life of the tobacco farmer. The images were strong enough to stand alone, but as a group were even stronger. I didn’t like the fact that his tags were directly on his photos, but it’s a lesson all photographers can pay heed in any opportunity to show several of your works. Unless you’re trying to make sales or gain customers – it’s not always best to show your “greatest hits”. Images presented with a similar theme are stronger. It gets people thinking about exhibits.

Which brings me to Brian Dawson’s works. I think he had top honors in my book for the most consistent presentation of his works. It was like a museum exhibit – with mats and frames all alike – it only left the images to look at.

Presentation is always important – in all aspects of exhibiting your work. No detail shouldn’t be considered.

OK – I’m out on this little tree limb far enough. I enjoyed the show, and I enjoyed the reception. What a joy to see so many people interested in photography. My only wish and it’s easy for me to make it is – I hope that one day – not too far off, the powers that be behind the Art Trail Gallery invest in some better lighting.

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People were still streaming in as I took this parting shot.

Jane Madden and her crew are doing a heck of a job in presenting art to the Florence community and beyond – with the new Florence Museum coming next door – it might be time to make an investment in the future. Lighting is everything when it comes to art.

Oh yeah, the food was great and Jane Madden was still re-loading food on tables when we left. They had a ton of food and apparently from what I heard – Florence ate it all.

A big finale for Photofabulous! FDDC’s first Florence After 5 event will be held Friday, Apr. 29, 2011, from 5:30 – 8pm – the last day of the exhibit. There will be food vendors, live music with Midway Blue and lots of friendly, happy people.

The Art Trail Gallery is located at 135 S. Dargan Street in downtown Florence, SC.  Hours are: Tue.-Thur., 11:30am-2:30pm & Fri., 5:30-8pm.

For further info contact Jane Madden at 843/673-0729 or visit (www.art-trail-gallery.com).

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