exhibit on display november 20 thru january 9
location Through this Lens Gallery 303 E. Chapel Hill Street Durham, NC 27701 919.687.0250 www.throughthislens.com Tuesday through Friday 10:30 – 5:30 Saturday 10:30 – 4 3rd Fridays open until 9PM and by appointment
dates november 20, 2015 thru january 9
reception november 20 6 – 9pm
Below is an exhibit review by Blue Greenberg that appeared in the Durham Herald-Sun on November 29, 2015. – “J. J. Raia: Trees”; “Gunther Cartwright: Industrial Blues,” Through This Lens gallery, 303 E. Chapel Hill St., Durham, through Jan. 9.
Two photographers, Gunther Cartwright and J.J. Raia, are currently the featured artists at Through This Lens. Cartwright has been working on his industrial project for 25 years; eight of his compositions will be in the show. Raia’s landscapes are not just the usual scenes of meadows, brooks, rocks and trees that make a good composition in the viewfinder; he blurs the line between reality and fantasy, bringing subtleties into focus through the use of brilliant color.
His close-ups of stands of trees are my favorites; we are so close the trees lose their visible connections and become tall, slender forms across the surface. The industrial scenes are also close-ups. Subject matter could not be further apart, yet Raia’s trees are almost as abstracted as Cartwright’s concrete walls, low fences and Internet towers. Both are gloriously colorful and what we have is human creation set beside the creations of nature.
Cartwright, an emeritus professor from the Photographic Arts at Rochester Institute of Technology School of Photographic Arts and Sciences, has exhibited nationally. According to gallery director Roylee Duvall, the artist will hear of an industrial site that is closing down and being dismantled and will drive hundreds of miles in order to find those angles, circles, straight lines and peeling paint to photograph. On his website, he wrote that power lines, telephone poles, fences and industrial structures are a part of his daily visual experience, and he sees them as elements of the landscape. He added, “I am not interested in the picturesque but rather the formal arrangements of elements and color within the landscape.”
In “Blue Stairs,” an image he photographed in North Carolina, the angled line of a stairway handrail on the side of a freshly painted storage tank marks the beginnings of a triangle. Looking closely the photographer shows us the orange rust, which has been scaled off, lying at the bottom. In “Sky Blue Pink” an angled line dissects the photograph into a small triangle of blue and a large triangle of pink; a white fence makes a strong straight line anchoring the bottom of the composition. By accident, a plane moves through the upper portion of the blue and, in today’s world, gives us an anxious moment. Among his other images are irrigation pumps that look like missile launchers, cooling towers and close-ups and engulfing mists caused by trains entering and leaving a London station.
Raia has had a varied career. For most of his working life he was an engineer for Amtrak and ran high-speed trains between New York and Washington, D.C. He also worked for state environmental publications and for about 10 years his photographs were used exclusively in calendars about New Jersey. Since moving to N.C., he has begun photographing the state a little at a time, but has a continuing project concentrating on Jordan Lake. Last year he took a monthlong trip out west, sleeping in an SUV, and spending the entire time photographing New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, Arizona and Nevada.
Duvall talked about Raia’s photographs. He said, “While they are technically landscape photographs, the images are abstract and romantic. The colors can be subtle and vivid in the same photograph.” He went on to say Raia sheds new light on a very old tradition of landscape images. Landscape has been a staple of painting since the 17th century and, as soon as the photographers understood the mimetic capability of the camera, they began to rearrange what the camera saw so their compositions were artistic and more like those of the painters. It was fine to record the world as the camera saw it, but the photographers wanted more and so they looked to the painters not to copy but to do it better. As the 20th century approached, the painters began to set aside illusionistic space and focus on the flat plane of the painting. They constructed their landscapes as close-ups which made them more abstract than real.
It is exactly what Raia is doing in many of his photographs and “Aspen Grove” is an example. In the photograph the blue-gray slender trunks of the Aspen trees become slashes of rounded lines that intersect the wider bands of yellow, which on closer examination are fall foliage in their golden beauty. Space has been tightened and the viewer is forced inside the image. Cezanne immediately comes to mind. In other photographs, trees bloom and the blossoms become circlets of color among the fluttering leaves. Raia, with his camera, creates subtleties which move fields into fantasies and the woods into abstract shapes. It takes an eye — the eye of a composer — to see these rarities.
Cartwright works with a camera, film and a darkroom. Raia works almost exclusively with digital film and developing. I asked Duvall whether Cartwright was still using the “old-fashioned” method of photography because he was a “purist.” He said that was probably part of it. He did say that Cartwright was able to use the very best equipment because he had access to it at Rochester. As we talked about film versus digital, Duvall said it takes a lot of money to be a good digital photographer. “It’s very expensive to buy the kind of computer you should have and the kind of printer that is going to give you the very best images.” He also said when photographers were using film and darkrooms, they did not need fancy equipment. He added, “Some of the most beautiful prints were made in a closet with a light bulb.”
As we continued our conversation Duvall reminded me it was not too many years ago when famous photographers could be counted on one hand. In fact, the entire discipline of photography is less than 200 years old and has not only achieved a place in the curriculum of all art schools but also the hallowed halls of the museums. In fact, the art gurus have been saying under their breath and sometimes aloud, the only interesting work being done in the art world today is that of the photographers.
Blue Greenberg’s column is published Sundays in Books and More. She may be reached at email@example.com.