Monday, August 19, 2013

“Photographers of Martin Gallery”

“Surf” by Michael Kahn is displayed
at the Martin Gallery
by Taylor Fitzpatrick
I went to visit the Martin Gallery and observe their artwork. This gallery is located at 18 Broad Street, Charleston, SC, on the corner of State Street and Broad Street. It is a small gallery, with only one open room that contains dozens upon dozens of pieces of artwork.
The gallery was empty except for just the lady at the main desk, who gladly answered my questions and gave me pages of backgrounds for the artists.
Among those artists, the three photographers whose artwork I had come to observe are Doug Van De Zande, Benjamin Ham, and Michael Kahn. This exhibition, when compared to modern artists that photograph the same area of scenery or focus, has a certain downplay to its pieces. Unlike other photographers, who might focus on the brightness of a certain image, these three artists focus on texture and the different shapes.
The exhibition is creatively spaced and balanced between smaller sculptures on one half of the room, and paintings and photographs are on the other half. In the middle are the larger sculptures, which made it easier to maneuver around the photographs and get a closer look at them.
There are photographs of all sizes strewn about the gallery, which allowed the visitor to not be overwhelmed by too many large photographs, but at the same time keeping their attention.
From reading these few-paged pamphlets, I learned a little more about each photographer and the different perspectives they each took on photography.
Doug Van De Zande has been a photographer for more than thirty years and has been known for mixing his own developing chemicals and changing paper chemical combinations. He works in black and white because he likes the feel that his photographs are more like sketches or etchings, rather than a photograph. He believes that his approach brings out the mood of the subjects of the photograph.
Van De Zande was born in Virginia and raised in New York, where he started involving himself in photography in high school. Five years after graduating high school, Doug moved to California to attend the Brooks Institute of Photography to make a career and lifestyle out of his passion. Upon that graduation, Doug then moved back east to North Carolina for the slower pace and smaller-scale market and has been there since.
Next, Benjamin Ham, a man born in Georgia, but has lived in South Carolina for the last five decades. Ben puts his focus on nature and the basics of photography by choosing very delicately what he wants to capture in a photograph, and with what equipment he uses to capture it. Ham has a fascination with the outdoors and will spend however long it takes to find the perfect shot.
His photographs, full of detail, bring the sensations to life when one looks upon them. Scents, sounds, and other senses arise in the observer’s mind when they delve into the essence of each photograph. Adding to the raw naturalness his photographs already hold, Ham also only uses a basic folding wooden field camera with a black cover cloth to capture his scenes. These primal techniques Benjamin uses are his trademark.
Lastly, Michael Kahn has similarities with the other artists at this exhibit. Just like Van De Zande, Kahn has developed his own unique process for developing his photographs by hand. Unlike Van De Zande, however, he does not choose the black and white format photograph, but rather the sepia-toned gelatin silver prints.
The majority of his photographs will be taken out at sea or by the sea because Kahn’s personal favor is with the ocean and the beauty that boats of all models and ages can bring to the eye. From historic focuses to seascapes, Michael Kahn’s pieces have been recognized throughout the United States, including The New York Times and even Town and Country.
Michael Kahn’s “Surf” photograph in particular caught my eye. I see waves crashing onto the sand of a beach shore. In the middle ground, I can see another, younger wave at its peak and about to break its crest to follow the other waves. The bottom, closer waves in the picture look a little less in focus than the rest of the picture, adding to the effect that the sea is in constant motion; it’s never still.
On the right side of the photograph, a long stretch of sand curves to the left, then disappears and turns into the mountains. Cutting the view almost in half, a thin line of mountain peaks in the far background of the photograph shows the way the beach curves to the left and to the beyond. This line is broken, however, by the previously mentioned peaking wave. This interruption of the line decreases the formality of the mountains, and brings focus to that powerful wave in the middle ground.
Above that mountain line, the top half of the photograph shows dark clouds scattered across the sky. Although they are dark, which normally brings a foreboding feeling to viewers, these clouds are also outlined by a bright light, and because they are so scattered, they are not as threatening as they could be. Also, the topmost and foremost cloud seems to be the darkest of them all, while the clouds farther in the background seem lighter, less ominous. The repetition that I mainly saw in this photograph is again, the clouds. Although they are all not the same shape, the spacing out of each cloud from another almost brings a pattern to the eye.
The clouds contrast greatly with the wild waves of the ocean, which never truly have a shape or form. The juxtaposition between the expectation that the darker clouds in the sky would bring a bad, low feeling to most observers, and the reality of lighter mood it creates, forges a different effect. This image is in black and white, and the two are being used to show a large contrast between the darker clouds in the sky and the white, foamy ocean waves.
In the background, the mountain line that’s right in the middle of the photograph seems to have the darkest, most concentrated shade of black in the whole picture, which grabs the attention of the observer, but not so much that they do not appreciate the other elements of the photograph.
The light in this photograph is outlining first the clouds in the sky, as well as brightening the waves in the sea in the lower half of the photograph. This again improves the contrast between the two halves of the photograph.
The photographer made two very important decisions while capturing this image. One, that although he could have come back another, sunnier day, Michael chose to use the clouds and their similar, yet unique shapes to bring a slight pattern to the top half of the photograph. And two, he did not wait for the sea to calm down a bit after the waves peak and crash, but he seized the perfect moment when the wave is just about to crest.
The intent the photographer had for this shot is to show the raw power of the sea, always moving, crashing and making waves, as well as to show the similarity in overall shape between cloud and breaking wave. Both have the basic rounded, stretched out shape, with some partial segments seen in the middle, and it is almost like the wave in the middle ground is in fact a low cloud.
The photograph shows the power and majesty of the ocean and clouds. It’s hard to distinguish whether those characteristics make one feel appreciative, calm emotion, or an inspiring, strengthening one. I would recommend others visit the Martin Gallery. I fell in love with the simplicity of white and black photographs. They left me awestruck.


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