Review - Photos at the Meeting House Gallery, Oakland Mills Comm Ctre, Col., MD

February 13, 2014  •  Leave a Comment

Review of a photography exhibit 'Artists' Choice' at The Meeting House Gallery, Oakland Mills Interfaith Center daily 8 AM to 9 PM through March 24th, 2014


"Art is not a mirror, but a hammer: it does not reflect, it shapes."

Leon Trotsky, Literature and Revolution (1924):

Art is the concretization of someone's vision, of her/his way of seeing things and capturing them in some way to show to the world. When I take pictures I try to make a final image with enough content that the viewer can embrace it and enough room that the viewer can bring their own set of experience, knowledge and emotions to it. So, when I look at other person's art, I try to respond to it and my only accepted responsibility in these reviews is to decide how well that artist has made their vision available to me.

The Meeting House Gallery has a challenging environment; the wall space is spread over an irregular area and the lighting is inconsistent from place to place, ranging from good gallery lighting to actual shadow. The administrators of each show do their best to divide the good areas for viewing amongst the different artists but that division, while 'fair', means that it is difficult to get a coherent impression of a single artist's work without skittering around the room, looking at the name cards. I don't have any suggestions for a fix or a more fair arrangement but perhaps the Gallery admins could have a printed map with the placement of each artist's work to guide the viewer who wanted to see one artist's complete work at a time.

There were five artists showing in this group show and their work and intentions are different enough to warrant talking about them separately, so excuse the length of this review.

Chick Rhodehamel's work ( is probably the most traditional and recognizable in style. He works predominantly in monochrome and his images are strong, still and display an awareness of the shapes and contours of the world as he sees it and brings it to the viewer. This work to the left, entitled 'Circles and Lines', is an example of how he frames an image out of the chaos of the ordinary environment and shows it to the viewer with the abstracting effect of monochrome. This kind of work only succeeds if the entire long string of steps are well executed: a noteworthy image is seen and isolated, the details recorded, the tones caught and, importantly, the production of the print is well achieved. Chick's work is consistently as technically perfect as one could get. If there is a weakness in this kind of work, it is that is so still, so perfect, stirring admiration for the wonderful composition and execution, always proving an interesting look for the intent viewer but with less emotional content or mystery for many viewers.

Jim Lubitz's work (link)  is in a similar style, also mostly in monochrome but Jim is not as far down the road to commitment to a single genre as is Chick; Jim seems to be still looking for his final interest and it in one of those glances that produces his most interesting, to me, images. Two images in this show were taken in Bakersfield, California at the Dr. George Albin House, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Rather than a closeup of some well formed detail, Jim pulls back to include interesting parts of the house in concert with the surroundings for which it was designed. My favorite is the intricate image shown here – a shot of a woman sitting in a unusually shaped chair through two adjoining planes of glass, each one reflecting the environment yet each one with a totally different tint. Familiar elements captured to be seen in an unfamiliar way; it takes a moment to understand all of what is going on – and that is the charm of this image. I hope Mr. Lubitz keeps on looking and capturing things in this off beat way.

Ira Dwoskin (link) defines his work as  Abstract/Realism. "I accent my subject by making the background abstract.” This is an interesting issue because most photographers categorize themselves by genre of what kinds of images they take rather than how the images are processed. Thus, although one can limit themselves to taking pictures which are amenable to this kind of processing, it seems to me that some color schemes or color distributions may not be amenable to being processed this way and end up not being in a good, enjoyable image.

And that's how it seemed to me. Some of Mr. Dwoskin's work was really, really terrific (by that I mean, I liked it a lot) and some of it wasn't so enjoyable. For example, the picture shown here 'Umbrellas at DC Cherry Blossom'. The color schemes and distribution were just right-on-the-nose delightful, the treatment really amplified the impression of the underlying image.

The same goes for an image, entitled “Harper”, of a baseball batter, catcher and umpire against an intricate background (which seems to me not so much abstract as perhaps post-impressionist or Fauvist). Where this kind of effort falls short for me is when the lost detail is actually an contributing, intrinsic part of the image and is replaced by a flat palette of color; several of the individual images of flowers set against an post-impressionistic background fell in this group for me.

The last photographer in this group of artists is Jim Auerbach. (link)  His displayed work, with an exception or two, was generally of large, well known iconic vistas - Mono Lake, Zabriski Point, Horseshoe Bend. This is the kind of picture that almost demands to be shown large so the colors and the details can be enjoyed. One large image, entitled 'Capturing the Light' profited from the enlargement, the colors are subtle but saturated, the light glancing across the area from the mountains was very enjoyable and the blurry softness of the light was appropriate. Unfortunately the other large images didn't fare as well. I don't know if it was the artist's choice of papers or intentional blurring but at close inspection of the other large images, the details were merged into blurs and, although saturated, the colors did not have the lovely clarity that one expects from this kind of image. I hope this was a correctable choice in the post-processing phase.

The last artist is not a photographer, but a painter of abstracts, and perhaps I should recuse myself from commenting because I am, by nature and by avocation, a realist. Artists, like most photographers, who work realistically at any level hope to engage the viewer by some manipulation of symbols presented in the guise of real objects. The artist intends to engage not only the intellect but the emotions of the viewer by bridging to emotions within the viewer, evoking by the the artist's work. (think new mothers and pictures of babies.)

An artist who works in abstractions uses only line and form and color in creating and specifically rejects references to the 'real' world, thus making the gap between artistic work and viewer's understanding even more formidable.

In the brief self-introduction to her work given at the reception, Rhona Schonwald ( said, “...(her work) is meant to inspire imagination, joy and sensuality in the viewer, and that I found myself more interested in backgrounds of images than in the images themselves, again to inspire the viewer to go beyond the obvious.”

In looking at each of these artists, I specifically refrain from saying whether the work is good or bad, I clearly don't have either the credential or the right to say that. I say only whether I like it or enjoy it and why.

In this situation, while I cannot claim to 'get' any meaning that Rhona Schonwald has embodied in her work; abstracts don't resound with me on any emotional level but, without disclaiming any deeper value it might have to others, I think her work is beautifully composed, beautifully colored and visually stimulating.

The one piece displayed here, 'Blue Color Poem 1 – Deep' is typical of the well composed pieces she shows. As all of the pieces on her web site, for the most impact, it deserves to be see in person for the greatest impact.


Review of an exhibit 'Artists' Choice' at The Meeting House Gallery, Oakland Mills Interfaith Center daily 8 AM to 9 PM through March 24th, 2014



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