Review- Naturevisions Traveling Exhibit at the Oakland Mills Interfaith Center
Review of a traveling exhibit by NatureVisions.org at The Meeting House Gallery, Oakland Mills Interfaith Center www.themeetinghousegallery.org daily 8 AM to 9 PM through May 24th, 2014
Being a nature photographer is a double-edged sword. Even though beautiful things swarm around us, virtually everything we can focus our lens on has already been photographed – and probably a million times and probably well. Pick the most arcane subject you can, do an image search and your senses will be flooded by the images that are returned. So what is a photographer to do?
Last month I had the pleasant and enlightening experience of seeing a movie about Joel Sartore, a National Geographic photographer. His pictures were not only just good, they were always great with that extra undefinable something that makes them remain in memory. Not just documents, somehow the pictures encapsulated the essence of the subject and the moment.
So what does the average amateur photographer do to compete with these spectacular – and ubiquitous – images. Well, they work at it, hoping, with creative ideas, skill or even just chance, to catch that lightning in a bottle, that wonderful memorable shot.
I went to see the traveling exhibit of NatureVisions, which seems to be the working web-name of the the Mid-Atlantic Photography Association (MAPA), a coalition of volunteers from seven Maryland and Northern Virginia Camera Clubs.
Their mission is:
To promote and advance the appreciation of photography in the Mid-Atlantic region and elsewhere, encourage the participation in photography by individuals with all levels of experience and all areas of photographic experience and all areas of photographic interest, and increase the appreciation of photographic art within our community.
The organization has a big yearly event, the Nature Visions Photo Expo and that will be November 14-16, 2014 at Hylton Performing Arts Center, Manassas, Virginia.
This traveling exhibit is made up of the very best of the nearly 800 images entered in the expo by the members of the seven camera clubs that contribute to the event.
And they were pretty damn nice.
Of course, as one would expect, most were technically well done, well focused, usually well-printed and even often well composed. Some of them were, in my opinion, equal quality to those seen in National Geographic. There are the inevitable things-I've-seen-before-by-different-people and I-was-there-with-a-good-lens-and-took-this-unexceptional-picture but this is the problem with nature pictures, everybody is out there shooting. In toto, the show is good and well worth the trip over to Oakland Mills.
I usually try to fix on a single picture as emblematic of the style of the show but the variety here is so wide here that I just chose, instead, the
What struck me about this picture, beyond the to-be-expected technical excellence in the Naturevisions shows, is the interesting composition.
Rather than being plumb centered, as so many, too many of these kinds of shots are, or particularly large in the frame, the bird is on a third, both framed and balanced by the bare branches of the bush and by little clumps of snow.
The bird itself is almost consciously posed with its head at angles to its body and that small, brilliant red beak the only spot of vivid color in the scene.
The bird's head is turned, introducing a real tension to the picture; the viewer senses that this is a fleeting instant, perfectly captured, and so the picture has a life and immediacy that most nature shots do not.
Even though I am typically immune to the glories of nature photography this particular shot really appeals to me.
If I had the talent and the patience to shoot birds in nature, this is what I would hope to achieve.
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Where the show does fall short is actually not the fault of the judges or the individual artists but of a series of small things that cascaded into a poor – or at least less than optimal to me – result.
It is my opinion that the image is everything, it is the window through which the viewer should see into the photographer's reality. Anything that diverts the viewer from that reality should be minimized.
To that end, I always crop my own pictures close to the standard aspect ratios so that viewers aren't distracted by the shape of the picture, I use a standard frame in the same standard size (16 x 20) and a standard subdued color mat. (If you don't think that people are influenced by shape of the image, thank for a moment about the impact of a panorama. Or a circular crop)
Naturevisions must seem to think the same way, at least partly; all their pictures seem to be matted and framed to a standard color and frame contour. However, different sizes and aspect ratios seem to be OK- and this has contributed to a weaknesses in this show, as I see it.
The Meeting House Gallery http://www.themeetinghouse.org/#!__gallery has two purposes.
“The goal of the gallery is to provide a venue for local artists to exhibit and sell their works and to beautify our building.”
Unfortunately this last goal is where this show comes a cropper.
The gallery space is large, mostly rectangular with different color walls and is broken up by doors and entryways to other rooms. There is a large skylight over one section of the room but the rest of the room is irregularly lit with ceiling lights.
There is one wall that is reasonably well lit for evening viewing and painted off-white. Unfortunately, when the sky is bright that wall gets lots of scattered light from the skylight that reflects off any glass in the frames and I had to bob and weave to actually see all parts of the images hung there. (This picture is purposefully left dull to show how it looked on a deeply overcast day)
To 'beautify' the room, images are mounted on each available space; there are several that are isolated by themselves and rather dimly lit. Two are placed, one on on either side of a large fireplace and, with the light from the skylights, are almost un-viewable. (I went back three times at different times of the day to see if they were ever viewable, but not so.)
Because the frames are different sizes and the supporting wires keep them at different angles, a row of pictures on a brick wall looks disheveled and certainly not at their best.
People who are photographers know that the impact of an image depends a lot of the relationship of actual subject size to empty or supporting space. Too little space and the subject feels constricted and the setting is lost; too much space and the tension of the image drains away. And that is what happens here in this show, lovely pictures spaced too far apart, rather disheveled in their order and too much of their impact gone.
These pictures, placed closer together in two rows on the best white wall, would have presented an incredible, enjoyable mass of color and detail. As they are, their impact is badly diluted.
These fine pictures deserve better. But see them and look closely and enjoy how good they are.
Keywords: Oakland Mills Interfaith Center, art, composition, criticism, naturevisions, photography, review
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