Photo show seeks to see ordinary in new ways

By Daniel Silliman


The photo in the doorway to the gallery is gray, with a dog at the steering wheel of a parked truck, and a meter planted in the curb. The title says "No Parking."

The next photo, at the entrance to the main gallery at Arts Clayton's 5th Annual Juried Photograph Competition, is a field of American flags. Shot from above to include a road of passing people, the photo isn't sappy, or strongly melodramatic in its depiction of a Sept. 11 memorial, but more ambiguous, capturing colors, lines and a certain sense of shagginess.

There are 83 more photos in the gallery of the show that opened Thursday night.

All of them were judged on technical merit in composition and color, focus and framing, lighting and the intricacies of photography. They were selected from a field of almost 180 photographs, according to Gallery Manager Karen Powers.

They represent the work of artistic photographers from around the Southern Crescent.

"This really is the strongest show of photographs we've ever had in the five years we've had a juried photography show," Powers said. "The judges were looking for something different, and by different, I don't mean really abstract and out there ... The photographs showed us the ordinary in a new and extraordinary way."

Though there is some overrepresentation of the sorts of things artistic photographers take photos of -- like dogs, boats, flowers and foreign children -- the show should be noted for the photographs which freeze the viewer.

An example is Lynn McMeans' "Southern Magnolia." Among a set of larger-than-life flowers, the plucked symbol of the South has a painterly quality. With an attention to texture and a love of soft light, the photographer has invoked a style suited to the 16th Century Flemish masters.

Other photographers seized attention with the use of color. Ellen Tew's "Laughing Boxes" were arresting, with a combination of peeling aqua green and a galvanized blue. Cathy Gore's "Port of San Juan" showed the contrast between a blank-slate sky, a wave-filled sea, and the many vibrantly colored houses clashing together.

Jason Morrison took the People's Choice award with the eerie purple sky and sun-lit oak tree of "Southern Exposure."

The best photographs in the show took this level of intense attention and heightened it. These pictures were almost abstract, pushing a new vision of the ordinary until the known was almost, but not quite, unrecognizable. Daniel Piar, who won Best In Show, and Paul Conlan, who won first place, proved they are devotees of the art.

Conlan captured a line of red vinyl stools at a red counter, a composition turning some Art Deco décor into a timeless study of a single strong color and a collection of shapes.

Daniel Piar focused on a barn, with black-and-white studies of a joint in a beam and a leaning ladder.

Piar's pictures use the full range of light, from black to white, and his camera captures and emphasizes previously unnoticed details: The textures of unfinished wood, the gap around a nail, the way the lines of a ladder crosses the fall of shadow.

"This," the judges wrote, "is what a photograph should be ... "It's a solid, well thought out, perfectly executed image ideally presented."

It's a sentiment the Arts Clayton staff would like to expand to encompass the entire show.

Linda Summerlin, the executive director, said the whole show was "amazing" and Powers said the judges liked the photography so much they wanted to give out 85 honorable mentions.

"That was really exciting for us," Powers said, "to have these experts from Atlanta come down and be very excited about what our artists are doing."