Saturday, January 16, 2010

Joseph Saxton Gallery of Photography

When I first walked in to the Saxton Gallery, I thought “this is Canton?” What a wonderful space! Stephen McNulty greeted me with an introductory overview as to how to best view the exhibition along with an orientation to the space itself. To me, the best way to see a show is when a gallery is empty of other patrons. Photographs such as those displayed here can be moving as well as educational. Stephen told me to allow an hour….my first reaction was that I don’t have an hour, but he was right, and I ended taking even longer than that. Good thing the meters aren’t checked on Saturdays.

There are things to be learned here, beyond about photography itself. For younger people (those 15 to 25 I suppose) is to see what can be done with images not enhanced via photo-shop or other digital manipulation. Photographers used to capture moments in time, not set up situations then alter them. The look of anguish in Jackie Kennedy’s eyes cannot be created. It was a real event at the second a finger pressed the shutter button. The black and whites of long ago days were hazier, more subtle, more atmospheric. Newer images are higher in contrast, sharper, and more focused in on something. Older photos seem more open in space and to other people being part of the scene. I digress for one moment, but have you ever wondered how many vacation photos you are in that were taken by other people? Sitting pool side while someone takes shot after shot of junior jumping off the edge and there you are, fat and happy on the lounge chair for all their relatives to see for the rest of their scrapbooking lives. Kinda creepy isn’t it! Okay, back to the gallery…. Many images have people in the “background” whose expressions and movements are all part of the captured moment. Did they know it?

I like to look into the eyes of the people in the photos, especially if they are looking back at the camera. Of course most, if not all of the subjects, are dead now and so I wonder who they were. Who loved them? What were they doing that day? Did they talk to the person taking the photo? Does your soul know that your earthly image is hanging in a gallery in Ohio? Along with some very famous images, are ones of just people or places or moments with no reference to whom, when or where the shot was taken. What a great starting point for a conversation with a child. I could go on and on about this image or that picture, but you would be best to spend an hour (or more) there yourself.

The back gallery space has a special exhibition by Stephen (officially the Gallery Manager) from his recent trip to New Zealand. I probably should call him Mr. McNulty as a show of respect in reviewing him as the artist, but sorry kid. I am twice your age and could be your mother, so you get the first name treatment. We are a blessed town to have such a talent living and working here. It is bit hard to get him to admit he is a locally grown commodity, but though roots may extend rather far, they start someplace and still hold firm. The specifics of his work have been reviewed by others already and I am in full agreement with them so no sense hearing it from me again. My enjoyment came from viewing the images as an active participant in the process. By that I mean asking myself such questions as to “where was he standing to take that?”, “is that the path way leading in or out?”, and “how many frames were shot to get that bird to look right at you?”, same principle as viewing photos of people, only the image gets the mental questions this time. The labels with their short story and small reference photo were most helpful and greatly appreciated. It makes the image more relevant to the viewer on a personal level with a bit of insight as to how he got (or did not get) that particular shot. You can see the gleam in his eye when he talks about the experience of a photo shoot and feel his enthusiasm about the gallery and its mission. I think his nest will be here, but his heart and his wings will take him away on a regular basis, and best it should. His eye for images would be wasted here in the grey Midwestern skies.

I was also given a private tour of the upstairs renovations going on under the supervision of Tim Belden. As a lover of all things old and with a deep appreciation for the past, this walk through was a treat for me as the work of artisans is as important as the work of artists. Such pride went into the carving of a newel post and the welding of an elaborate light fixture. The key to making these items live again is to combine them with modern amenities. What is happening over the Saxton Gallery is just as exciting as what is in it on the main floor. Pride just seems to ooze out of this space every where you look. Good for them…but more importantly, good for us. This is a true gem in our little corner of the county, if not in the country.

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