Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Photography at Flanders Gallery

The corks popped, the champagne flowed, and the crowds gathered. Folks wandered around looking at the images; the room filled with energy. Ashley Christensen, Raleigh's best chef, turned out the appetizers. As Burk Uzzle said to me as he looked around the crowded space at the Flanders Gallery, its like the larger world of fine art photography had suddenly showed up in Raleigh, NC.

Here was fine work by nationally known photographers  -- like Carrie Levy, Anthony Goicolea, Shen Wei, and Kerry Skarbakka (image above) -- along with a number of locally-based photographers like Burk himself, as well as Pamela Pecchio, Jeff Whetstone, and Taj Forer. Here's one of Pamela's images from this show.

Burk Uzzle is represented in this show by three large -- and fine -- images, including this one, of a Southern barn, turned by Burk's eye into an image evoking comparison with a sculpture, or a Franz Kline painting.

The work in this show is a reminder that to a great extent the fine art world is of a mind, or of a piece, at present about what constitutes a photograph that is also fine art. The work of Southern photographers fits comfortably on the walls of Flanders Gallery alongside the work of photographers from across the country. Ironies abound. New York-based and midwestern-trained photographer Brian Ulrich shows here an image he made of Raleigh's Rialto Theater.

The mind, or the taste, at work here is that of Allen Thomas, an art collector from Wilson, NC, who served as the curator of this show at the Flanders Gallery.  Thomas for the past fifteen years has been assembling a major personal collection of contemporary fine art photographs, some of which have been shown in various venues over the years, including Barton College and the Arts Council of Wilson, NC, the Taubman Museum of Art in Roanoke, VA, the Mint Museum of Art in Charlotte, NC, and the NC Museum of Art here in Raleigh.

For those of us who have been struggling for years to develop a community for photography in this small part of the South, this show is not an unmixed blessing. It is a great treat, a real gift to photographers in the area, to have work we know otherwise from trips to Atlanta, Washington, and New York now hanging in a gallery near us. I'm deeply grateful to Allen Thomas for his energy and insight and commitment to fine art photography and his initiative in bringing this level of work to Raleigh and the Research Triangle. 

On the other hand, this is a city where the only gallery devoted to fine art photography just closed. It is a city in which photography is traditionally a hard sell in the area's other galleries. Most of us in the area who make fine art photographs often find more recognition for our work outside the area than we do closer to home.

Certainly the local media have done nothing to bring attention to this show -- in spite of all the local connections, our city's newspaper this week in its art section said nothing about this show, featuring instead a story they downloaded from a news service about an exhibit of paintings from the Vatican that isn't even going to come anywhere near Raleigh.

On the other hand, folks seemed to be enjoying themselves at the Opening Friday night. As the evening went along, red dots were beginning to make their appearance under some of the images. There is hope, although only time will tell whether this show is the sign of a new stage in the development of an audience for this kind of work in the area, or yet another one-time event.

I plan to enjoy this show as long as its here -- it's up through the beginning of next year, and Flanders Gallery is open at 302 S. West Street from 11-6 Wednesdays through Saturdays -- and hope for better things in the year ahead.

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