Friday, November 30, 2012

A Sojourn Most Sublime

A Sojourn Most Sublime

By Tom Wachunas

    “The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera.” – Dorothea Lange –

    “A photograph is usually looked at – seldom looked into.” – Ansel Adams –

    Exhibit: Panasia – Photographs by Stephen McNulty / Cyrus Gallery, 2645 Cleveland Ave. NW, Canton, Ohio (330)452-9787 /    

    Two of the above links are to past commentaries about the work of photographer Stephen McNulty. I’ve provided them for those as yet unfamiliar with his art, as well as to remind the already initiated that I was passionately supportive of his vision and skills. And now, after seeing his current show at Cyrus (which will likely remain on view for a few more weeks), I’m happy to report that my passion remains not only undiminished, but greatly augmented.

    I know I’ve mentioned this in the past, but I think it bears repeating here. I’m still profoundly astonished by those who consider photography as somehow a lesser or “easy” form of artistic expression (and there are those unfortunates still among us) when compared to, say, masterful painting of the Representational sort. It seems to me that such an assessment may in large part be fueled by the ubiquitous presence of photography in our culture – the staggering volume of photographic imagery that assaults us daily. From that perspective, we can understandably become jaded and complacent, filtering out everything from our attention but  what we actually choose to really see and discern as aesthetically interesting, of a relevant documentary nature, or both.  And even then, as Sturgeon’s Amended Law once stipulated, 90% of everything is crap.

    More to the point, I have no doubt that the aesthetic character of McNulty’s imagery is quite simply unassailable. The sheer scope and caliber of his art can in large part be fairly placed alongside that of the most distinguished practitioners of the form both past and present.

    Like any master painter of visible realities, McNulty possesses an unerring and disciplined eye for elegant formal composition, an uncanny color sensibility, and an inspired appreciation of varying textures and atmosphere. He doesn’t merely “take pictures” but instead seems to discover and embrace them, intuitively recognizing how and when to best frame the elements of a thoroughly compelling pictorial experience for the viewer. And he does so without ever making his photographs come off as contrived or artificial.

    This collection is a wondrous record of McNulty’s four-month journey in 2011 to far-flung locales that include Malaysian Borneo and Brunei, Thailand and Cambodia, and Polynesia. Subject matters are richly varied – portraits, landscapes, interiors, architectural settings. All are imbued with a deep and ineffable sense of history and soul. Even his smaller, black and white portraits manage to exude a kind of lyrical warmth and serene timelessness.

    Each photograph is accompanied by a narrative – brief but eloquent, and just revelatory enough as to what makes McNulty so responsive to his subjects. He’s surely a Romantic and an impassioned preservationist at heart. While his photographs are potent translations of his awe and reverence for what he encountered, I dare say they inspire the same in us. Breathtaking and breath giving.

    PHOTOS: (from top) Girl at Chinese Festival / Boy and Ruins / Bamboo Ascending


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