By Tom Wachunas
“The artist and the photographer seek the mysteries and adventure of experience in nature.” –Ansel Adams
“Art not only imitates nature, but also completes its deficiencies.” –Aristotle
“I am at two with nature.” –Woody Allen
EXHIBIT: Lux Botanica: The Photography of Doug McLarty, at the Canton Museum of Art, THROUGH JULY 21, 1001 Market Avenue North, Canton
Part whimsy, part high drama, the botanical imagery of photographer Doug McLarty is wholly enthralling. The wondrous theatricality of his configurations brings to mind this observation from Guillarme Apollinaire: “Without poets, without artists, men would soon weary of nature’s monotony.”
There’s certainly nothing monotonous about McLarty’s delightfully unique take on plants, flowers, seeds and the like. His compositions, set against solid black grounds, often appear to be intricately sculpted entities, exuding an otherworldly aura.
The heightened dimensionality and focus of detail, astonishingly crisp and vibrant hues, and sharp illumination of the forms are all the result of a working technique which the artist calls Scanography. His explanation of the technique is posted with the exhibit, described in part as a process “…of capturing digitized images of objects for the purpose of creating printable art using a flatbed “photo” scanner with a CCD (charge-coupled device) array-catching device.” Sheesh. Such technospeak is so far beyond my understanding that it might as well be alchemy.
And indeed, the net effect of McLarty’s wizardly method is nothing short of magical. Several of his images are mesmerizing in a way somewhat reminiscent of the playfully surreal works by Giuseppe Arcimboldo, the 16th century Italian painter who made portrait heads comprised of fruits, flowers and vegetables.
One resonant function of art derived from nature has been not so much to merely imitate it as much as shape and sharpen our attentions to its power of evocation, its power to make us sense things beyond the obvious, or monotonous. It’s not about improving on nature per se (a fool’s errand if ever there was one), but improving our ability to see in the fullest sense of the word. In McLarty’s photographs, marvelously presented forms seem to vibrate as if to music, or recite wordless poetry.
After seeing them, I’ve acquired a renewed, celebratory appreciation for the wild gathering of textures and myriad shapes that are currently dancing together in my vegetable garden.
PHOTOS (from top): Toucan Island; Scheherazade; Supremes