Friday, June 12, 2009

Shutter To Think

Shutter To Think
By Tom Wachunas

Sturgeon’s Law was born in the 1950’s out of Theodore Sturgeon’s interestingly reasoned reaction to attacks on science fiction writing. His Law states, “Ninety percent of everything is crud.” Sturgeon further elaborated in his Corollary 1 that, “The existence of immense quantities of trash in science fiction is admitted and it is regrettable; but it is no more unnatural than the existence of trash anywhere.” Half a century later, it would seem the Law is holding up quite well.

The contemporary “arts and entertainment” milieu – a tangled alliance of traditional mass media inextricably entwined with the ubiquitous internet – now more than ever runs on run-on images. As “consumers” we are assaulted by a torrent of visual information, so much so that it has become alarmingly difficult to recognize images of any real quality, to embrace the “fine” in fine arts (sort of like not being able to see the trees for the forest). This of course presumes we even still value the capacity to recognize fine art when we see it. With so much to look at, the activity of concentrated seeing is itself becoming something of a lost art, and our ability to discern anything of esthetic value is effectively numbed if not sabotaged. That ten percent of treasure alluded to in Sturgeon’s Law is all but completely buried by our culture’s visual trash. And if we are numb to seeing, we become complacent in the presence of passion and beauty and relevance. The end result is we wallow in crud and apparently like it that way. “Whatever the market will bear…,” as the saying goes.

Ironically, it is photography we have to thank for this sensory overload and its consequences. I say “ironically” because the history of photography as art is the story of individuals who have risen above a merely technical ability to reproduce the obvious. It is the story of artists who have created visions that provoke us to see what is essentially important, compelling, excellent, or beautiful about our world. While pure photography as a fine art certainly continues to be practiced, it tends to be a form too easily taken for granted and under-appreciated when measured against the sheer volume of eye candy (more like eye-irritants, really) that clamors for our consumption.

And so it is that the new Joseph Saxton Gallery Of Photography (named for the American inventor who made the earliest surviving American daguerreotype) is much more than a stunning and welcome addition to the growing arts district in downtown Canton. Owner and photograph collector Tim Belden has generously – even courageously - created an enthralling and impeccably mounted history museum wherein we can savor original works by the artists who elevated what was once considered just a newfangled technical curiosity to the level of serious fine art. The current exhibit of more than 200 photographs is a comprehensive collection that includes not only the medium’s most illustrious masters from the past, but also an impressive selection of works by significant contemporary artists. In fact, Belden is a photographer himself. His color images here are fascinating still-lifes that magically blend a modern spirit with a sparkling patina of bygone days. They seem intensely intimate and personal, yet never arcane.

Here then is a delightfully bright and airy place to re-consider, re-assess, or perhaps discover for the first time the unique power of artful photography to capture and hold our attention to what may otherwise get tossed out with the trash. No crud here. Just the crème de la crème.

Photo: Interior of the Joseph Saxton Gallery Of Photography, 520 Cleveland Avenue NW, Canton, Ohio. Tim Belden, owner; Stephen McNulty, general manager.
Office: (330) 438-0030

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