Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Framing Evanescence

Framing Evanescence

By Tom Wachunas

Sometimes the ineffable power of great art can be defined in terms of its capacity to transcend real time and space- to in effect transport us into wholly ( or holy?) new relationships with the world we only thought we knew. With varying degrees of success, many artists aspire to create such experiences, through images, not only for themselves, but also for us, their viewers. Images that stop us in our tracks, make our hearts skip a beat, and otherwise elicit that unmistakable, tingling sensation of unfettered awe at what we are seeing. That is precisely what I experienced in viewing the recent show of photographs by conservation photographer Stephen McNulty – his first one-man exhibition - titled “Austral Radiance,” at the Joseph Saxton Gallery of Photography.

Recently I was fortunate to work with McNulty (who is curator at the Saxton Gallery) in jurying student entries for this year’s Northeast Central Ohio Scholastic Art Exhibition, hosted by Kent State University Stark campus. As we looked at hundreds of student photographs, I came to a deeper appreciation of what goes into making a successful fine art photograph –finding that delicate and often daunting balance between choosing appropriate technical procedures, waiting for just the right moment, and making purely esthetic compositional decisions. McNulty is a highly sensitive and disciplined observer when it comes to these aspects. And as a practitioner of the form, abundantly evidenced here by a spectacular collection of images from his recent travels to New Zealand, he walks it like he talks it.

All of his photographs clearly demonstrate a master’s touch when it comes to effective pictorial structure, mesmerizing textures, and sparkling, rich color. Even the show’s sole black-and-white work (the title piece of the exhibit) is nonetheless luscious in its sepia tones, lending this mountain scene a gentle patina of antiquity. In the lower portion of the image, the blurred forms of water rushing over rocks are an elegant echo of the billowing clouds high above. Sheer visual poetry.

Another stunning example of McNulty’s compositional prowess is “A Gannet Sunset.” Here, we see from above the native waterfowl population settling in for the night atop the strikingly geometric forms of peninsular cliffs protruding into the ocean. And for savoring Nature’s ability to delight us with unexpected dramas of color, there’s “Millford Falls, 2009.” The foreground is an impossibly electric green field of algae seen at low tide, collapsed into curvy, wave-like clumps. In the middle distance, like a dancing exclamatory spectre, is the waterfall.

To so skillfully record scenes this transcendent, this astonishingly ethereal, is in itself an uplifting act in a world dangerously close to abandoning such beauty to “progress” and “development.” Surely it behooves us, when viewing these images, to think seriously about McNulty’s wish for us, stated in his bio, “to emote and to be inspired to do something, no matter how small.”

For small starters, then, we should be joyously grateful that an artist as eminently gifted and conscientious as McNulty is active in this community, showing the fruits of his passionate labors in Canton’s most beautiful gallery.

Photo: “Milford Falls, 2009” courtesy Stephen McNulty. From his exhibit “Austral Radiance” on view at the Joseph Saxton Gallery of Photography through January 22.
520 Cleveland Avenue NW, Canton. Gallery hours: Noon – 5p.m., Wednesday - Saturday
Work is available for purchase, consignment, and exhibition.
Gallery Info and Contact: (330) 438-0030
Also, McNulty Imaging Limited, (330) 705 - 8659

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