Art view        Paulette Thenhaus


New Year views


While Ansel Adams’ exhibit is up in Peoria’s Lakeview Museum till March of 2007, Galesburg has its own share of master photographers on display. I haven’t seen the Adams exhibit but I am familiar with his Zone System techniques and his full body of work. During one semester at the San Francisco Art Institute, I struggled with a 4” x 5” format view camera under the tutelage of Ansel Adam’s trusted assistant, Perkle Jones. I even met Adams and have a small quickly done sketch of him somewhere. So I know some photography jargon, and some attitudes about photography still float in my brain and direct my eye. When I see photographs anywhere and by anyone, Ansel Adams comes to mind. Isn’t he the 20th century Picasso of the camera world? Hard to “dodge” his influence. You’re either “in the tradition of” or rebellious against his ideas ... or so it seems to me.

Anyway, the black and white photographs of John Vellenga in Chez Willy’s and Tim Schroll at Kaldi’s show a command of technique and expression which are masterful. Like Adams they wait for just the right moment in nature to capture light, atmosphere and character and mood. It’s obvious that both research their subjects extensively before loading film into the camera. And only then spend long hours in the darkroom producing museum quality prints — in sizes and formats Adams never dreamed of.

John Vellenga began his “Midwest Images: The Land and It’s People” some years back and is faithfully pursuing it by adding a few new images for public view each year. He travels the highways of the Midwest recording factories, bridges, stone quarries, as well as vanishing downtowns. Often his view is panoramic and his format is long and narrow. Immense structures are cradled directly in the center of sky and land. “Power Plant at Rock Island,” shot from miles away, resembles the Roman aquaducts at first glance. While his landscapes are taken from a distance, his portraits are up-close and personal. In a “Love and Happiness” series, a young woman musician with a romantic gaze rests one arm lovingly over her harp. It’s sentiment rings just as true as do the photographs of traditional couples.

Tim Schroll’s large 20” x 24” prints are, in a sense, more romantic than Vellenga’s, even though they are, for the most part, nature shots. There is a solitary, nostalgic mood created, whether it be in the image of a boat bow, “Pleon,” or a close-up of an ordinary milkweed plant surrounded by pure blackness.

 “Guffy’s” is an image of a still open Amoco gas station, taken under the cover of darkness. It could be Anywhere USA, Any date USA, from 1950 through 2006. Night adds to the timeless quality. The simple “filling station” harkens back to the time one only needed a tank of gas and maybe a cold soda. That was in ancient times before lottery tickets and beer sales — and endless lines to check out. Back when a real mechanic pumped the gas for you. This photograph captures “it.” That indefinable thing a photo needs to reveal our place within the larger picture of time. It does more than just stop time with the click of a shutter.

The foolishness of competition/exhibitions which limit work entered to only that created in the last two years — “recent work” — comes to mind when seeing the focus of these two dedicated and mature artists. Both must know it takes a lifetime to produce one body of significant lasting art, and both are on their way to doing so.

Both photographers have their work on view till the end of January.