Photography is an art like any other medium. Instead of pencils, brushes, paint and ink, a camera captures light to create an image. The advent of the digital camera has simplified picture taking. How many times have you seen a small child with a digital camera taking pictures of family friends? Cameras offer us another way to see the outside world.
I am often amazed by people who cannot take a good picture. It boggles my mind, but my dad was a photographer so I guess it comes naturally to me.
How hard is it to capture something that pleases the eye?
In art school, I was often perturbed by classmates in my foundations class. The would-be photography majors complained that taking basic drawing lessons were unnecessary for them.
"I'm taking pictures with a camera! Why do I have to do this?"
It was unfortunate that some of these students never made it past first year. However, I am slow to shed a tear for them. Even if you are just "taking pictures with a camera," you have to be knowledgeable about basic art-making concepts.
Composition, balance, symmetry and contrast, among other things, are the skeletal bones behind a work of art. In order to take a good picture, you must have a good eye, an eye that really sees the outside world.
This may sound obvious, but how many of us really observe the world around us?
Photographer Don Thompson has found vast inspiration right here in Tulsa. Thompson's latest show, "And My Spirit Said, Yes!" is an exhibit of photographic art. A Tulsa resident for more than 40 years, Thompson is originally from Los Angeles. He moved here at 16 and has been here ever since.
"The variety of architecture, the colors and the art-deco influence in Tulsa's skyline are tremendous," Thompson said.
He said that visitors from out of town are usually impressed by what Tulsa has to offer, architecturally speaking.
But he has noticed that Tulsans just kind of see it and take it for granted.
"Tulsa should be proud of its city. If you would just stop and look around, you would see the richness of this place. There is a very dominant art-deco style here that I love," he said.
Thompson intends to highlight Tulsa's artistic assets through his show. A black and white image, "Tulsa MTTA," features the loading awning of the Metro Transit station downtown. Above it rise four of our taller skyscrapers. Thompson's exploitation of two-point perspective gives the viewer an eerie sense of movement. I don't know quite how else to describe it, but diagonal lines are the lines of movement, and the awning of the transit station leads the eye along the image. It's a bit unsettling, but perspective can do that.
Other images of the city feature well-known sites like Cain's Ballroom, the Philtower building and Philbrook Museum of Art.
These images are Polaroid manipulations. I asked Thompson what exactly that meant, and he explained that he learned the technique from another artist after viewing an art show in OKC.
He uses a Polaroid SX70 to take the pictures. Once the Polaroid photo begins to appear, Thompson uses a special tool to play around with the developing image.
"The surface of the Polaroid, the emulsion, is soft and pliable, and I am able to create a more expressive, impressionistic image. To me, it takes the art of photography and makes it like painting. I then take the image and have it enlarged," said Thompson.
The Polaroid manipulation images are quite creative. When first viewing the show, I could not quite figure out how Thompson achieved the effect. They are executed in a painterly style, which takes the image away from its photographic context to create a new form.
Thompson also offers black and white silver gelatin images for consumption. Some of these photos, he said, hearken back to earlier times in Tulsa.
"Some of these black and white images are from 35 years ago, after I finished high school and college here. I was fascinated by the story of the Greenwood District, formerly known as 'Black Wall Street,'" he explained. "I wanted to document the evolution of the Greenwood district. What it was and what it became is interesting to me. This is another Tulsa story to be told."
I was taken aback by the image "Life Goes On." Two young black boys sit on the steps of a vacant, overgrown lot. This site was probably a house or store during Greenwood's heyday. The boys look at the camera. They are surrounded by overgrown grasses and large, beautiful trees in the background. To me, this picture is a reminder of what was, and what is. A document of evolution.
"Skiatook Road" is another image that stuck with me. It is a strong composition, with about three quarters of land on bottom and a quarter of sky on top. With this image, Thompson places you, the viewer, on a road that winds off to the right in the distance. The heavy silver lines of the guard rails lead the eye deep into the image and further down the road. It is also nice that the tree-lined hill above the road in the background dips down toward the right, adding more inclination for the eye to follow this winding road around the bend.
Thompson also has a few portraits on display. Images like "Captain Wilson 'Buffalo Soldier,'" "Sonya," and "Kenny" captivate the viewer's attention in order to make a spiritual connection.
Thompson said, "Art is an expression of inner soul, or spirit. My spirit guides me to what I should capture with my camera. If I feel a need to satisfy that, then I do, and it works out. I hope that the audience feels the same feeling, the connection, that led me to take the picture in the first place."
Thompson's "Sonya" is an image that intrigues. A woman is shown from the chest, up. Strong light and dark values work together to shadow and illuminate different parts of the picture. What is most highlighted, though, is the face of the subject. "Sonya," a woman of exotic heritage, looks out at the viewer with large, dark, almond-shaped eyes.
The eyes of "Sonya" smolder inside you like a black flame. It is as if she has made her soul visible, vulnerable for the world to see.
"Her eyes were incredibly expressive, and I hope to have captured that in the image," said Thompson.
Thompson's photographic art will be on display at the Tulsa Performing Arts Center Gallery through February 24. You can catch it Monday through Friday from 10am to 5:30pm, or during Chapman Music Hall events. Visit www.donthompsonimages.com for more images and information.
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