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Archive for Sunday, September 9, 2001

Photos capture color, light of Southwest

September 9, 2001

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There are places in the world where a person can be alone for a long time.

The desert is one of those places, and Lawrence photographer Rick Mitchell capitalized on the solitude of the landscapes of the Southwest to create a collection of photos that will be exhibited Friday at Southwest and More, 727 Mass., during the next First Friday Gallery Walk.

A majority of the black-and-white photos evolved from a 1993 trip to Joshua Tree National Park in California and a 1999 hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon in Arizona.

The photos capture the drama of the area's landscape, said Maria Martin, who owns the gallery with her husband, Don.

"If you've been to the Grand Canyon at sunrise, the colors are just spectacular as the sun hits the canyon and the light starts playing in-between all the rocks and the different levels," she said. "He captured that. You can actually feel the colors."

Mitchell was mesmerized by the quality of light in the canyon. He snapped dozens of frames of the canyon walls, the sun bouncing off one side while the other was bathed in shadow.

"This is just kind of the tip of the iceberg," Mitchell said. "There are hundreds of negatives that have never been printed."

The upcoming exhibit will include 20 photos. Mitchell plans to be at the gallery Friday night to talk to people about his work. He'll also distribute a booklet that contains a narrative about the photographs.

Ten years ago, Mitchell committed himself to taking at least one photograph and writing a journal entry each day.

His musings include "everything from recording specific details of places I am or things I'm doing to looking at something in the experience that sort of transcends the apparent meaning of the experience," he said.

The resulting photographs are about the images Mitchell sees, but they're also about the thought process linked to the moment.

"People will kind of supply their own meaning," Mitchell said. "There may be people who've stood in these exact places. These photos may be reminders of their own experiences."

Mitchell sort of backed into photography while he was in graduate school at Rutgers University in New Jersey. He was interested in performance art and took part in avant garde festivals in New York City.

"I needed some way to record what those performances were," he said. "I learned photography to do that."

He also began studying the history of photography. His collection of 20,000 glass negatives depicting rural life and agrarian science, which he accumulated between 1980 and 1990, became the inspiration to start an agricultural history museum at Rutgers, where he also was teaching photo courses. He finished his work at the museum in 1991 and left it behind to "start in again as an artist."

"I'd been a professor, a museum director and a consultant," he said. "I got a lot of stuff out of my system."

He moved to Lawrence in 1992, where he's now a full-time photographer when he's not busy with his duties as gallery director at the Lawrence Arts Center.

"It's sort of my business to do what I can to promote the health and well-being of all the art galleries in town," Mitchell said. "This has given me a chance to go back through old negatives. ... I've tried to enhance what Maria is doing here with her gallery."

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