The white tiles leading away from the back hallway of the Betteravia Government Building mimic the way colorful photos of Morro Bay are lined-up, hanging on the wall. The contrast is stark, and the blues, pinks, purples, and grays of David Passage’s twilight photos burst into the bland hallway.
On the opposite wall, about five feet farther down the hall is another lined-up set of photos: green with the life of lush grass and blue/gray with the decay of has-been roads. These are Eric B. Johnson’s view of a world where nature is reclaiming the man-made and old roads are bypassed by new roads.
“He looks at them as sort of archaeological places,” said Karen Gearhart-Jensen, co-curator of the Betteravia Gallery’s latest exhibit. “Different levels of how things are being reclaimed.”
The photography of Passage and Johnson live up to the exhibition’s name, Under the Influence: Responses to Place, an exhibit brought to you by the Santa Barbara County Arts Commission. Each artist’s set of photos needs to be seen as a whole, as something more than just photos of a place, but as something inspired by where they were and how they see the world.
Gearhart-Jensen, a studio artist in Los Alamos, and co-curator Kam Jacoby, who teaches photography and graphic design at Allan Hancock College, picked artists who are inspired by the Central Coast, who see it uniquely, much in the way they do.
“We so much love where we live, and it influences us and what we do,” Gearhart-Jensen said.
“There’s something, that we find those places interesting. … And we were looking for people who do the same,” Jacoby said.
Specifically, though, they were looking for sets of photos that provide viewers with a perspective they’ve never seen before. And they opted to keep each photographer’s work together, in order to get the artist’s point across.
For instance: Kate Connell’s images of the perimeters surrounding Vandenberg Air Force Base are abrupt—fences, barriers, and signs that divide public space from government space on beaches and off roadways—and shown from far away, from behind the wheel of a car, and up close.
Jacoby refers to Connell’s photos as “political” because they make a statement about what it feels like to live in an area influenced by military culture. It’s like you’re staring at something you ought not view, but can’t help yourself, because it’s hard not to wonder what’s going on beyond that forbidden line.
Directly across from Connell’s images in the Betteravia Gallery South hang two distinct photographs by Roe Ann White containing the soft pink and blue pastel shapes of eucalyptus bark. It’s almost abstract in comparison to Connell’s.
“Look across, these are very different views of where we live,” Jacoby said.
In the main room of the gallery, large windows and glass doors light photos of backcountry roads within the Hollister Ranch area shot by Kit Boise-Cossart.
“Aesthetically, he has a wonderful way of looking at the roads and capturing them,” Gearhart-Jensen said. “Simple, yet beautiful.”
“And they draw you in from a distance,” Jacoby added. “You never see the end or the beginning of the road.”
Hanging on a wall in the entrance to the government offices are photos of the Carrizo Plains and the San Andreas Fault snapped by Bill Dewey out the window of a small airplane. It takes a minute to realize what is composed within the photo closest to the doorway. It almost looks like the old silvery, soft bark of a dead tree, but it’s farmland cut by minute swaths of low-lying hills and residences.
And if you look at the rest of Dewey’s work that’s hanging in the gallery, you can connect them—even without the horizon-line to guide you, as that’s not something Dewey captured in these images.
Gearhart-Jensen said she thinks the exhibition’s images are compelling enough to give people pause.
“For the general public that’s coming in to do whatever,” Gearhart-Jensen said, “this show will hopefully spur someone to look at their place differently.”
Managing Editor Camillia Lanham is inspired when staff reporters meet their deadlines. Contact her at [email protected].