Photography exhibit depicts common Columbus in uncommon ways

mrice@ledger-enquirer.comApril 20, 2014 

Taking the time to notice the usual in unusual ways can produce a powerful impact.

Such focused intention is on display in Richard Dennard's photography exhibit at the Columbus State University Rankin Arts Center.

"Columbus … A Personal Look at a Familiar Place" is a collection of 42 photos Dennard has created during the past 10 years. The images include some of the most viewed sights around town, and others depict spots residents frequent but are too busy to appreciate. Combined, they celebrate Dennard's patience and craftsmanship to capture the scenes he sought.

'That sky!'

During a group's visit to his exhibition last week, a woman from Spring Harbor pointed to the photo titled "Old Mill Town." It comprises colorful shotgun houses along Second Avenue in Bibb City. She got Dennard's attention and gushed, "That sky! It has to be the most wonderful sky I've ever seen! How in the world did you catch that?"

"It's time of day, for one thing," Dennard replied. "The sun's going down, so the sun's back-lighting the clouds, and that's why we get the detail of the clouds."

Dennard further explained the story behind the photo, which he scouted for several years.

"Each time I have stopped by there, the light was not right, the sky was not right, there were too many cars parked in front of the houses and many other things that just did not work for the photo," he said. "Then one afternoon while I was out shooting some other subjects, I stopped by to check, and there was the sky."

And only one car parked in front.

"There were enough clouds that provided the light bouncing off of them to light up the front of the houses for it to work," he said. "I have ridden past there many times since then, and there has just not been the shot."

Dennard's perseverance also paid off in "Morning Fog." The photo shows a couple in a distant mist and walking north on the Chattahoochee RiverWalk, between the Eagle & Phenix loft apartments and the former mill's power house, with foliage in the foreground.

"Technically, it was not a difficult image," he said. "But the actual subject, weather conditions, season of the tree and the overall combination of it all required me to attempt this shot over the last three years many, many times. The fog wasn't there, the tree was not right, the light was not right, there was no one down there, etc., etc., etc."

Finally, one day this spring, the elements came together.

At first, the fog and the light were right, but there weren't any people around. He left to shoot photos elsewhere, then returned later in the morning.

The fog still was cooperating, but there still were no passers-by. Fifteen minutes later, he noticed a couple on the rocks below the Eagle & Phenix. Now, all he needed was for them to walk in the right direction.

Another 15 minutes later, they did indeed. He was able to snap one shot before they changed their minds and direction.

"One shot, that's all I got," he said. "Turned out, that was all I needed."

Dennard's favorite photo in the exhibit, "Door 1," has nothing to do with timing and everything to do with observing.

An abandoned warehouse, since torn down, near the Liberty Theatre might not prompt a second look from most folks, but it sure sparked Dennard's imagination.

On the brick wall and next to a wooden entrance, "Door 1" is painted in white.

"Just looking at it tells me a story," he said, "a story of someone having to continually explain to people which door is No. 1, so he picks up a can of spray paint and labels the door.

"I like the simplicity of the image, the graphic nature and, most of all, the color combinations."

Photo journey

Dennard, 61, used that talent in 1969-70 to get through his tour of duty with the U.S. Marine Corps during the Vietnam War. Photography was one of his military occupation specialties, along with avionics, electronics and fire-control radar. After graduating from Jeff Davis High School in Hazelhurst, Ga., in 1967, he was 17 and the youngest Marine in his boot camp platoon at Parris Island, S.C.

He returned from Vietnam as a sergeant and married Anne but couldn't find a job. So he went to the University of Georgia, where he taught photography while earning his bachelor's degree in public relations/advertising in 1974.

His working career started with jobs at Amoco Fabrics and owning a photography studio in Bainbridge, Ga. Then he worked for 20 years at Garrett-Lane Color Labs in Columbus, rising to national sales manager. In 2004, with digital technology taking over the photography world, Dennard looked for a field with a more secure future. He became operations manager at Knology, where he worked for eight years before being laid off in 2012. Now, he is a business analyst for TSYS.

But through all the career changes, he always has had his photography.

"I thoroughly enjoy it more now because I'm able to do the things I like to do," he said. "In business photography, you develop a system and you repeat it over and over and over again, and it gets really dreary after a while.

"Before I left Garrett-Lane, the last full year, I shot 47 weddings that year, and there's only 52 weekends in a year."

Asked whether he still photographs weddings, Dennard shook his head, smiled and said, "You always got an aunt who wants to tell you how to do things."

So to keep his trigger finger in shape, he teaches photography in CSU's Continuing Education Division.

"It really has made my photography interesting again and fun, because I get to see these new people who are just enamored with this equipment," he said. "At the same time, they teach me a lot, too.

"I say it's like reading the Bible. If you read the Bible by yourself, that's one thing. But if you read the Bible with a group, you'd be surprised at how many different ways people read it. It's the same thing with photography. If you go out and shoot pictures with a group, you'll be amazed at the different vision everybody has."

Dennard's vision in this exhibit amazes Kenny Gray, the Rankin's photography director.

"I think the job of photographers and all visual artists is to see an environment, in this case Columbus, through an artist's eyes and then show viewers a different way of perceiving the environment," Gray said. "These are really common places shown in an uncommon way. There's nothing esoteric, just beautifully conceived and executed photographs."

Mark Rice, 706-576-6272. Follow Mark on Twitter "Columbus … A Personal Look at a Familiar Place," photographs by Richard Dennard.

Where: Rankin Arts Center, 1004 Broadway, second floor.

When: Continuing through the end of April. Open 3:30 to 8 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays and 9 a.m. to noon Saturdays.

Admission: Free.

Information: 706-888-1109.

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