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Review: U City Library offers images as transporting as literature, as elusive as poetry

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Jan. 8, 2013 - The combination show featuring three local photographers and a watercolorist now at the University City Library is titled, Solitude. This title works. No humans (or animals) are depicted in the exhibition. And, therefore, the viewer is, like someone alone on a hike in a forest or meadow, provided a sense of solitude.

Other titles that could have worked might be: Bilbo Baggins’ Vacation Spots or America: Wild and Wonderful or (taken from a quote in photographer Valerie Snyder’s artist biography) The World, A Seductive Place. Solitude sounds a bit sad, and this exhibit is definitely not sad.

Valerie Snyder’s digital photographs are manipulated to create visions you might have once or twice in a lifetime, when spring brings the richest colors to leaf and branch and only at dawn or dusk when the light is just right and everything looks tingly. Her Redwood Path draws the viewer inward through vibrantly colored woods. The clover and ferns are greener than green. The red earth looks warm.

Snyder heightens the colors so much within her Cypress Reflection that the water is illuminated in layers. Thin veils of color exist even in the atmosphere. Her camera captures violet hues in local Table Rock Lake and in spring flowers. Her lupines appear painted. Stillness would make a great setting for a beautiful film. A majestic moss covered rock rises out of silvery water as mist surrounds and makes mystery. It is a portrait of a rock, if that rock were a movie star.

Dan Esarey’s photographs also seem inspired by the movies. His scenes are from Westerns. His Church of San José de Gracia presents adobe from an ominous angle that makes the viewer hear a lonely wind and the clap of horses’ hooves on sand and stone.

Esarey was director of operations at St. Louis Art Museum for 30 years before he retired to devote himself to photography. He uses a Silver Halide printing process, providing his prints with a high luster that looks metallic.

In Esarey’s Rosario Strait, a tree limb stands before expansive water and a distant mountain range, bringing to mind classical Japanese painting. Esarey is the only artist in the grouping to show signs of humanity in his work. Many of his photographs bring us an old Wild West like Timothy O’Sullivan saw it, but somehow still here. The subject for his El Paso County Colorado Tool Shed is a real find. The rough wood house looks to be a century old, at least. There’s an old horse-drawn wagon under the lean-to porch, with one wall serving as a place to hang strange, out-dated metal tools (as promised by the title), none of which is easily identifiable as something you’d find in your garage.

Jennifer Meahan’s photographs make nature’s smallest features huge. A twig as subject brings our focus close in her Meditation Series. Blades of grass have zen-like qualities when made big, like trees. Meahan’s natural world is redrawn in new proportions so that the vision offered is that of an inch high being looking up at the bright sky through tufts of wheat. This is the world an ant knows.

Ella Brown’s watercolor paintings are interspersed throughout the gallery space, further blurring the distinction between photographed reality and painted landscape. Brown’s light touch makes nature modest against the work of her companions. She does not work in extremes, but suggests the shape of tree against mountain and sky. Her paintings are as if seen from a far away place where the view is just right.

The gallery space is on the second floor of the library, at the west end, beyond the children’s area. It is, of course, quiet and warm. And, there is abundant reading material available for making the most out of the visit.

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