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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Westport Photographer Shows Photos of Oman

Westport Photographer Shows Photos of Oman:
Exhibit runs through March 31 
at Fairfield Borders
(Posted to 3/15)
By Mike Lauterborn
C 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Fishermen along rugged coastlines. Herders selling goats in open-air markets. Women in peaked burqa masks.

These are some of the striking scenes shown in a new exhibit of color photographs titled “Oman: The People” by Westport resident Barbara Paul, on display at Borders Bookstore of Fairfield, 1499 Post Road, through March 31.

Oman is an Arab country in southwest Asia on the southeast coast of the Arabian Peninsula. It is bordered by the United Arab Emirates on the northwest, Saudi Arabia on the west and Yemen on the southwest. The coast is formed by the Arabian Sea on the southeast and Gulf of Oman on the northeast. 

Paul and her husband Rolan traveled to Oman in Fall 2008 and spent two weeks there. “Rolan used to be my chief film changer,” she joked, “but now I use digital, so he just travels with me. Digital is more convenient as the long trips often require sometimes seven or more plane changes and you really have to fight to prevent film from being put through x-rays, especially now with tight security.”

As to why Oman became a destination, she said, “There was one key reason: the mysterious burqa masks worn by the Bedouin women in the desert. Of course, there were many other aspects of the country that were compelling, especially the people and their traditional way of life.”

As one example, she cited the fishermen along the coastline. “They were very welcoming and pleased I featured them in my photos. How often do you see a fisherman fixing his net by stringing it through his toes?”

The open-air markets were also of interest. “These were very unique and often seemed like total chaos with goat sellers yelling and calling. The goats didn’t want to be led peacefully and squealed and rushed at people. Interestingly enough, Bedouin women fully participated in the process. However, in other situations, they are restricted. They don’t eat with guests, must have escorts when they go out and must always wear their burqas in public.”

Paul said her travels were concentrated in the Wahiba Sands Desert, an area where the dress is most traditional. “I am very attracted to traditional garments and seek them out all over the world,” she said.

As compelling as the people and their style of dress were the various landscapes, Paul added. “The mountains were really stunning and the ancient villages perched among them were fascinating. The know-how it took for villagers to irrigate their terraced land through long canals is remarkable.”

The coastline was just as unique for the traveling duo. “There were fortresses built on the mainland and among islands that were easily centuries old.”

Muscat, Oman’s capital and a port city, provided another look at this multi-faceted region. “It was beautiful, with a walkway along the water where people would gather in the evenings. The women always wore long black coverings called abayas. Of course, the market there is also fascinating and takes on a life of its own. It’s got winding alleys and hundreds of vendors selling everything from spices and food to exquisite beaded dresses. The latter were ironic to see given the fact that women there could never wear them in public.”

Paul said that it was about 25 years ago, when she made trips to Guatemala, Peru and Morocco, that she first began taking photographs. “In the last 15 years, I’ve traveled mostly in Asia and Africa, honing my photography skills over time. I was never formally trained. If I had been, I’m not sure my photos would have been as varied as they are. I can get very spontaneous shots, and I have to because things move very quickly.”

Paul considers herself very fortunate. “We travel four to five times a year. The most recent trek was to Tunisia and we returned home just two weeks before all the turmoil began there.”

Summing up her travels, Paul said, “Every trip is unique and the best trip. And I just love to capture our adventures with photos so we can show people what the rest of the world is like.”

“Sea to Shining Sea” Exhibit Drops Anchor at Fairfield Museum

“Sea to Shining Sea” Exhibit Drops 
Anchor at Fairfield Museum:
Southport craftsman James Wiser’s 
ship models highlighted
(Posted to Fairfield Citizen News 3/14)
By Mike Lauterborn
© 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Fairfield, CT – So authentic and detailed were the ship models on display that you could almost hear the cries of shipmates, crash of waves over bows and the groan and creak of the rigging.

The models, four of a collection painstakingly created by Southport craftsman James Wiser, were part of a new exhibit that opened Saturday March 12 in the gallery lobby of the Fairfield Museum and History Center at 370 Beach Road. The exhibit, titled “From Sea to Shining Sea” and on view until April 24, celebrates the rich maritime history of Fairfield County and Wiser’s artistry.

The models on display include the Kate Cory, Hancock, Bonhomme Richard and the Sultana, and each was tagged with some historical background.

The Kate Cory was a 75-foot long whaler built in Westport, MA in 1856 for Alexander Cory, a leading local merchant. After five successful voyages, she was captured off the coast of Brazil during the Civil War and burned in 1863.

The Hancock was a Revolutionary War-era frigate commanded by Capt. John Manley of the Continental Navy. She was captured in 1777 and put into service for the British Navy. It took Wiser almost a year to assemble the model’s 4,300-plus pieces.

The Bonhomme Richard, a 40-gun warship, was captained by John Paul Jones. It sank in 1779 after a sea battle. Wiser constructed the model’s hull from more than 1,000 pieces of maple.

The Sultana was a 50-foot schooner built in Boston, MA in 1767. While constructed for a merchant, she was bought by the Royal Navy to monitor Colonial shipping.

Almost every day for the past sixty years, Wiser, now 89, can be found in his Southport studio sitting at his workbench working on a boat model. Surrounding him are the tools of his craft: files, tiny drills, tweezers, glues, saws, scalpels, pots of paint, exotic woods and books on naval and maritime history. His body of work spans 4,500 years of maritime history.

Wiser often tells a funny story about his devotion to the craft. “When I was courting my wife, my mother said to her, ‘Norma, if you want to keep him happy, give him something to do with his hands.’ I think she took that the wrong way, as she didn’t know I like to build things. It nearly wrecked our marriage.”

Wiser keeps a notebook to record time and progress on each model. He can spend 800 hours or more on a single ship. After conducting extensive research on a particular ship’s history, he carves each piece from scratch, from hull to crew, in one-eighth inch-to-the-foot (1:96) scale.

Wiser’s interest in constructing things began as a child. “I used to go to camp and do Indian headdresses and then airplane kits with balsa wood,” Wiser said. “All that got me started. Now, towards the end of my life, I look for a challenge I haven’t had before. For instance, I just completed a 54-foot long gunboat. The ship could be rowed or sailed and the mast could be collapsed. I’d never done a model like that. There must be 70 or 80 models I’ve created over time. Some were sold, others given away. My grandchildren will get the rest.”

In addition to the models, the museum exhibit includes examples of Wiser’s tools and wood options. There are also framed paintings of the schooner Edna, built in Black Rock in 1849, and the clipper ship William Chamberlain, shown sailing off the coast of Newfoundland in 1861.

Equally remarkable in the exhibit is an extremely rare map of the coasts of New England and Nova Scotia, created in the early 1700s by Cyprian Southack, a Boston-based sea captain and privateer. The map was carefully restored for the exhibition.

Southack’s map is a nod to Thomas Jefferson, who, 200 years ago, initiated the Coast Survey, a predecessor agency of today’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Jefferson recognized the importance of charting the country’s navigable waterways and ports, which were vital to the prosperity of the economy and security of our then-fledgling nation.

Enjoying the ship models was Fairfield resident Linda McCormack and her grandson Colin Daly, 3. “I know Mr. Wiser and his wife Norma, who worked with me at Pequot Library years ago,” said McCormack. “I first saw his beautiful displays at the library and wanted to introduce my grandson to his workmanship. The intricacy of the models and talent it takes is remarkable.”

Southport resident Will Rhame was also impressed with the models. “I’d heard that Wiser does amazing work,” he said. “I don’t think people appreciate how difficult it is to do this. I’m a sailor so the exhibit has particular interest. It’s so meticulous. Look how he coiled the ropes, and the rigging and cannonballs. I don’t think I’d have the patience to do this.”

Visiting from New Hampshire, Carolyne Brewer, with Jamie Childs, agreed with Rhame. “The craftsmanship is very impressive,” she said. “I think if I was working on it and made a mistake, I’d throw it against the wall.”

Found Items the Common Thread of New Kershner Exhibit

Found Items the Common Thread of New Kershner Exhibit:
“Objectively Speaking” kicks off at Fairfield Library gallery
(Posted to 3/14)
By Mike Lauterborn
© 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Fairfield, CT – A discarded apple. Deer antlers. Tire treads. These items were some of the “found” objects featured in a new local photography exhibit titled “Objectively Speaking.”

The exhibit, which showcases the photography of Ann Chrisman, Daniel Long and Timothy Pyle, is featured at the Bruce S. Kershner Gallery in the Fairfield Library, 1080 Old Post Road. The work was celebrated with an opening reception and talk by the artists Saturday afternoon March 12. The photos will be on view during library hours until April 23.

Janine Brown, who is on the library’s curatorial committee, explained how the exhibit came to fruition. “We get a constant flow of submissions for the gallery and, as we review them, we determine if they fit the aesthetic of the library. Then we sort by theme. We recognized that these particular artists all used found objects as their subject matter. Ann’s work tends to be abstract. Tim takes his camera wherever he goes and really creates a walking diary. Daniel takes found objects and composes them into still lifes.” 

Photographer Chrisman, a Trumbull resident, commented on her style and focus. “The subject matter of my works in this exhibit, which are black-and-white silver gelatin prints, were all inspired by a found setting, a construction site at Westport’s Staples High School when it was being renovated several years ago,” she said. “The compositions are about tension and release. I always work in found settings, and the element of chance is important in my work.”

Chrisman uses minimal equipment in her approach. “The only thing I use is a 1974 35-mm Nikon. I prefer it because of the richness of the negative. And I don’t use light meters as that’s part of the element of chance and underscores the relevance of my presence in the moment.”

Chrisman added, “My job is not to know what my subjects are necessarily, but to elevate the ordinary to create a dialogue.”

Photographer Long, who lives in Storrs and is also a professor of photography at Manchester Community College, explained his own inspiration. “Most of these things I’ve found by accident,” he said. “In my piece ‘Antlers and Tulip’, I found the antlers in nearby woods at the end of winter. The background in that piece is a copper wash boiler shaped like a tombstone. The tulip was grown in my garden. The composition symbolizes my constant battle to keep deer out of my garden. I imagine if I tacked this image up in my backyard, it would be a good warning to the deer.”

Long said the composition work is new for him. “I started this approach in February last year,” he said. “This is the first time I’m not doing people portraits and the first time I’m using color. It’s also the first time I’m working with a camera on a tripod versus taking spontaneous shots. This has been interesting for me. The work is so new, I don’t know where it is headed.”

Photographer Pyle, who has lived in Fairfield for the past six years, explained his process. “I walk around a lot with my camera and photograph things that catch my eye,” he said. “Often, those are things that resonate very personally with me… things out of the ordinary, things overlooked by passersby, or considered unworthy of being a photo subject.”

As an example, Pyle pointed to his piece “Apple and Ants”. “The subject is a half-eaten discarded apple covered with ants,” he said. “It’s a less than ideal capture of an apple, which people often want to be perfect. But even when things don’t measure up to a certain standard of beauty, there’s still an inherent measure of attractiveness to it.”

Admiring the various work was Candace Chase of Weston. “I’m enjoying the work of these three very different artists,” she said. “Ann’s work is very close-up and form focused. Tim’s work makes me think of moments in time and space. And Dan’s work is very composed and manipulated.”

Liz Tardif of Westport had already adopted a favorite style of photography. “I particularly like Daniel’s work. The juxtaposition of something soft and colorful against a harsh, dark background. Really, though, all the pieces are inspiring.”