The “Photomorphosis” show at the San Luis Obispo Museum of Art is a testimony that art photography has developed apace with technology.
At one time, many people in the fine art community did not consider photography an art form. The San Luis Obispo Art Center eventually relented and accepted the Central Coast Photographic Society under its umbrella. However, when digital photography came along, many Society members felt it didn’t pass muster as art.
“We decided that was ridiculous,” said former Society president Ronna Lee. She and others of the same ilk formed a casual digital photo group, F-11, a nudge and a wink at F-64, of which Ansel Adams was a member.
Lee said that when archival paper and printer ink became available, giving a much longer life span to digital prints, the Society relented.
The next hurdle was the appropriateness of manipulated photos. “I thought it was an exciting concept,” said Lee, whose “Patchwork Garden” took Best of Show in the juried exhibit.
A photographer for 30 years, she bought her first digital camera in the late 1990s when they initially hit the market and is wild about the current software that allows for photo manipulation. “The world is wide open” compared to film and darkroom limitations, Lee said.
Her sentiments are shared by others in the show, such as Will Espada.
“It changed my world. It brought out the expressionist side of me,” said Espada, whose photograph “I Could Smell the Stories in the Rust” earned second place.
Kabe Russell of Atascadero received two awards, third place for “Homecoming” and an honorable mention for “An Old Flame.” Other honorable mentions were awarded to Norman Martin of Cambria and Robert Walter of Los Angeles.
Photo Society president Renee Besta and her board planned the exhibit, open to anyone, to encourage abstract, expressionistic and more pictorial-looking photography. The 67 accepted entries by 34 photographers are proof that the goal was accomplished.
Lee, who has lived all over the country and won awards in some major exhibits, was inspired to focus on perfecting her Photoshop and Painter skills. “This is the first show I’ve entered in a really long time,” she said.
Her blue ribbon was the result of discovering Painter’s kaleidoscope feature. “That’s when the idea first came to me,” said Lee. “It was so cool,” especially because she was enchanted with kaleidoscopes as a child. She shot the 35 flowers for her quilt-like piece in Santa Barbara’s Lotusland, Filoli garden in Redwood City, New Orleans, and her own Atascadero garden.
The exhibit’s premise also inspired Espada. “The show gave me a really good challenge,” he said, motivating him to seek a subject that contained emotion and told a story. The former New Yorker who moved to Cambria in 2002 is not revealing where he found the pick-up in his photograph.
The owner of Espada & Associates graphic design fantasizes about the 1949 Dodge's past. “Maybe this is a bootlegger’s car,” Espada mused.
Asked if she misses being in the darkroom now that she’s retired after 18 years teaching English and photography at Templeton High School, Lee swiftly replied: “Not one iota.”