Gage show turns ordinary into extraordinary

Posted: Thursday, March 28, 2002

Anchorage photographer Hal Gage is a shining example of an artist making something so complicated look so easy.

Gage is the photographer behind "Roadside Alaska," the black-and-white landscape photography show currently on display at the Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center.

The photos in Gage's show are familiar sights to Southcentral Alaska and Kenai Peninsula residents, since many were taken in Clam Gulch, Bird Point and along Turnagain Arm. Several others were taken in Denali National Park.

Anyone who's driven between the peninsula and Anchorage with their eyes open will instantly recognize many of the images -- beached sea ice along Turnagain Arm, sun breaks over the Kenai Mountains and feathery clouds above Resurrection Pass.

The familiarity these shots might inspire could prompt a viewer to think, "Hey, I've got a camera, I could do that."

That sentiment, however, would be in error and a devaluing of Gage's artistry, almost like thinking a skill at finger-painting would qualify a first-grader to reproduce a painting by Monet.

The artistry in Gage's work comes not from his selection of scenes to photograph, but from his mastery of the art of photography itself.

Gage admits he is more interested in the art than in his subject matter.

"All the images in this body of work were made, more or less, on, or a few feet from the road," Gage wrote in description of his "Roadside Alaska" show. "To a greater extent, I drive my vehicle to the very spot I make the image. ... When making the image, it is not the place or even the object that drives my image-making process; it is the light, the arrangement and relationship of the elements when placed in a two-dimensional frame, and the internal emotion that is generated at that time and in that space."

Gage's artistic mastery is in his skill as a photographer and developer. His work demonstrates a command of such skills as timed exposures, capturing light and the split-toned printing process.


Clearing Rain Clouds by Hal Gage.

In "Feathered Sea Foam," for example, Gage took a picture of the tide coming in on a sandy beach in Clam Gulch. Through his use of timed exposure, he captured the white foam of a spent wave frothing over sand and pebbles in the foreground, while another wave is about to crash onto the beach in the background.

"Spring Snow, Cathedral Mt." shows Gage's use of the split-toned process. By immersing developed prints in various chemical baths for varied lengths of time, the print gains different tones and hues, giving the picture a warmer and more realistic-looking effect than regular black-and-white pictures have.

In this shot, the sky, the dense areas of clouds and the snow on the ground carry a tannish hue, rather than being plain white or gray.

These techniques give Gage's images subtle hues, tones, highlights, a sense of motion and realistic depth. It is this quality that separates Gage's work from the products of point-and-shoot disposable camera jockeys snapping a shot of the same ice chunk that may appear in Gage's work.

"Roadside Alaska" will be on display at the Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center through April 12. A reception for Gage will be held from 4 to 6 p.m. April 4 as part of the First Thursday event. Gallery hours are from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, and from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays.

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