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Global focus in Artists' Gallery photo exhibit

Photographer John J. Stier explains in an artist statement that he gave his Artists' Gallery exhibit the title "No Reservations" in order to suggest that it's a thematically broad show.

You may find yourself also noticing that it's geographically generous, too, because this Columbia resident's subjects around the world include a church in Slovenia, wildlife in Wyoming's Yellowstone National Park, a market in Ecuador, an iguana in the Galapagos Islands, colorful shawls in Costa Rica and, relatively close to home, Union Station in Washington, D.C.

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Among the locations in the United States, he's often drawn to wilderness settings that lend themselves to panoramic treatment.

In "Desert Clouds," for instance, the location is in the Nevada desert north of Las Vegas. The landscape consists of dry hills that seem rough rather than rolling. These emotionally austere hills are nearly overwhelmed by a dark blue sky containing dramatically moody clouds.

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Another desert location is in California, where "Death Valley Tracks" provides a stark view of sand dunes. You can just make out that somebody's feet have left their mark, at least for now, in the dunes.

But the desert also can support color in various ways. In "Balloon Drama," vividly colored and patterned hot air balloons are clustered in Albuquerque. That's a panoramic outdoor shot, but there's also a much tighter shot, "Before Flight," in which Stier has set up inside a hot air balloon while it's being inflated on the ground; the balloon's hot shades of red and yellow really pop out at you when encountered at such close quarters.

Throughout the exhibit, there are quite a few close-up shots in which assertive colors draw your attention.

In "Cosmos," these flowers amount to cheerful spots of pink within the nearly all-white atmospheric conditions engendered by a morning fog. In "Bluebird Mug Shot," the side profile view of this bird is so close to it that the photo does resemble a mug shot.

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Stier also gets some close-up wildlife shots at Yellowstone that let you see how these animals cope with winter conditions there. In "Climbing Wolf," that very wild-looking animal seems extremely determined as it climbs up a snow-covered hill; likewise, in "Yellowstone Bison" that furry creature is pushing aside snow so forcefully with its imposing head that you wish it would plow your street this winter.

Human beings only make an occasional appearance in this exhibit. A woman is surrounded by the fruit and vegetables she's selling in "Otavalo Market" in Otavalo, Ecuador. That same market is the setting for a close-up shot in "Yes, We Have Bananas," which presents bright piles of bananas in such a sharply cropped composition that there is no room in this particular shot for any of the people who sell or buy bananas.

People appear only via painted representations in "Serbian Orthodox Dome." Stier's vantage point is inside the church, where his camera points directly up at the interior of the dome of Sts. Cyril and Methodius Serbian Orthodox Church in Ljubljana, Slovenia. The religious figures and symbols are so richly painted across the dome's surface that the photograph is the portrait of a religion.

John J. Stier exhibits through Nov. 28 at the Artists' Gallery, in the American City Building at 10227 Wincopin Circle in Columbia. Call 410-740-8249 or go to http://www.artistsgallerycolumbia.com.

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