Portraits of an artist emerging into her own

The Baltimore Sun

For years, attorney Sayra Wells Meyerhoff accompanied her photographer husband, Neil, during his extensive travels through Latin America and Asia. He photographed the people and places they visited while she mostly watched.

But about six years ago, Meyerhoff decided to try her own finger on the shutter button. She bought a digital camera and learned to tweak images in PhotoShop and print them.

She never exhibited her photographs, however. Even the staffers at C. Grimaldis Gallery, where her husband exhibits regularly, remained unaware of Meyerhoff's evolution from spouse and helpmate to artist in her own right.

Now, with her husband's encouragement, the secret is out, as evidenced by the spectacular show Faces of India, on view at An die Musik record shop, whose owner, Henry Wong, happened to see some of Meyerhoff's pictures and loved them. The exhibition presents about two dozen of Meyerhoff's luminous color photographs and announces the arrival of a major new talent on the Baltimore art scene.

Most of the pictures were taken earlier this year, when Meyerhoff and her husband spent about five weeks traveling through India and its diminutive neighbor to the north, the mountainous kingdom of Bhutan, long regarded as one of the most isolated spots on Earth.

Meyerhoff's photographs from the region are essentially portraits through which she demonstrates a remarkable empathy with her subjects. Many of them stare directly into the lens with a composure that announces their unconditional acceptance of the camera's presence.

The portraits suggest that Meyerhoff possesses a natural gift for composition and color in the manner of the late great Indian photojournalist Raghubir Singh, who pioneered the use of color photography to document the subcontinent and its people.

Singh insisted that color was such an integral part of the Indian experience that photographs limited to the conventions of black-and-white could never truly capture the essence of the place.

For her part, Meyerhoff says color is always uppermost in her mind and that her sense of composition has been shaped in part by the important collection of postwar art acquired by her philanthropic in-laws, Robert and Jane Meyerhoff.

Beyond that, however, Meyerhoff has brought her own quick eye and profound sensibility to her encounters abroad.

"India is so colorful and I love color so much, maybe that's why we love India," she says. "What's hard is that sometimes you'll see something that's absolutely marvelous and you'll take maybe eight, 10 pictures and still not get it. That's the elusiveness of life in photography. Some things are just so fleeting they can't be captured."

Be that as it may, the portraits of a people Meyerhoff has managed to capture possess the authority of an intuitive, deeply felt vision of humanity that feels beautiful and true and completely of the moment. Though the artist may regret the pictures she missed, we can only rejoice in the abundance of treasures she brought back.

Faces of India runs through Aug. 31 at An Die Musik, 409 N. Charles St. Call 410-385-2638 or go to andiemusiklive.com.

The romance of Venice

Anyone who has ever visited Venice soon realizes that it is surely one of the most magical cities in the world, a quaint, floating metropolis painted in pastel colors that seems like something out of a fairy tale.

Photographer Paula Gately Tillman captures the city's dreamlike quality and uncanny aura of dwellings frozen in time in her richly evocative series of Venetian landscapes, on view in The Gallery at La Terra in Hampden.

Venice is one of the most photographed cities on Earth, but like the face of a beautiful woman, one never tires of its image. Tillman's pictures reprise many of the city's most famous landmarks - the Piazza San Marco, the Grand Canal, the Rialto, etc. - and her finely graduated, atmospheric digital black-and-white prints perfectly describe the watery mystery that envelops the place like a shroud.

One comes away from this lovely show reassured that beauty, everywhere threatened, still holds a purchase on the world in Venice, a city whose timeless image and very name remain synonymous with romance.

Dreams of Venice runs through June 30 at The Gallery at La Terra, 4001 Falls Road. Call 410-889-7562.


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