Like many artists, Kurt Bownell has to balance the commercial with the personal.
The Victor resident is a commercial photographer with a Rochester studio and a client list that includes such corporations as Wegmans, Constellation Brands, Democrat and Chronicle, Unity Health and several universities. The clients commission Brownell for everything from beauty shots of growers, produce and culinary arts to corporate executives in their workplace environments.
His day job keeps him so busy that his personal photographic love – outdoor landscapes – often happens on the fly, such as when he snapped shots of the rolling hills of Cohocton on a pit stop as his family returned from a vacation.
Perhaps that’s why Brownell’s new exhibit at Keuka College, “Up Close and Far Away-Landscapes,” is such a treat for him. The exhibit runs through Jan. 4, with an artist reception Thursday, Nov. 29 from 4:30 – 6 p.m. at Lightner Gallery inside Lightner Library. The exhibit is open to the public; library hours vary and can be found online at: http://lightner.keuka.edu.
“This is what I like to do when I’m not being told what to photograph,” he said. “This is what I gravitate toward naturally. I can go without any agenda and shoot what I feel, what I like, what I find.”
Many of his images, which he refers to as “interpretive landscapes,” are “stitched” composites of 10-20 different shots, melded together to create one final, full panorama for the viewer.
“I know my camera can’t capture that beautiful scene exactly, so what I try to do, post-production, is bring back that majestic beauty I saw and felt. That’s what Ansel Adams did with his landscapes – it was a tremendous amount of work in the darkroom to bring that [moment] back, to sculpt it,” Brownell said.
“I actually rotate side-to-side, usually with my 50 mm lens, to get the whole scene, and overlap to get rid of seams, edges and distortion,” he added, noting he sometimes reshoots because a bird flew into several shots or the wind blew an object out of focus. Brownell will first stitch together some low-resolution images to see if he likes the effect before he’ll complete a hi-res landscape.
“Often, I may not wind up with a great panorama, but I may have a great single shot among the images I shot to create a panorama,” he said.
Almost all images in this show were taken in the last five to six years, as part of what he calls “refreshing” his portfolio, which he contrasts with the work of recording artists.
“Any photographer could come up with 20 great images, but you can tell if it’s a greatest hits package or if it’s a killer new album,” he said.
In this new “album,” Brownell includes images of shot in the greater Finger Lakes region, from Victor through Cohocton, (the “up close”) as well as many seascapes shot in York Beach, Maine, where his family vacations each August with five or six other families from Rochester and Fairport (the “far away”). The Nubble Lighthouse, a prominent York Beach landmark, and the township’s two major beachfronts, Long Sands and Short Sands, play starring roles in several images in the Keuka exhibit.
“I don’t often have time to contemplate and reflect on creating landscapes, so [Maine] is great for that since we have been returning there for fifteen years,” he said.
The goal in many of Brownell’s images is to give the viewer a fresh sense of the familiar.
“For example, with the lighthouse, you can almost tell where every single person stands to take the same shot. My goal is to find a different point of view,” he said.
That may be evident in Brownell’s pink-tinged glimpse of the Ford St. Bridge in Rochester at sunset.
In his “Morning Fire” image, Brownell framed a glimpse of the sunrise over the treetops outside his door in Victor – the effect captured gives the look of a sky nearly on fire. Another image, of a foggy-bottom panorama of a spot Brownell shot traversing Route 444 from Victor south to Bloomfield, caught the attention of a man and woman who visited his last show. Both mentioned driving by that same spot each day and wishing someone would capture the beauty and freeze the moment in time.
“They raved about it – they knew exactly where it was,” he said, adding “I see these places every year. so the question becomes, ‘How do I show it in a different way for people who see the same thing daily, too?’”