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The E: A virtual visit to the garden: LBCC offers online botanical art experience

The E: A virtual visit to the garden: LBCC offers online botanical art experience

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The governor has spoken and Oregon is back in lockdown — but you can still commune with nature, at least virtually, through a visit to the art gallery at Linn-Benton Community College.

Through Dec. 31, the gallery’s website is featuring “POV/botaniques,” an exhibit featuring four perspectives on plant photography. The 48 photographs can be seen at https://bit.ly/2UnpUR0.

Anne Magratten, visual arts faculty member at LBCC and coordinator of the gallery, said the original plan was to hang the photographs as a physical exhibit in the Albany’s campus’ South Santiam Hall Gallery. When officials made the decision to keep the physical campus closed this fall to reduce potential coronavirus exposure, it became the first community show to be moved online.

A big part of the enrichment experience at the college is access to art and art-related events, Magratten said. “We realized we had to adapt very quickly to an online platform.”

Paul Barden of Corvallis; Phil Coleman of Philomath; Bill Laing of Oro Valley, Arizona; and Stephanie Luke of Cottonwood, California, are the featured artists. Each takes a distinct approach to blossoms and buds.

In his artist’s statement for the exhibit, Barden said he was fascinated at age 13 by a book, “The Secret Life of Plants.” It prompted him to think of the earth’s plantlife as just as “complex, aware, and exquisitely responsive to their environments” as the lives of their human counterparts.

“From that moment on,” he wrote, “I saw plant life differently, and my work has long celebrated these Children of the Soil.”

Barden used an 1850s wet plate collodion process to produce his series of black-and-white still life shots.

Coleman’s emphasis is on extreme closeups, exploring details and designs in flowers not often noticed by the quick or casual observer. He used a macro lens combined with the merger of many images — a technique called focus stacking — to show features he said would be hard to capture in a single photo.

“My hope is to delight or intrigue your eyes, to make an image that will resonate in your mind, that strikes a visual ‘chord’ in you like a great song,” he wrote.

Laing’s images come from the Sonoran desert, his former hometown near Tucson. He encourages viewers to take a long look to absorb the color and symmetry.

“The trick is to slow down and see these plants for what they are — exquisite designs by nature, perfectly adapted to their harsh surroundings,” he wrote.

Luke focused her lenses on the light, shadow and textures of the growing things in her suburban neighborhood of Northern California.

“The search for inspiration is an ongoing part of our journey as artists,” she wrote. “My hope is to always be flexible and open enough to realize when it appears.”

Magratten said the college worked with Rich Bergeman to present the show. He found the four photographers and curated the concept of land-based photography.

An online show might lose a little something in the translation, Magratten said. Viewers can’t see the work to scale, for instance, and compare it to the size of their own bodies. There’s a different sort of interaction with a computer screen than there is with the actual physical texture of the work.

That said, an online photography show is thoroughly captured by an online medium, as easily accessible by audiences far away as it is by those nearby — and potentially a greater equalizer, because photographers don’t have to bear the cost of printing, framing and mounting their work to participate.

“I would never want to say that we couldn’t have had some sort of deeper experience in person, I suppose, but the majority of the time when I’m encountering new artwork, I”m encountering it digitally,” Magratten said. “I think this is the best we can do in this moment.”

It’s also nice to have a visual record for later use, she added.

“When we’re having events in the gallery, it had never occurred to me to set up a camera and record the entire artist show,” she said. “So more people have access that way as well. We’re able to build up a repository of artist talks so that our students and our faculty can use that over time.”

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