A fancy show dog is groomed atop its cage, which has a child inside. Clothespins cling to a line as children bounce on a trampoline in the background. A massive, pinkish-orange sky dwarfs Sleeping Ute. Two photography shows open Friday with a reception from 5 to 8 p.m. at Open Shutter gallery. The first, in the main room, is “Home Sweet Homes” by James Cammack and O. Rufus Lovett. The other, in the gallery’s Red Room, is Deborah Sussex’s “Back There, Here Now.” From the humorous and offbeat, to documentation of a seldom-seen community, to breathtaking naturescapes, the exhibits showcase three diverse outlooks on the world.
Cammack explores beyond mainstream
Many of the humorous moments captured by James Cammack could be described as “found humor” – not particularly funny or even noticeable at the time, sometimes not even to him, but especially not to others.
Some of Cammack’s moments come from outings with friends or family and some from commercial or journalistic assignments, like parades or dog shows, giving us a glimpse into the humor of everyday life that usually goes unseen and can only be fully appreciated in hindsight, frozen by a flash. His found humor ranges from dark (a lighted sign at night in the background reads “Burger” and in the foreground, a dimly- lit graveyard), to adorable (a dog on a table spies its owner’s dinner), to gross (a baby has vomited on a parent’s shirt).
“I just happen to be taking pictures of the two of them, and he threw up,” Cammack said of his baby vomit photo. “So it’s just instinctive to snap the picture.” Cammack admits some people might be repulsed by photos like this. That reaction is fine with him because the same number of people will relate, especially parents. “It’s real life that you normally wouldn’t see. Most people might find that disgusting. I find it funny.”
Born and raised east of Dallas in Longview, Texas, with the drawl to prove it, Cammack worked as a commercial and editorial photographer before moving to Durango in 1991. He exited photography for almost 15 years, while he and his wife built a dog-training business. In 2004, with digital photography fully established, he re-entered the game, this time photographing weddings. In 2012, he entered his work in Open Shutter’s “Exposure” juried exhibit and walked away with Best of Show, which began his relationship with the gallery.
Cammack’s work as a commercial and editorial photographer took him to places rife with the odd and offbeat – parades, dog shows, motorcycle rallies, Mardi Gras, Snowdown. They are places in which he still finds himself, all these years later.
“I’m attracted to that sort of thing. It’s different than mainstream. You’re not going to see many people who want to go see midget wrestling, but this crowd relished it,” Cammack said, pointing to a photo of a dwarf wrestler in mid-air after jumping from the top rope, about to deliver punishment to his opponent. “I’m always looking for juxtaposition. It looks a little skewed, a little different from how other people might be seeing things.”
Not all of Cammack’s photos are intended to be humorous. Some are poignant, some heartbreaking in their pathos. All are striking in black and white. From one photo to the next, surprises await, and that is Cammack’s goal for his audience.
“I like to see some smiles when they see the funny ones,” Cammack said. “I like to see them stop and study some of the ones that aren’t so funny.”
Lovett glimpses inside Weeping Mary
In 1994, O. Rufus Lovett began documenting a secluded community in rural East Texas’ Cherokee County. About 95 miles south of Longview, this was no ordinary community but a Freedom Colony, land settled by freed slaves after the Civil War.
The project, parts of which will be on display at Open Shutter, resulted in a book (Weeping Mary, University of Texas Press, 2006) and newspaper and magazine pieces that occupied Lovett for 10 years. The project offers a fascinating glimpse inside a type of community many do not know exists.
He was a stranger and outsider when he began the documentary project, but by the time Lovett had finished, he had become a welcome fixture, invited back for family reunions and holidays. Gaining this trust and access was a process, Lovett said.
“I was enough of an outsider as it was because of the racial difference, and to communicate with these folks took a lot of time,” said Lovett, who has taught photography at Kilgore College for 38 years. “When you’re working on a project of this nature and you find something as beautiful and interesting as a community of this sort, it takes time to capture the reality.
“It meant a lot to me that we became friends and that they allowed me access to their daily lives. It was a nice bonus; the friendship and bonds we formed while I was working was really nice.”
Though Weeping Mary is largely self-contained, some of its approximately 200 residents work outside the community. The people are tight, however, and the bonds strong. Children are intertwined not only with their immediate families, but also with their extended family of aunts, uncles, cousins and neighbors too, all taking care of one another. It was this beauty of community and place that Lovett discovered, admired and wanted to document.
“It was a matter of being honest with your work, and truthful about what you’re interested in, and admiring the things that existed there, and creating photographs that hopefully have a sense of truth and dignity at the same time,” Lovett said.
New location brings Sussex new vision
For more than 23 years, Deborah Sussex was surrounded by Minnesota’s Northwoods, heavy forests with lush, dense, green vegetation, bogs and lakes by the hundreds. As a landscape and nature photographer, these surroundings had a clear effect on her work. Fog rising off water. A birch tree shedding its skin. A lone water lily. Dune-like snow drifts.
In 2013, Sussex moved to Durango, and with a change of location came a change in her artistic vision, trading dense forests and lakes for massive, painted skies and unforgiving desert. The result juxtaposes imagery from Northern Minnesota with that of the Four Corners.
Sussex grew up around the similar landscapes of the plains and prairies of North Dakota and is drawn to the vastness of our open skies and spaces.
“I love the vulnerability. It puts you more on edge,” she said. “There’s a sense that the world is bigger than me.”
That bigness of the world in this area is unavoidable in her photography; dramatic and often tension-filled skies and clouds sometimes comprise nearly all of her composition. What intrigues her about the sky, clouds and weather, Sussex said, are the interactions that occur between them.
“The clouds are different here from where I used to live,” Sussex said. “They’re different everywhere in the world, when you really sit and look at them. (The New Mexico sky) has such atmosphere and clarity.
“(I’m) deliberately trying to get a warm sense of these landscapes, of the big wide-open.”
Sussex said she hopes her work communicates a sense of intimacy and connection to a place and its distinct personalities, whether the place is Northern Minnesota, the Four Corners or wherever in the world her camera takes her.
firstname.lastname@example.org. David Holub is the Arts & Entertainment editor for The Durango Herald