The walls of Bon Matin bakery in Berryville took on new flair last Sunday with the start of a five-week photography exhibit by Lillian Ledford and fellow photographer Kathleen Lowe. Farm and nature scenes dominate Ledford’s imagery. Lowe’s photographs were taken farther afield at locations where she practices archaeology.
The artist’s reception Sunday was well attended by local visitors, as well as out-of-town family and friends, including Dr. Carol Nash of James Madison University, professor and mentor of Ledford and Lowe. The two photographers met while attending Nash’s archaeology class.
The exhibit of over thirty photographs runs until Monday September 20th and is part of Bon Matin owner, Greg Malucci’s continuing support of artists and crafts people in Clarke County. In addition to special desserts from Bon Matin, for the reception, refreshments included hand-crafted dark chocolate truffles from Life Truffles, a business owned and operated by Terri Wuenschel of Bluemont.
Meet the Photographers:
Ledford and Lowe began their friendship and photographic partnership in 2002 when they were archaeological students. “Lillian was the first person I ever knew with a digital camera,” recalled Lowe. Both were relatively new to photography.
Ledford remembers the period well, “Kathleen and I were doing archaeological field school at Shenandoah National Park. After our day taking pictures in the field, we would go on these marvelous, rambling hikes on the Appalachian Trail and find beautiful scenes to take photographs of. I don’t know that we were intentionally competing or that we were even competing at all but we were spurring each other on because we’d say, “Oh look at this thing that I took a photograph of.” “That’s really neat, what if you took a picture of it THAT way?” So it’s very appropriate that the two of us are sharing this exhibit because we really started learning how to take photographs for the purposes of documenting not just what’s there but what we’re feeling and what we’re thinking about at the same time.”
For Ledford, the simplicity of the point & shoot camera served as the introduction to the creative possibilities of photography. “I really started messing with the camera as an art form. From there I continued playing with it until I got to the point where I knew what every single button and dial on that camera did.” Eventually, she purchased an Olympus EVOLT E500 Digital SLR with interchangeable lenses. “A very fancy camera,” she laughs, “or it was at the time. And that’s what I’ve been using since.”
Growing up on a farm in central Virginia, it was natural that Ledford turned her eye to the everyday beauty of her surroundings. A photograph in the exhibit that best expresses that theme is one called Summer Mountain. Imagine ripe apples and plums nestled in a basket viewed from above with sunlight sprinkling in through the open mesh of the basket. The fruit was freshly harvested by Ledford herself from her parents’ orchard.
“It was plum and apple season and I was down in the garden picking,” she explains. “It was a gorgeous summer day. I set down my basket to unlock the gate. Turned around and locked the gate back up; looked at my basket – realized what the light was doing and had to take a photo. I mean it was that simple. It was such a perfect moment with the light coming in sideways. The colors are fun but the light is what captured me.”
“Something I like as well, are the imperfections – the blemishes on the fruit, the holes from insect damage. In fact this one isn’t even an apple shape any more. I like that because it makes it personal to me. It’s not just a perfect still life of fruit. It’s real. This happened. This was a moment. And that to me is Summer Mountain. That’s why I call it that. It will always be summer to me.”
“My job takes me to lesser seen places,” said Lowe, touching on her career as an archaeologist who has been documenting not only the artifacts found on her expeditions, but the poignant loss of those artifacts and even of the disappearance of contemporary ways of life that are succumbing to environmental pressure.
She recently returned from three years of work studying ancient Native American culture in 9 Mile Canyon located in south-eastern Utah. “It’s called the worlds longest art gallery,” Lowe explained regarding her photograph of the canyon. “This whole side of the canyon is covered in rock art.” Lowe pointed out a gravel road crossing the canyon floor. “It’s threatened, actually,” she said. “They’re doing a lot of natural gas exploration so they have super heavy oil rig trucks and other traffic.” The dust and vibration are causing irreplaceable damage to the canyon and her photograph stands as testimony to that clash of ancient and modern culture.
Serendipity played a part in another of Lowe’s photographs, one of dark wood pilings set in the inky blue water of the Gulf Coast. “We drove from Utah to Florida and this was along the way,” she recalled. She took a series of shots of with gulls on top of each piling, then a lone pelican arrived and scared the gulls off. The picture took a symbolic turn with the appearance of a shrimp trawler on the horizon, denoting the fragile future of that industry in the gulf region.
Ledford is the new manager of the Fire House Gallery in Berryville. Lowe continues her archaeological career. Stop by Bon Matin for lunch soon and enjoy a look at the world through their perceptive eyes.
Matted prints of the artists’ work are available at Bon Matin and framed prints can be ordered. The exhibit runs through September 20th. Photography continues to be an important creative outlet for both women. Another exhibit by Ledford and Lowe follows at an art gallery in Arlington in December and January.
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