Solvang resident Paul Roark, a photographer who has developed some innovative “digital darkroom” processes, shows his dramatic, hyper-real imagery at the Elverhøj Museum.
Paul Roark, “Between Light and Dark”
When: through April 14
Where: Elverhøj Museum of History and Art, 1624 Elverhoy Way, in Solvang
Gallery hours: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday
Information: 686-1211, www.elverhoj.org
In the photography of Solvang resident Paul Roark, whose show “Between Light and Dark” now hangs at the Elverhøj Museum, nature and reality itself seem both extra-crispy and a tad surreal.
His all black-and-white images of remote natural outposts — in Iceland, Joshua Tree, the John Muir Wilderness and elsewhere, and manmade landmarks as varied as Roman ruins and Frank Gehry’s celebrated labyrinth of shapes, the Walt Disney Concert Hall, and a Notre Dame gargoyle-eye view of Paris — lure us with their dramatic perspectives on subjects around the world.
But it’s as if we’re entering through a photographic prism into an alternative reality.
It’s partly a matter of elevated and manipulated focus, that central concern in the photographer’s eye and palette. Mr. Roark, a former attorney who plunged fully into his photographic passion after retiring in 1996, is well-equipped with a variety of digital processing techniques he has become known for, including stitched panoramic scenes and the use of “focus stacking” to connect multiple points and layers of focus. He is both fastidious and experimental in terms of printing processes, with carbon pigments, inkset technology and printing on Arches watercolor paper and canvas.
In the end results, textures both high contrast and tonally rich and compacted visual schemes are used to different expressive ends, and with different effectiveness of approach. His artfully cropped view of the Disney Hall’s swooping sculptural geometries and the spindly, ancient grace of his mirror image “Foxtail Heaven,” for instance, gain power through economy of compositional design and a sense of finding visual poetry “between light and dark.”
Other denser images can overwhelm us with information (and lack of warmth or areas of softer focus), or take a gimmicky turn, as in the superimposed cosmic flare-up in “Oceano Dunes and Mono ceratis Nebula.”
Sheer visual wow power gives his nocturnal forest study “Campfire Under the Milky Way” a special appeal. Using “focus stacking” and extended exposure times to soak in the limited light, he has created enchanted vision, something about the secret life of trees beneath a cosmic canopy of stars.
Back in a corner of the gallery, his imagery from Iceland begs special attention, in terms of the successful marriage of his artistic stamp and the stark grandeur of sites. An almost extraterrestrial beauty radiates from his shot of “Mývatn crater,” hanging across the space from the glacial luster of “Mýrdalsjökull Glacier.” Here, the granitic boldness of rock formations, cradling a pool and set beneath wispy clouds, asserts an expressive power harnessed from the blending of form, content, texture, and post-“darkroom” splendor.
Photographic and anti-digital purists and may balk in the face of this work, but Mr. Roark is onto something with his particular vision as an artist. In the still-young and always evolving medium of still photography as a serious artistic concern — only a century-and-change old by now — he has developed a personal voice, drawing on technical resources both available and invented.
With his art, Mr. Roark brings us his ideas about the world he and we live in, from Iceland to downtown Los Angeles, in terms at once steeped in wonder, available to all, and yet exotic. And, yes, in focus. Big time.