motion (n.) 1. The action or process of moving or of changing place or position; movement. 2. Power of movement, as of a living body. (from Random House Dictionary)
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Many artists have a particular medium that feels like home. It might be oil paints, watercolor, textiles, digital pixels, or pen and ink.
For artists with Focal Flame Photography, movement and light are the media of choice. It’s hard to explain, this feeling of returning to roots when depicting motion. But it has something to do with a deep understanding of rhythm and timing. And it has a lot to do with a propensity for observation.
When you study human behavior from behind a camera lens for countless working hours, you begin to comprehend – and even predict – patterns of motion. People move with a studied elegance. Our belief is that it is based in an irrepressible joy that springs from kinetic energy.
In fall and winter 2014, Focal Flame photographers offered a joy of their own: two art photography exhibitions in two locations. Titled “Madison in Motion, Parts I and II”, they investigated the meaning of motion as expressed within a defined geographical area.
Madison in Motion: Part I exhibited at UW Hospital during October, 2014. The exhibit included large-format canvas prints of photographs made by Focal Flame Photography founder Clint Thayer.
“Madison is a city filled with everyday people that engage in athletic movement for a great many reasons,” said Thayer. “I wanted to honor that commitment to athletics by attempting to show their passion and dedication to push themselves further than they did yesterday, last week, or last year.”
The images stepped the viewer through competitive phases. The images themselves were drawn from several different endurance sports. “There are aspects of sports that are universal, regardless of whether an athlete is a swimmer, cyclist, runner, or triathlete,” said Thayer.
Madison in Motion: Part I depicted the anticipation of a race (“Waiting,” and “Spectators,”); the frenzy of beginning “(“Starting” and “Chaos,”), the mid-race deep introspection borne of physical suffering (“Focus,” “Breath,” “Driving Rain,” “Balance,” and “Pain,”) and the quietude of the final phase (“Sanctuary,” “Homeward,” “Return,” and “Contemplation.”)
All works in Madison in Motion: Part I were presented as archival giclee prints on canvas, with dimensions up to 60 inches by 40 inches. “Only when printed at large format does the viewer begin to share the depth of experience that was lived by the athlete,” said Thayer. “For this reason, I felt that large format printing was critical for this series. It’s not as insistent in smaller format.”
Madison in Motion: Part II was a collaborative effort shared by three artistic forces within Focal Flame Photography: Austin Cope, Katie Richard, and Clint Thayer.
Each photographer contributed five to six works. For Austin, it was an inaugural exhibition. His images also offered a unique interpretation of the concept of “motion.”
“[I had to] put together a cohesive sequence, [which] was a chance to go out on a limb and tell a more complete story,” said Austin.
Austin chose to use street photography to depict the frenetic movement inherent in the lives of homeless individuals in Madison. “These are images of real people in our city that probably have less than we do,” said Austin. “Above all else, I want viewers to come away with a better appreciation for what they've got and a renewed interest in giving to some charitable cause.” Choosing to leave all five of his images untitled, Austin paid tribute to the harsh reality of street life.
Austin stretched himself while contemplating the composition of his images. “I used to hate square crops for no reason other than that they were hip,” he said. “Now I find them elegant. Challenge yourself to crop square for a while and I bet your compositions will improve.”
Clint Thayer contributed a series of works focusing on another end of the socioeconomic spectrum: youth gymnastics. Since this competitive sport generally requires access to private lessons, gymnastics is, in a sense, a gated athletic community. “I knew I wanted to attempt to tell a much different (and perhaps darker) story with my selections,” said Clint. “Because this was a joint show, we all had difficulties determining our narratives and how they would interrelate. It was not until I had an opportunity to see Austin's and Katie's works did I know how to weave my contribution into the show,” he explained.
Clint’s sequence, shown in black and white, portrayed a vulnerable side of youth competitors who have devoted countless hours to developing agility, strength, and balance. While television views of gymnastics competitions may make it seem as if each athlete is performing in an isolated spotlight, Thayer’s compositions show that often they are demonstrating their skill within a few feet of teammates or competitors. In some scenes, teammates whisper behind cupped hands or level evaluative gazes, leaving the viewer to wonder who might be the more challenging judge – the competition officials, or the athletes’ peers.
Katie Richard contributed the final sequence. During her study of collegiate league baseball as a photography intern with the Madison Mallards Baseball Club, Richard was surrounded by a sport that offers opportunity. The camaraderie of the team was juxtaposed with individual striving, a duality that is reflected in Richard’s images. “These [images] needed to be up close, personal, and showing an angle that only the team [members] could have,” said Richard. As a vantage point she chose the dugout, in line with first base. The resulting photographs give an intimate view into a sport that seeks to replace the anguish of the solitude shown in works by Thayer and Cope with a sense of completion, teamwork, and togetherness.
In the end, Thayer found the intellectual exercise of bringing together three different artists’ visions to one of the most remarkable aspects of the project. “…I can see first hand the byproduct of the trust you gain in your colleagues through the process of working together,” he said. “Through the process of collaboration, we each had the freedom to tell a single component of the deeper, richer story.”