John Mumaw’s photographs are about light and composition. As a surveyor by trade, Mumaw has access to places people don’t normally travel, and he has plenty of time to study the way the light plays across the southwestern land.
Never without a camera, he photographs in the tradition of Ansel Adams and Edward Weston: dreamy narrative landscapes with large Western skies, the storied faces of children, otherworldly botanicals.
The Cortez-based artist is featured at Image Counts gallery through October. His photographs hang from a portable wall in the middle of the gallery, seemingly nondescript against the larger images of local National Geographic photographer Larry Carver and those of gallery owners John and Eileen Baumgardt. Mumaw’s images fight to be seen among the larger, more flamboyant work.
But they fight well.
Mumaw’s images of South America contrast against images of the Southwest. In “Ake Atitl`E1n Sunrise,” three rickety wooden docks angled into a Guatemalan lake. The pink and orange light of morning reflects in the water and on the volcanic peaks that seem to rise from that lake. “Storm over Muling Point” captures a lightning strike in the midst of a canyon- lands sunset.
In “Moonrise over Chimney Rock,” Mumaw captures a pearlescent full moon hung in a purple sky above the thick, red rock that casts its own large shadow. A freshly paved asphalt highway winds its way through “Comb Ridge,” the evening light illuminating the cliffs and rocks that appear to be a bank along the highway river. And in “False Kiva Ruin,” the ripples in the sand and rocks in the endless valley below the kiva are echoed in the clouds above.
It is the endlessness of the West that Mumaw portrays best. His photographs have roomy depth of field.
And his composition is elegant. In “Sleeping Ute Mountain Sunset,” he sets up his shot so that the water in the foreground is shaped almost identically to the mountain beyond. A full cloudy sky is ablaze with fluorescent yellow, orange and salmon reflected in the water, the middle ground of the photo dark green and leafy and the Sleeping Ute mountain periwinkle in the midst.
His photographs of children are some of the best work on his Web site, although Image Counts selected only one for this show. The image of two brown-skinned boys in a fishing boat, one holding a twig pole over murky water, captures a moment in the life of South American children. Both gaze nonchalantly, uninterested in whatever is taking their focus away from the fishing. The photo is called “Brothers.”
“Hope” is one of those otherworldly botanicals. The image, which the gallery chose to represent the artist and his show, is of coils of razor wire against a white sky, a clump of fuchsia thorny bougainvillea in the left foreground. It’s a more abstracted shot than anything else in the show and while strong, doesn’t seem to represent the light, composition and depth of field that Mumaw captures so well with his digital camera.
Mumaw’s work is well executed; his composition and layout are classic. The photos should be larger – 16 by 24 inches or 24 by 36 inches – this would make the viewer pay attention.
And, while I prefer the classical white-mat, black-frame presentation for photographs, the gallery does support itself through its custom framing section, and it seems appropriate that the work would be shown in colorful matting with diverse frames .
firstname.lastname@example.org Leanne Goebel is a freelance writer specializing in the visual arts.