ELKIN — Foothills Arts Council’s latest exhibit, “Winter South 2014,” will showcase the photography of an Elkin native recently returned to the area. Photographer Ben Erlandson grew up in Elkin and his photography in the exhibit chronicles his month-long trip from California back to Elkin. A gallery opening will be held on Aug. 8 with refreshments and a chance to hear from Erlandson about his journey home.
“These photographs provide one perspective on my experience as I traveled east across this continent,” Erlandson explained. “There are stories in each of the photographs, many of which are open to interpretation by the viewer. I see new things every time I look at each one, and this is what they represent to me personally — a re-visitation and remembering of the things that cannot necessarily be seen in the photograph.”
Erlandson said he was excited about the opportunity to showcase his artwork in his hometown and hear feedback from gallery visitors.
“I’m always interested to hear what others see and feel when they view the photographs, because what they have to say has a supplementary effect on my own perception of my work, expanding my own perspective to include those of the other viewers.”
A graduate of Elkin High School, Erlandson said he spent most of his childhood “tromping through the woods, playing trombone in the Elkin High School Band and being very active with the Boy Scouts.” Since leaving Elkin, he has resided in Asheville, Boston, Massachusetts, Tempe, Arizona, and most recently, the Monterey Bay and San Francisco Bay areas of California.
“Almost 20 years and three academic degrees later, it’s good to be back home,” Erlandson said.
Arts Council Executive Director Leighanne Martin Wright said the gallery committee strives to showcase both local and national exhibits in order to provide the community with varied exposure to art, but it is always special when a local artist is featured.
“A major part of our mission is to support local artists by offering gallery space for exhibits. Ben’s arrival back in town, having just photographed his trek across the country, was perfect timing for our August exhibit,” Wright said.
The show will hang in the gallery until Sept. 5, but Wright said that the Aug. 8 gallery opening is the best opportunity for folks to see the exhibit as they also will have the chance to meet and talk with Erlandson and hear stories about his photographs.
Photography has been a passion for Erlandson from a young age.
“I’ve been playing with cameras as long as I can remember,” he said. “My dad always had a nice 35mm with him, so we’ve got lots of great family pictures from since before I was born. I remember going through several of those disposable cameras on our summer trips and eventually my dad let me start working with his good camera. So, I’ve been practicing photography for almost 25 years now.”
In addition to holding a Ph.D. in educational technology from Arizona State University, Erlandson also holds a bachelor’s degree from UNC Asheville and master’s degree from Emerson College in multimedia arts.
“I’ve had lots of classical artistic training: aesthetics, composition, perspective, etc.,” he said. “My class was the first to graduate from UNC Asheville in the newly-formed multimedia program, so I was pretty lucky that a majority of my classes in my junior and senior years were basically independent studies, so we all got lots of intensive individual training.”
Digital photography was one of Erlandson’s favorite courses and he credits one of his professors with teaching him how to perfect the medium.
“He helped me immensely in my practice of photography teaching me how to help myself continuously improve my shooting and my general approach to the medium. To this day, I still practice most of the improvement techniques he taught me,” he said.
Wright said that the most fascinating thing about photography is the way each artist chooses to interpret the natural world by capturing a certain light or focal point. Erlandson’s photographs will give viewers a glimpse of nature they may not have previously experienced.
“I feel the vistas and visions Ben has captured are many sights that a lot of people may not be able to see for themselves. It brings that part of the country closer to our own world, so to speak. And for those people fortunate enough to have traveled these same parts, the photos will evoke memories, but also give a unique aspect, perhaps something they did not see before,” she said.
Favorite images in the collection for Erlandson include a shot from the Ubehebe Crater in Death Valley, which Erlandson said looks “like a molten lake from another planet.”
“Also, a sunset shot from the Sierra Nevada that happens to be the first shot I took on the entire trip,” he said. “When I looked through the photos on my camera later that night, I thought to myself, ‘Uh, oh, buddy. You just set the bar real high. Good luck getting another one like that.’”
Photography is also a great way to expose people to art, Erlandson said.
“I think that many types of photography offer a grounding in reality that can allow the less experienced art viewers out there to dip their toes into the shallow end, so to speak, due to the fact that what is often portrayed in this medium, even in more abstract works, is readily recognizable and digestible as a real space,” he said. “This gives the novice viewer some leverage and comfort to begin to explore the ways in which the photographer has chosen to capture the space and the subjects within that space — something to latch on to when internally processing or conversing with others about the more artistic elements of the piece.”
In addition to capturing breathtaking images on film, Erlandson said photography is a way to remember not just the moment captured on film, but the experiences surrounding it.
“I look at any photograph I’ve ever taken, tens of thousands over the years, and I am taken back in my mind to the experience of taking the photograph,” he said. “Some experiences are more vivid than others, but I feel some or most of what I felt at the snap of the shutter, however long ago it may have been. From an aesthetic standpoint, those pieces I have which are my highest quality work make me feel wonderful, that I’ve accomplished something beautiful in my life that others can also enjoy, perhaps even understanding and appreciating the beauty in the same way that I do, and that makes me feel good. And those pieces also make me feel good because they represent the fact that I have learned quite a bit about photography over the years, and that sometimes, I am indeed in the right place at the right time with the right lens on my camera — sometimes you just nail the shot. Yes. That feels really, really, really good.”
Erlandson said he hopes to see a big crowd for the gallery opening and looks forward to the opportunity to discuss his work with visitors. He also is working on a few more gallery shows and entering some juried competitions in the area. He also offers commission work and for the rest of 2014 will be donating 50 percent of all profits from sales on his website to the Elkin Valley Trails Association. For more details, visit http://photos.benerlandson.net.
Erlandson is planning to offer nature photography workshops and classes for novice and intermediate photographers. Stay tuned for more details on Facebook.com/erlandsonphotography or Twitter @ErlandsonPhoto. For more information about the gallery opening and other upcoming Foothills Arts Council events, visit www.foothillsartscouncil.org.
Kitsey E. Burns may be reached at 336-679-2341 or on Twitter @RippleReporterK.