Thursday, October 10, 2013

Local Arts: Heads or Tales? Either Way You Win…



The current exhibit at the Adirondack Artists Guild in Saranac Lake will intrigue you! As featured artist of the month, Burdette Parks, a very accomplished Adirondack photographer, has chosen to show viewers a different side of the coin. Heads and tails – I mean tales….

When you walk towards the back of the gallery space to the featured artists section, you are met with a stunning array of beautiful, distinguished faces looking back at you (and one goofy one), plus a few looking elsewhere. All square and all black and white and luscious shades of gray (probably more than 50!) with black backgrounds. Burdette is active at Pendragon Theatre and during the course of the last few months, he set up a temporary photography studio on the stage. He had his subjects come one at a time, sit in a comfortable chair with the black curtain behind them, and he set up the lighting to bathe their faces in soft light. No props.

In order to help them relax, he asked them to tell him a story. Any story. About any thing. He recorded the stories. Then he asked them to tell the story again, this time using their hands to gesture as much as they are comfortable – he focused his camera on their hands and photographed them. Lastly, he had them pose for their portraits. When explaining this he said people were much more relaxed after going through the story part of the process and he felt that enabled him to get much better portraits. (Note: this might be a strategy the rest of us should employ when taking those family photos…).

So there you have the “heads” and the “tales” that became his exhibit. In his press release for the show, Burdette described how our faces and hands are our most recognizable features – they literally define who we are. Our brains are hard-wired for facial recognition – it’s one of the first things new born infants and mothers do – when lovingly staring up at their mothers faces, infants are instinctively forming a visual bond that will last a lifetime. Burdette exposed his fellow gallery members to a new word: “Prosopagnosia”, also called face blindness, is an impairment in the recognition of faces. It is often accompanied by other types of recognition impairments (place recognition, car recognition, facial expression of emotion, etc.) though sometimes it appears to be restricted to facial identity. For more information see:

Lastly, Burdette set up a contest for gallery visitors – a challenge in face and personality recognition. Most of the portrait photos are on one wall of the gallery. Starkly elegant hand portraits are on another wall. The printed story that goes along with each pair of hands is mounted below them. You are asked to figure out which “head” goes with which hands and “tales”. A ballot is provided and the winner will receive a free sitting for a portrait!

Gallery viewers during the crowded opening reception on Friday Oct 4 were intently studying faces, reading and re-reading stories, and trying to match them up. Several clever observers noted that one woman’s hands, with a lovely ring, were included in both her portrait and her hand photo. Ah hah! There’s one match up. But who would have had a friend who celebrated a 100th birthday on the now infamous Sept 11, 2001? And who couldn’t stop laughing at the teenage brother who fell out of a fishing boat, with legs caught and so hung upside down in the water, flailing for help? It probably did not help that beer and wine were available during the reception and there were so many people it was nearly impossible to get good views of the photos and have the opportunity to carefully read the stories without conversation all around.

Now, however, would be a good time to visit the gallery. Bring a pad of paper and a pencil. See how good you are at facial recognition and written comprehension! Can you find some clues? Use deductive reasoning? The Adirondack Artists Guild is located at 52 Main Street in Saranac Lake. Hours are Tues through Sat, 10 – 5, and Sunday 11 – 3. Closed Mondays, but will be open on Oct 14, Columbus Day. 518-891-2615.


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Sandra Hildreth

Sandra Hildreth, who writes regularly about Adirondack arts and culture, grew up in rural Wisconsin and is a retired high school art teacher. She lives in Saranac Lake where she was spends much of her time hiking, paddling, skiing, and painting.

Today, Sandy can often be found outdoors Plein air painting - working directly from nature, and is an exhibiting member of the Adirondack Artists' Guild in Saranac Lake. She is also active in Saranac Lake ArtWorks.

Sandy’s work can be seen on her website

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