Thanks to the internet and social media, an image of a squirrel sitting atop a cat who’s sitting atop a soaring eagle, while locking eyes with the viewer, feels like a scene that could happen somewhere at some point.
If our hours of scrolling every day accomplishes nothing else, it’s at least enabled us to suspend reality a little more easily. Add a perceptive caption and you’ve likely got yourself a viral post.
Understandably, photography purists have habitually dismissed the manipulation of photos in any way. They might laugh at the memes, but they’d never endorse celebrating them in a gallery.
That narrow-minded way of thinking appears to finally be falling by the wayside. As evidence of that shift, the image mentioned above is not only real – it’s titled “Rideshare” and it’s by Sarah Ascalon – it’s featured in an exhibition that blurs the lines between photography and graphic design at the New Hope Arts Center, in New Hope.
“Transformations” is an annual show by the members of the Pennsylvania Center for Photography, which closed its Doylestown gallery last year.
The center was established several years ago to “to promote and advance the photographic experience by providing a nurturing environment and resources where photographers of all levels can learn, create, discuss, and show their work.” Before the pandemic, the center provided workshops and portfolio reviews for its members and staged several exhibits throughout the year.
Its founder and director, Henry Rowan, is a revered photographer who’s made a living from commercial and portrait photography, but he earned his reputation through his fine art photography, which was erasing the parameters of reality well before graphic design became user-friendly.
“The images I create never existed and never will exist,” Rowan has said of a subset of his photography he calls “non-existent imagery.” “They are combinations of angles, colors, light, time, lenses, sensors, and more, which produce images that the human eye can’t see and the human mind can’t process in real life. Unlike the photojournalist, I am not trying to capture a moment in time, but rather I am hoping to create a feeling in space that conveys the essence of the subject.”
Following Rowan’s lead, the center’s members have created all kinds of inventive images that elaborate on conventional photos, and the “Transformations” exhibits, as a result, have become more nuanced and inspiring with each new addition.
And while images like this may be commonplace in our social feeds these days, the ones hanging at the New Hope Arts Center through Labor Day are different. For one, you haven’t seen them before. They haven’t been meme-ified and reposted ad nauseum. Which leaves them open to your interpretation, as all art should be. And when was the last time you looked at any image and weren’t told what to think?
Transformations will remain on view at the New Hope Arts Center, 2 Stockton Avenue, New Hope, through Sept. 6.