Have you ever been moving along one of your daily routes – like the drive that you take to work in the morning – and experienced the sensation that you are in a new town or imagined yourself as a stranger to Tacoma and tried to view familiar surroundings as if they were being seen for the first time? You do not have to travel halfway around the world and become a tourist to have the sensation of being in a new and exotic place. Somehow, the novel and the strange seem to awaken our senses. In new locations, everything is interesting and exciting and a surge of vitality floods through our veins. That is why travel is so addictive.
Photographer Beatrice Geller, whose work is now showing at Pacific Lutheran University’s Ingram Gallery, demonstrates that all places are inherently new and exotic. It is the mindset that comes from familiarity that robs them of their magic and makes them seem mundane. Places that are well known and ordinary lose their power to stimulate our senses. If we can remove the blinders of habitual opinion that we direct toward our place in the world, we can experience the familiar in a new way and get the traveler’s jolt of wonderment without having to budge an inch from of our everyday surroundings.
For her photography show “Finding Tacoma: The Changing Faces of the Northwest,” Geller took a sabbatical year to explore. She did not go to faraway places, however. “I made Tacoma my Venice,” said Geller. She spent the year viewing Tacoma through new eyes – through the lens of her camera. The results of that sabbatical year are now on view in PLU’s art gallery. Geller shares her own discovery of Tacoma through photographs of places that you all know (or easily can know). With the help of the camera, Geller presents Tacoma as a fairy tale land or as a place that you might lust after as your fingertips slowly slide over the slippery pages of a brand-new issue of National Geographic magazine.
Digital filters and effects are applied to the images in order to heighten and highlight certain elements of the images. Local gardens become haunted woodlands, the Tacoma tideflats become like scenarios in a steampunk, Hayao Miyazaki film. Laborers in their surroundings become heroes in an epic drama and crewmen from a boat moored along Dock Street resemble nothing less than pirates, disembarking from some dread galleon of dark legend.
On the other hand, Geller can make Tacoma show off its poetic charm, as with a simple image of an elegant, slender, wooden boat tied up beneath the Murray Morgan Bridge. The name written on the bow of the aquatic sylph is “Patience.”
In another vein, Geller takes multiple images and blends them together to make collages that can be either musical or surreal. The raw material for these visions, however, is all homegrown – all locally sourced visual images that were found at the cost of a little shoe leather and the use of eyes kept alert for fresh inspiration.
There are portraits of local people, which remind the viewer that every person is a living text with many volumes of narrative, perception and experience to disclose (if only there were sufficient clarity of perception.)
The curators of the show, Raquel Du Toit and Jeremy Schaller, arranged the images in such a way that they give the viewer the impression of going for a walk through Tacoma.
Geller’s exhibit is a tour of wonder in itself. Even greater than the show, however, is the underlying message: You do not have to wait until vacation time, or until you have saved up enough money, to go to a place that stimulates your sensory perception. All one has to do is remove the blinders that we all impose upon ourselves by our mental habits. Every day of your life you can experience your surroundings as though you were freshly arrived in this place. The value of this feat is that your experience of beauty and novelty is increased and existence is given a new boost of zesty vitality. How do we do this? A good place to start is to emulate Geller and begin snapping pictures. Look for the new and the exotic and it will come surging up out of the ground for you to take notice. It is no accident that the quintessential attribute of a tourist is a camera. Seek interesting visions in your daily life and you will find them.
“Finding Tacoma” runs through April 4 in the gallery space in PLU’s art building, Ingram Hall. For further information, visit www.plu.edu/gallery.