Shooting into the sun

When Hungarian-born photographer Balthazar Korab looks at landscapes, he finds their silence. It’s in the long religious lines of shadow, the knotted knuckles on an old tree and concrete demigods holding up the sky. His photos offer room to breathe inside Image Circle Gallery, a new photography gallery owned by Justin Maconochie, located above Revolution Gallery in Ferndale. Genius Loci, representing Korab’s 50 years of work at Cranbrook, is the premiere show.

Maconochie, 35, grew up in rural Macomb County, smelling horses, drinking well water and hanging with hippies who camped on the family’s property. As a child, he was entranced by his mom’s slide shows. Later, he watched the land he loved get clear-cut by subdivisions, and picked up a camera.

While studying at the College for Creative Studies in 1989, a friend led Maconochie to Korab. For their first formal meeting, the young artist got spiffy and went to Korab’s residence, a historic farmhouse with an old barn converted into a studio on 5 acres in Troy. Maconochie still remembers how thankful he was when Korab came bursting in with bare feet and black hands, dirty from tending his garden. The artist took one look at the pressed kid and said, “You’ll need tennis shoes.”

That was the beginning of a more than decade-long apprenticeship for Maconochie, photographing architectural projects, working on sculptures and, well, gardening — Korab’s passion for the land makes sense when you look at his photography: Whether in Indiana or Italy, he really feels his environment.

Through the years, the two of them went on trips to shoot buildings, a commercial enterprise Korab is known to have turned into an artistic one. Architects utilize photos to submit proposals for design competitions and impress potential clients. But Korab, who began as an architect himself, doesn’t frame shots with a photographer’s eye; he knows what a body senses as it moves through space. That experience makes it through his lens, where buildings seem expansive yet uncomplicated. When printed on gelatin silver, there’s such depth you can practically wander through the photo yourself. It’s why during his career he’s been trusted by architectural greats Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Eero Saarinen.

As Maconochie worked with Korab, first as a studio assistant, then a studio manager, he gradually developed a roster of clients who trusted him. Although he keeps busy with a commercial studio, as a fine artist he’s developing a series about the tourism trade. Traveling the nation, he searches for “the less obvious Kodak moment.” In one of his photos, a family visiting Niagara Falls stops for a picture in front of a billboard. From Maconochie’s distance, their tiny backpacked bodies scrunch together in front of the fake Niagara landscape while the natural falls cascade nearby, unseen. Maconochie also spent time in Utah, where he captured another great shot: A cavernous mountain opens its gaping mouth like the front door to a home while an RV squats out front. Clearly he has learned from the best, so he challenges what and how he sees, finding untraditional landscapes as well. In Image Circle gallery, an overblown print of a computer board looks like a distant city. A diffused orange light sets on the hardware like an Olafur Eliasson sun.

Maconochie’s time with Korab is a great gift, and now he gets to share it. Genius Loci showcases 20 or so photos of Korab’s work at Cranbrook. It’s also the title of a new book featuring 135 black-and-white pages of gorgeous photography, published by the artist. The title refers to an observer who senses the unique spirit of a place. Attracted to the academy’s European environment — ivy creeping up Tudor apartments and trellised footpaths — Korab spent five decades wandering the campus, seeking daybreak between pillars and finding statuettes swimming in the gray soup of fog. The exhibit also presents limited edition prints of the presidential set, 12 of the 20 photos of America selected by President Clinton in 1994 as a gift to the Hungarian president.

Maconochie is planning several shows a year at Image Circle, including at least one exhibit of his own work. The next show is the Chicago street photography of Marco Lorenzetti. For a guy who has spent the past few years treading the country for the perfect shot, it’s nice Maconochie likes what he sees in Ferndale and has opened up shop.


Genius Loci opens 5-8 p.m., Saturday, April 16, and runs through Saturday, May 28, at Image Circle Gallery (23255 Woodward Ave., Ferndale; 248-547-8110).

Rebecca Mazzei is Metro Times arts editor. Send comments to [email protected]
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