Dan Gottlieb’s Camera as Proxy Eye

Dan Gottlieb’s photography has been shaped by two life-changing events.

Born with a hearing disability, his world as a child was largely self-invented.  He made things, including pictures, spaces and objects

“I learned about the world using my eyes,” the director of planning and design at the North Carolina Museum of Art (NCMA) says.  “And I began taking pictures – they were internal impressions of the world going by.”

When he was eight years old, Gottlieb underwent what he calls a “miracle operation,” and suddenly was able to hear.  Though he would have to learn to communicate verbally, he continued to create and to interpret the world as he saw it.  One of his early photographs was an image of a television screen with the caption of “First Man on Moon.”

For about 30 years now, he’s been actively engaged in a substantially larger project: transforming 164 acres, located two miles from downtown Raleigh, from scarred site to cultural masterpiece.  Where a youth prison facility once languished, two works by internationally acclaimed architects Edward Durell Stone and Thomas Phifer now stand, surrounded by a sculpture garden with works by the likes of Thomas Sayre.

Phifer’s award-winning west wing was 11 years in the planning before it opened in 2010, with Gottlieb involved at every level.  It did not come to fruition without extracting a personal toll:  four years ago, while swimming laps, he suffered a heart attack, and at age 54, underwent emergency surgery.

“It was a near-death experience,” he says.  “And part of my healing process was to re-acquaint myself with the digital camera so that it’s an extension of my body as I shoot.”

Once he had recovered and Phifer’s west wing was complete, he took off for three weeks and went to Turkey, alone except for his rangefinder with Leica and Panasonic lenses.  In Istanbul, he began to internalize his experiences, to objectify them with his camera

The results of that trip, and another to Brazil, will be on display at the S Reynolds Design Gallery in Asheville, N.C. beginning Friday, September 30.

The images are hauntingly potent, long-exposure works of lavish color and studied movement.  The photographer held his lens open for one to three-and-a-half seconds as he moved his body before his subject.  “It’s kind of a choreographed thing – my movements have to be in synch with the space,” he said.  “It’s like what an architect does vertically or horizontally with a space.  The camera is my proxy eye.”

He used no PhotoShop or any other means to enhance the images, each of which is printed on cotton rag paper with pigmented dyes.  And he patented their most unusual frames.  The artwork is floated in a 3/4″ deep space in shadow boxes constructed with a wood product, the way that a museum’s Riker Boxes are used to preserve objects like insects, bones and gems.  Sizes range from 31 inches by 31 inches to 31 by 38.

“They have a very object-ness to them,” he says.  “I’ve made a place for them – they’re living in a place just for them.”

The images themselves, though, represent an artist’s attempt to arrest and hold the most ephemeral and fleeting concept of all: that of time itself.

“It’s his way of capturing the moment,” says gallery owner Sam Reynolds.  “It appears to me that it’s his way of looking at how precious time is, and capturing it for his own benefit.”

A reception for the artist will be held on Friday, Sept. 30 from 5 PM to 8 PM.  The exhibit runs through Dec. 17.  For more information ,contact Sam Reynolds at 828.252.7972

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