Local Arts

Focusing on life through a wide-angle lens

Central Park, New York
Central Park, New York

Jerry Spagnoli, a New York photographer since the mid ’70s, posits that history may be nothing more than what each of us has experienced in our lifetime.

This concept, and an unwavering dedication to a unified photographic compositional formula, is what his newest collection of works, “Local Stories,” is all about. On display at The Light Factory through Oct. 23, Spagnoli’s landscapes give us a broad look at communities living together but separately in many geographic and socioeconomic contexts.

It consists entirely of shots taken, presumably from a tripod or a similar mount, with an extraordinarily high-quality wide-angle lens. This lens is truly the star of “Local Stories.” Without it, these compositions simply would not be attainable. Spagnoli uses this monstrous lens to capture moments in time where the sun sits perfectly center frame, shining down on everything from gatherings like Seurat’s “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte” to massive spans of forested land, and even an evening at The Dirt Track at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Each of these photographs emphasizes the commonplace nature of the actions in the frame. Here are people just living their lives, writing the next page in their personal histories, regarding one another as simple fellow human beings enjoying the sunshine on a summer afternoon at a street fair in Brooklyn or near an abandoned racetrack in Montana.

What makes these images so compelling, aside from the detail and viewing angle provided by the lens, is their tranquility.

However, after a dozen of these compositions, their formulaic nature begins to fade the color from the high-gloss paper. These photographs are detailed. They are beautifully composed. They are certainly relaxing. But they are all the same. It’s easy to find yourself feeling nothing more than a pleasant tinge of cordial approval – which might be less of a reaction than Spagnoli’s concept hopes to achieve.

The dedication to this wide-angle formula brings a satisfying unity, yes, but it also leaves a question hanging. Could the artist have built on his concept, furthered his process to an extent that the concept inspires more than an obliging grin and generates a unique and rare understanding?

This story was produced as part of the Charlotte Arts Journalism Alliance.