Alan McGee’s photographs examine landscape as metaphor

by Frances Freyberg on March 13, 2017

“Beauty and Terror: Landscape as Metaphor” by photographer Alan McGee of Portola Valley is the featured exhibit at Portola Art Gallery (75 Arbor Road) in March. A reception for the artist will be held on Saturday, March 18, from 1:00 – 4:00 pm.

The show features photographs from 35 years of Alan’s explorations on the beaches of the San Mateo coast. He was initially drawn to this stretch of coastline near Pescadero because of the beauty of the landscape, with its eroded sandstone formations.

It was on these beaches, with his 8×10 view camera, that Alan encountered first-hand the photograph as metaphor: “While trudging along the beach with my camera and tripod balanced on my shoulder, I came upon an interesting jellyfish, about eight inches in diameter, lying on the beach. The jellyfish was accompanied by a flow pattern of black sand that contrasted nicely with the beige colored sand of the beach. I set up my view camera and aimed it at my subject.

“I then put my head under the dark cloth, adjusted the tilt of the back of my camera and the focusing knob, bringing the upside down image into focus. Much to my surprise, the camera’s version of the image created a curious creature, enrobed in black, which seemed to be winking at me as it was rising up out of the inverted background. This experience literally took my breath away.”

Over time, explains Alan: “The area beneath my dark cloth became a magical place where I could contemplate the image on the ground glass free of distraction. This became a process of meditation with open eyes, an entree into my unconscious realm. I began to experience the transformation of the natural world into figures of fantasy, many of which were indeed terrifying.”

Beauty and Terror is also the title of Alan’s newest book, published in December 2016. This book is part of Alan’s efforts as a recent octogenarian to create a photographic legacy. His first book, published in 2014, is entitled Rodin Revisited, and is placed at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Musee Rodin in Paris, and the Cantor Art Museum at Stanford University. He plans to publish three more books and place them in libraries and museums that will make his work accessible beyond his lifespan.

“Reflections” (11×14″, photograph, 1980) is one of the featured artworks in Alan McGee’s March exhibit, “Beauty and Terror: Landscape as Metaphor,” at the Portola Art Gallery; photo of Alan McGee by Frances Freyberg (c) 2014

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