Abram Kaplan’s Fine Grain Photography Exhibit: Visual Immersion in the American Food System

Last week, Abram Kaplan, Professor of Environmental Studies at Denison University in Granville, Ohio, opened his photography exhibit entitled “Fine Grain” to the public at the Mount Vernon Nazarene University Schnormeier Art Gallery. The exhibit is, as Mr. Kaplan describes it in his artist’s statement, “an artistic exploration into the American food system” that details “a personal journey about my process of learning how to see.” The exhibit is open to the public from 11 a.m.-4 p.m. / Saturday, 9 a.m.-2 p.m. at the Schnormeier Art Gallery located on Mainstreet in downtown Mount Vernon from February 3 through March 10, 2012. For more information on exhibit hours, click here.

Mr. Kaplan has been kind enough to provide the Rural Life Center with his artist’s statement (see below). If you get a chance, we highly recommend that you check out the exhibit. We invite you to share with us your thoughts below.

Fine Grain

This exhibition is an artistic exploration into the American food system.  But it is also a personal journey about my process of learning how to see.  I think it began when I took my students to an Amish farm in Holmes County, many years ago, and we asked the farmer to describe his life and his work.  It was an introductory Environmental Studies course, and we had spent a fair bit of time talking about agriculture, farm policy, agrarian economics, soil erosion, and other aspects of the food system.  It was remarkable when the Amishman began talking about the birds (his family kept an annual list of all the species they saw), the pastoral landscape, and his joy in being surrounded by the sights and smells of the farm.  I was struck at how constrained my view really was, how my training and my filters impaired my ability to be open, to feel, to experience the very environment I studied.

I realized that I saw, but I didn’t see.

I had no sensibility about art back then, and I have no formal training in it now.  But when I have a camera in my hands – and sometimes even when I don’t – the world looks different.  Instead of problems that I would otherwise think about, I see patterns – patterns which don’t require solutions or answers.  Instead of scientific inquiry, I see discovery – discovery that draws me in the way a forest path turns mysteriously around the bend.  These aren’t dichotomies, and I know well that science is replete with discovery, but the difference for me is the experience, the immediacy of vision, and the emotional sense of wonder.  I find that when I really see, I feel a connectedness to my surroundings that I have never experienced before, a transcendent calm.

It is much more than a recognition of the beauty all around us, though that realization has certainly inspired my art.  It is the epiphany that something like food – where it comes from, how it is produced, who the people are who bring it from its origin to my kitchen – something like food that was always a topic I could readily contemplate in a room with no windows is now a topic that requires my sight to engender my full interest and my attention.  I want to know more, and I want to see it.  It is an aesthetic encounter that I seek.

And so, Fine Grain represents my first public attempt to bring that topic of food to a creative sensibility, to share the way I see it with you and hopefully to bring you into that experience through the visceral and interactive modes of this artwork.  Fine Grain is dedicated to asking questions, to wondering, and to exploring, without the requirement of answers or decisions.  I hope it raises your awareness as it has mine, but it is not my intention to push your behavior in any particular direction.  If nothing else, I aspire to a shared creative enterprise, perhaps much like the Amish farmer who so enhanced my perspective.  Through art, through communication with one another, through experiential activities, we may arrive at new ways of knowing, transformative ways of being.  Fine Grain seeks to open those windows for you as it does for me.

Abram W. Kaplan

October, 2011

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