by Lorie Lewis Ham
The Spectrum Art Gallery is located in the Tower District of Fresno and officially came into existence in 1980–then known as simply the Spectrum Gallery. Its mission is to advance photography as an art form, foster understanding and support for those who create, enjoy and collect photography, and offer an accessible community space for activities and programs to meet the community’s needs. We took a moment recently to chat with several of those involved with the Spectrum Art Gallery.
Steve Dzerigian is the Curator, Co-founder, and past President of Spectrum.
KRL: What exactly is Spectrum Art Gallery and how and when did it get its start?
Steve: Our mission is to advance photography as an art form, foster understanding and support for those who create, enjoy and collect photography and offer an accessible community space for activities and programs to meet the community’s needs. Spectrum also offers supplemental educational programs and workshops. It provides a forum for the discussion of photography related media as a means of creative expression and cultural insight, and serves as a vital contributor to the culture of the region. Through our programs we provide resources for working artists and students, while further developing public awareness of fine art photography.
Before 1973, exhibitions of photography, as fine art appeared very infrequently in the San Joaquin Valley. At that time a growing number of photography enthusiasts began to congregate in a darkroom rental / gallery establishment called Photo-Synthesis. Since there was no place else in the Fresno Area that consistently exhibited photography, it became a hub for photographic artists. Many local photographers as well as out-of-towners such as Ansel Adams, Wynn Bullock, Steve Crouch, and Imogen Cunningham were featured in its tiny gallery space. In 1979, I drafted a letter gathering some 30 charter members to form a not-for-profit cooperative creating a local forum for fine art photography
In 1980 the group rented a space in Fresno’s Tower District, and referring to the broad variety of work produced by the charter members, called itself Spectrum Gallery. For a number of years it operated under the non-profit umbrella of the Fresno Free College Foundation. Spectrum Gallery was granted its own 501(c)3 non-profit status in 2003, and our name changed to Spectrum Art Gallery: Fine Art Photography.
KRL: Do you just exhibit photography?
Steve: We exhibit artwork that is photographically related including mixed media that involves photography. And why photography? Because there have been no other Galleries in the Central Valley that exhibited enough of the medium.
KRL: Do all of your members take turns with an exhibit?
Steve: Most, but not all.
KRL: How long do exhibits usually last?
Steve: Exhibits usually last 1 month.
KRL: I believe you said that you had guest exhibitors-how often do you do this and how do you decide who it will be?
Steve: Out of 12 main space exhibitions per year all but one month are reserved for local artists. We reserve one month for our Guest Artist Program. To name only a few, our guest artists have included national and internationally known – Edna Bullock, Wynn Bullock, Christopher Burkett, Dan Burkholder, Martha Casanave, Charles Cramer, Linda Connor, Judy Dater, Richard Garrod, Margaretta Mitchell, Rondal Partridge, Jerry McMillan, Susie Morrill, Leonard Nimoy, Ted Orland, Ryuijie, and Jerry Uelsmann. We host our Guest artists’ presentations that may be lecture, demonstration, or workshop in tandem with their exhibition – introducing non-local, educational offerings to our community. Guest Artists are chosen by a seven member, exhibition committee.
KRL: How many members do you have?
Steve: Around 100
KRL: Are they all photographers?
Steve: Almost all.
KRL: Why do you feel this sort of gallery is important?
Steve: To our knowledge we offer more exhibitions and artists exposure to the community than any other gallery in the Central Valley.
Anyone may join or exhibit their images whether they are actively pursuing photographic art or simply appreciate community service and maintaining photography in the cultural fabric of our community. We accommodate and encourage beginners as well as provide venues and a forum for the most active photographic artists.
We regularly donate to or participate in volunteer community projects. The most recent example is the Historical Landmarks Photography Project. Spectrum Gallery was honored by an official Resolution from the Fresno County Board of Supervisors commending our contribution to the Fresno County Historical Landmarks and Records Advisory Commission for a collection of nearly 2,000 photographs of the registered historical landmarks in the county. This involved 15 Spectrum members actively working in the field and on their computers from 2013 through 2014.
KRL: Are there other galleries in the area that exhibit photography?
Steve: Other galleries show photography occasionally. Nearest strictly photographic galleries are in Sacramento and Carmel.
KRL: Have you always been at the same location?
Steve: Initially in 1979 we met at the Fresno Art Center; but by 1980 rented our own space at 1306 N. Wishon in the Tower District. There we stayed until 2008 when we moved to our present location at 608 E. Olive. We started out with about 35 charter members, and are now about 100 members from all walks of photographic life – from students, art enthusiasts, beginners who hope to learn photography, highly advanced amateurs to active professional and published photographic artists. We remain an all-volunteer, cooperative, non-profit organization.
KRL: Are there different types of photographers among your members?
Steve: All kinds of fine art styles/media, hence the name Spectrum.
KRL: You mentioned that Leonard Nimoy once had a show there–can you tell us about that?
Steve: We sponsored a local exhibit of Leonard Nimoy’s work coordinated with his appearance with the Fresno Philharmonic several years ago.
Jesse Merrell, current President of Spectrum Art Gallery. Jesse is the chair of their annual auction, which just took place last month.
KRL: Please tell us about your annual auction?
Jesse: Each year, Spectrum Art Gallery exhibits a diverse collection of fine art photographs from distinguished and emerging artists that will be auctioned off to support Spectrum Art Gallery. We are proud to give our local artists an opportunity to exhibit their work in a premium gallery setting. We also bring in noted photographers each year to allow our local patrons to appreciate nationally recognized artists. This event combines a chance to view and appreciate fine art as well as an opportunity to take home a piece that speaks to you. Nowhere else in the area will you have the chance to view and purchase works from the roster of both local and nationally known artists represented in this auction.
Photography is an excellent investment in both economic and personal terms. Think of the opportunities that have been missed in the past. How many times have you, or someone you were speaking with, said “if only I had bought work by “x” back in (fill in the date) before he/she hit it big”. This is the public’s chance to bid on both up and coming as well as fully established, internationally recognized, artist’s/artists’ work.
This year, we had many amazing images and items up for bid in our newly redesigned auction format and benefit reception. While guests mingle with fellow photography enthusiasts there will be music, food and wine to start the evening. We are very excited to have presented both silent and live auctions this year! There were also interactive features and drawings for collectible items throughout the night. Admission to this interactive and fun-filled event was only $10, and included one bidder plus a guest.
Our gallery is a 501c(3) registered non-profit organization, and this very important event is the primary annual fundraiser for Spectrum Art Gallery.
KRL: I noticed you have different photographs for sale at Spectrum-can you tell me about those?
Jesse: Visitors can purchase artwork from either the Main Gallery Space or the Rotating Member’s Space. However, we also have a collection of work from members in our bookstore area. Members are encouraged to provide their work for sale through Spectrum, including photographic prints, cards, books, and other unique items. This helps Spectrum support its membership by promoting their work and providing a storefront. Visitors perusing the bookstore are also introduced to a great variety of works that aligns with our mission to advance photography as an art form, foster understanding and support for those who create, enjoy and collect.
KRL: Anything else you would like to add?
Jesse: Spectrum Art Gallery is dedicated to our community and to photographers and photography enthusiasts of any level. We would like to encourage anyone who is interested in photography as an art form to contact us and inquire about the benefits of membership, including use of the darkroom facilities, opportunities to exhibit their work, and being a part of a community of individuals who share a love for the precise art and subtle science of photography.
Linda Knight is Vice President of the Board.
KRL: How, when, and why did you get involved?
Linda: My interest in Spectrum came about as a result of my relationship with Terry Hayden, a black & white landscape photographer and curator of the Gallery until his death in 2014. We regularly went to events at Spectrum and also socialized with many of the members. I felt very connected to the Gallery and many of the members there. Although I was not a photographer, I came to appreciate photography as an art form. Not too long after Terry’s death, I became a member of the Gallery because I wanted to remain connected to the many wonderful people I had met there and, also, because I wanted to contribute to the Gallery.
Shortly after I joined the Gallery in January of 2015, a position on the board opened up and I offered to fill the position. There have been plenty of opportunities to become more involved since I joined the board. Very early on I volunteered to become New Member Coordinator. Then, in January of this year, I was elected Vice President. Spectrum offers quite a variety of workshops to its members and non-members alike, and I have taken advantage of several of them. I have taken two digital photography workshops, plus a 6-week Photoshop course at Spectrum – all of them excellent. Spectrum also has a monthly idea and image sharing evening, where members can bring their photographs in digital form for an informal and friendly review by experienced photographers. I haven’t brought any images to share but I have learned what makes for a good photograph. At some point I will have to start practicing in earnest what I have learned and get real about snapping photographs!
KRL: What do you think makes it unique?
Linda: You probably know that Spectrum is the only gallery in Fresno that exhibits only photographic art. And it is only one of two cooperative (AKA “co-op”) galleries in Fresno, i.e., a gallery run by its members. I have visited many Arthop venues over the years and I continue to be impressed with the quality of the art exhibited at Spectrum. The works on the walls at Spectrum are professional caliber and compare favorably with photographic fine art in galleries in major cities. I have also been impressed with the willingness of the members of the gallery to put in hours of their time to support the gallery and the other members of the gallery. There seems to be no jealousy among the members. Each is eager to offer suggestions to other photographers and to share his or her insight and knowledge. I know that when I do begin to “commit” some serious photography, the comments and suggestions from my fellow Spectrum members will be valuable and well-intended.
KRL: Why do you feel it is important to this area?
Linda: I have long appreciated fine art. I spent my career in the Los Angeles area where there are many fine museums and galleries, and I was no stranger to them. I was also fortunate that my job took me to many foreign countries, always major cities where I could inevitable found some time to visit museum or two. My many visits to galleries and museums convinced me that art has a unique way of encapsulating history and culture, enabling the viewer to feel and almost experience the scene portrayed. A work of fine art helps to develop and nurture the soul of anyone who views it. That is why I choose to support the arts in Fresno.
The photographic arts can involve the viewer more immediately and intimately into the experience. I recall, particularly, the Spectrum exhibit in January, in which two artists (yes, photographers are artists!) collaborated on a show about water. Andrew Holden’s portion of the exhibit was entitled “Water is Life” and Lorinda Salvador’s, “Precious H20.” Andrew spent two years “roaming Central California to capture the effects of the drought.” His images were beautiful and haunting. His hope was that his images would cause viewers to either begin, in some cases, or continue, in other cases, to ask questions about the best use of water and their own use of water in the face of the drought. Lorinda’s inspiration came about because she had “. . . noticed that some photographic opportunities created by the drought had an artistic edge to them. [Her] idea was to put artistic images into the viewer’s mind hoping they will recall the art when faced with disrespecting the precious water available to us.” Each, I think, achieved their stated goal. Each was passionate about his/her topic. Each had carefully selected images that reflected their passion and delivered the message they intended. Their combined exhibit was a powerful message to our community delivered, for the most part, without words.
Patrick W. Rhames, a photographer member of Spectrum.
KRL: How long have you been a photographer?
Patrick: That requires a two part response. I spent 42 years of my adult life in Law Enforcement with Fresno PD. As a rookie officer, I was assigned to the Identification Bureau which is popularly called “Crime Scene Investigations” in these days of serial police shows. For less than a year, I was trained to photograph crime scenes and learned the basics. But, I was young and dumb and wanted to be assigned to Patrol so I could “fight crime”. I never forgot the lessons I was taught in that assignment, however.
In the intervening years between then and retirement, I owned a camera and used it, but not as a serious photographer. When I retired, I had a reason to go to Ireland for my son’s wedding. I decided to buy a new camera and tour Ireland while I was there. In so doing, the attraction to serious photography proved to be fatal for me. It consumed me like an infection. I became almost singularly focused on the pursuit of photography, completing a “professional photography course” and inhaling every instructional text I could fit into my library. It continues to be the focus of my interests, today, and has required me (I’m a slave to it) to hang out a shingle as a “professional” which simply means I will accept money for practicing my preferred vice.
So I have, really, only been a serious photographer since retirement from PD in 2007. So, about 9 years.
KRL: Please tell us a little about your photography?
Patrick: I will shoot anything that is above water. What I am attracted to photograph is what I have recently defined as attracti-scapes: attractive scenes of places and things in our world that are both beautiful to the eye and stimulating to the mind. It is this intoxicating combination of sensory appeal that guides the direction of my photography and is its impetus.
KRL: What type of photos do you exhibit?
Patrick: I will exhibit images that I think are done well enough to do so and are of high interest quality. As far as subject matter goes, I tend to see my ‘scapes falling into that category more often than not.
KRL: Why did you decide to become a part of Spectrum Art Gallery? And do you have a position there currently other than a member?
Patrick: I became a member of Spectrum to broaden my exposure to “Fine Art” photography and to gain by the influence of the body of excellent photographers who are its members.
KRL: How long have you been a part of Spectrum?
Patrick: Almost three years.
If you would like to learn more about Spectrum Art Gallery, and check them out for yourself, check out their website and Facebook page. You can visit the gallery at 608 E Olive Ave in Fresno, CA or contact them at 559-266-0691.
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