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Artist of the Month - March 2003

Norman E. Mayor: Photography as art
by Sydney Francis

It has been argued that photography is not really an art form. The case is made that photographs record an image, rather than creatively interpret and express the visual in an artistic way. But this case is ignorant of what it takes to make a successful image in photography or in painting, such as value contrast, color harmony, composition, texture, line, shape, rhythm, unity, etc. It is also ignorant of the artist photographer’s ability to see what is there and to capture it in a form that is compelling, vivid, provocative and/ or beau tiful. Awareness, therefore, of the visual elements, composition and the myriad of photographic techniques would inevitably lead one to appreciate photography as an art and the argument would be resolved.

So I am not going to spend the entirety of this article validating Norman E. Mayor’s color photographs: they stand on their own as successful and deliciously compelling images, which exhibit Mayor’s artistic eye for color, light, composition, rich texture and detail. Rather, I am going to focus the content of this article on his story of becoming a photographer and on the creative offspring of his new life.

In 1992 Mayor, a husband of 30 plus years and father to two grown children, had a serious heart attack. He had spent his career as kitchen cabinet salesman and installer. Mayor made a healthy recovery, but his doctor recommended he take it easy. For Mayor this meant returning to work and taking it easy in his heavy lifting and installing, and to the doctor this meant finding a new way of life. At any rate, Mayor returned to work with a smaller contract load, working shorter hours.

In 1994, Mayor’s doctor recommended he look into claiming Social Security disability. Although going on to disability would mean cutting his annual salary in more than half, the idea that he could retire and do some of the traveling he always wanted to do sounded really appealing. In 1995, Mayor retired and he took over ownership of a VW truck that he had invested in with his son. He wanted to travel and see the U.S. He longed to explore Route 66, which he had ridden on in the Army in 1961.

With his truck, a sleeping bag, a $19.95 camera, and twenty rolls of 200-speed film he headed west on Route 66. Upon returning home and getting his pictures processed, he was unhappy with his prints, and felt they did not do justice to what he had witnessed in his travels. Mayor then purchased a medium priced, 35mm Yashika camera and enrolled in a photography workshop at his local college.

In the meantime, Mayor and his wife no longer saw eye to eye in their sudden lifestyle change. Mayor felt like he had narrowly escaped death and he wanted to savor life by traveling to the destinations he had always wanted to see and record the wonder, spectacle, and beauty through color photography. His wife did not share this same passion, so they divorced.

In 1997, he enrolled tuition-free into the photography program at his local community college in Baltimore. His goal was to take the best hand-held, 35mm, color shot possible. He completed all the photography classes and workshops they offered, including several classes in black and white photography, color photography, indoor lighting, portraiture, and commercial photography.

Mayor currently lives here in Moab and continues his passion for travel and photography. He is close to completing his Associates Degree on-line. His apartment is filled with the tools of his craft: his living room is a gallery of framed prints and the archive of his numerous works and adventures. His bedroom doubles as a developing lab and studio.

Looking through Mayor’s gallery and archive of prints I was impressed with the range of subject matter and the diversity to his work. I was especially struck by two examples "Poppies from the Ground" and "Lobster Buoys". "Poppies from the Ground", taken from an unusual vantage point, is an image that is virtually abstracted by the close proximity of the subject matter and the angle at which the picture is taken. The line of the shaded green stem draws the viewer’s attention right into the center of the composition. The sharply defined veins of the poppy add contour lines, which draw the eye delicately across the surface of the petals. Even though the central and dominant flower is white, the saturated, primary hues of blue, red and yellow bring this image into exquisite color harmony. The colors appear to explode from the print’s surface.

In comparison is the photograph entitled "Lobster Buoys", which shows bright red lobster buoys hanging in a window in the left half of the composition. The buoys create a visual rhythm that is contrasted to the repetitive lines of the wall siding. The red of the buoys also emphasizes its complimentary color, green, in the tints and shadows of peeling paint in the surrounding space. In addition, the clarity of the competing textures-- including the crackled paint in the upper left corner, the smooth plasticity of the buoys, the flaking paint in the center of the wall and the grain of the wood on the window frame and the door,-- make this photograph a sensual delight.

I tried to pinpoint a central theme to Mayor’s work and decided his focus was on color and light, rather than being about landscapes or water scenes. He replied that many people have tried to put him in a niche, but that he loves a huge range of subjects and he does not limit his art in this way. It dawned on me later, thinking about all that he told me, that his goal of taking the best possible hand-held, 35mm color photograph is the axis in which his photography revolves. Being able to take great photographs with a 35mm camera allows him unparalleled freedom and flexibility when it comes to travel and adventure. Although 35mm cameras have drawbacks, as far as enlarging detail and crispness are concerned, he has fewer restrictions on what he can take and where because of the weight and the compactness of the 35mm camera. In this way, his traveling and photographing are inextricably linked into one endeavor of experiencing and capturing "America the Beautiful."

Mayor’s fine art prints are for sale in a range of standard sizes. He offers them matted at very reasonable prices. He also offers custom enlarging and instructional classes in 35mm photography. Contact Norman E. Mayor at 259-1573

 
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