A! Magazine for the Arts

Neil Staples, Associate Professor of Photography at Virginia Intermont College, says, "I might change a life or two myself."

Neil Staples, Associate Professor of Photography at Virginia Intermont College, says, "I might change a life or two myself."

The Arts — Changing Lives: Photography, Music, Sculpture

October 27, 2009

Photography: From Freud to F-Stops

When Neil Staples, Associate Professor of Photography at Virginia Intermont College, saw the magic of the photographic process for the first time, it changed his life.

"I was a psychology major in college, absolutely convinced from an early age that was the direction my life would take," he says. "For the last semester of my senior year, after I had already been accepted at grad school, I decided to take it easy for a change. Since I had all the credits in psych I needed, I signed up for photography class, just for fun."

That fun put an end to graduate school.

"From the moment I put that first exposed piece of photo paper in the tray of chemistry and watched the image magically appear, I was hooked," he says.

The magic transformed Staples into a photographer with a long and varied career.

He never made it to graduate school for psychology, a decision, he says, his parents never got over. Instead he enrolled in a two-year technical photography program and later received a master's degree from Barry University in Miami, Fla.

Staples ran a commercial photo studio, which supported him for 20 years. In 2001, he joined the faculty at VI, specializing primarily in studio lighting and non-silver processes.

"I am lucky enough to teach in a great photo program, hoping I might change a life or two myself," he says. "And yes, even with a digital camera, when it all comes together just right, it still seems like magic."

Looking At Life Through Oils and Bluegrass

"When you are reared in an art-appreciating family, and your father and many of his relatives are painters, it may seem strange to say that art changed your life," says Sam Morrow, Assistant Professor of Art at Virginia Intermont College. "But changing your life doesn't have to mean a new career or a new life direction -- it can be how you look at life. And what is art but a way to look at the world and interpret it through the filters of your mind's eye and translate it into your chosen medium?"

In Morrow's case, that medium is oil paint. He says, "I can't remember when I first became interested in art, though I always thought in visual terms and seemed to have an innate understanding of how to translate things into the visual medium."

He remembers the first time his father took him to a museum, the National Gallery in London, his home town: "I can recall the mystery and strangeness of the medieval paintings. Art should be strange, if it's any good. I took my wife and 8-year-old son to the Louvre in Paris last summer, and my son remarked on how "scary' many of the paintings were. I hope this will stay with him as an early impression, as it did me."

Morrow feels that it must run in the blood. "Visual appreciation can be taught, but to a large extent, I think you're born with it."

His other artistic endeavor is his musical career. A former electric guitar player in punk bands in London, he switched to the banjo and bluegrass. In fact, bluegrass is one of the things that attracted him to Bristol, Tenn./Va., the Birthplace of Country Music.

Recently Morrow left the Dixie Bee-Liners to go out on his own. While he was a Bee-Liner, he was part of a group that had a Number 1 single in 2008 on the bluegrass music charts and was named Bluegrass Artist of the Year by the Roots Music Association.

He says, "I think music and visual art are very similar in terms of the creative process; a strange mixture of extreme relaxation and concentration. Like many other artists and musicians, all my skills seem to be in this area. I wish I were more balanced."

Editor's Note: Morrow received his Bachelor's of Fine Art from St. Martin's School of Art in London; a Master's from the Royal College of Art in London; and a Master's of Fine Art from Ohio State University.

Sculpture: Imaging the Future

Picasso once said, "Art is a lie that helps us realize the truth!"

According to Dr. Marvin Tadlock, Professor of Art at Virginia Intermont College, "A painting of a beautiful landscape is not a beautiful landscape, but actually just a flat coating of pigment on a piece of canvas -- nor is a bronze image of a frog a real frog. However, in the case of my bronze sculpture, 'Shot Frog,' there is underlying truth not found in any real frog. By using satire in the design of the piece, I have made a comment on violence, especially violence involving guns."

He continues, "Art allows me to express my opinions or my thoughts on a subject, in much the same way a poet might do with words. In addition to expressing a deeper, often subtler meaning in a sculpture, I am able to interject other aspects of creative thinking such as humor, analogy, and satire. More often than not the deeper message is long lost to the playfulness of the piece, or the series of pieces. The art transcends the message."

Tadlock's "Shot Frog" is part of a series that projects the viewer into an imaginary future several hundred thousand years from now, a future devoid of human beings. Tadlock explains, "Having lived among humans, the frogs have observed our behavior and have adopted many of our ways. Notice the suit, the bullet hole, the coffin, and the manipulation of the label on the coffin (a bronzed styrofoam hot dog container) to read 'Shot Frog.' By playfully substituting animals in situations humans find themselves, we get a completely new and sometimes enlightened view of ourselves: the painting of dogs playing cards, Francis the talking mule, Garfield, Mickey Mouse, Snoopy. If seeing a single frog with a bullet hole in his head is deemed absurd, how can we ever justify the thousands of cases happening daily to our own kind?"

Editor's Note: Tadlock has a Master of Fine Arts from the University of North Carolina-Greensboro and received his Doctorate of Education from the University of Georgia. Many of his works are on permanent display through the Southeast, including Virginia Intermont and Bristol's Art in Public Places. He is also a frequent exhibitor with numerous awards and accolades throughout his career.


-- The Arts - Changing Lives: Theatre