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Park Rapids photographer featured at Nemeth Art Center

One of Lowell's images show the bold, bright colors of Mexico he's attracted to in photographing this mural and restaurant tables. (Lowell Wolff)1 / 3
In his travels south each year, Wolff is drawn to the bold colors of Mexico. (Lowell Wolff photo)2 / 3
Park Rapids photographer Lowell Wolff has his work on display at the Nemeth Art Center through May. Here he is pictured with two of his photographs, a winter scene in Red Bridge Park and the other, a sunrise on Fish Hook River. The show runs May 4-27 with an opening reception May 20, 4:30 to 7 p.m. (Kevin Cederstrom/Enterprise)3 / 3

Lowell Wolff splits his time between Minnesota and Mexico, and the Park Rapids photographer's work shows this "M&M" dual representation of his talent. Much of his local work is familiar to Park Rapids area residents while others give us a colorful glimpse of his travels in Mexico.

Wolff's photography is on display at the Nemeth Art Center in Park Rapids beginning May 4 with an opening reception Friday, May 20, 4:30 to 7 p.m.

One of the most recognizable images to Park Rapids is a winter scene in Red Bridge Park. With fresh snow on the ground Wolff realized it wouldn't last long and in what he calls a "decision moment" was able to make a photograph before the scene disappeared. The fresh snow, grey sky and wet, glistening trail come together in a moment not everyone is going to recognize quickly enough to photograph.

"Taking what you see every day and putting it into a different perspective," Wolff says of the approach he takes with photography.

Turning an otherwise simple winter scene at Red Bridge Park into a memorable work of art takes planning. Wolff explained that artistic thought process started on Nov. 27 when he was attracted to the Christmas decorations and the shape of the walking path to the new bridge. He started with a night shot on Nov. 27 and not long after, the weather was consistently gray and producing frost on the trees.

"I played a bit more with that theme and on December 10 came closer. I didn't like the tire tracks and the path coming in from the right side didn't feel 'natural'," he explained of not being satisfied with earlier images.

Two days later, the frost was still on the trees, but the forecast was for melting temperatures.

"I was working at home but watched the temperature rise and went back to the park," he said. "I composed the frame so that the path entered the frame from the left and gently lead the viewer to the Red Bridge. When the melting turned the asphalt to a shining back surface, I shot the final frame."

Post-processing included using a software program for tone mapping to make the colors "pop" from the otherwise gray and dreary setting.

Another image that is striking to see is a sunrise over the Fish Hook River. Stormy weather created a dark sky, with the rising sun illuminating the trees over the river. It's moments where he recognizes they don't last long and as a photographer need to be prepared to capture the image. He had to keep in mind the sun needed to be low enough to keep the water dark and from reflecting too much so the timing had to be just right for the image to have such a dramatic contrast.

Often with these images of places we see every day Wolff provides that different perspective and, he says, the reaction he gets from people is, "Wow, I didn't take the time to see that."

Along with photographing the Park Rapids Area, Wolff likes to travel the state and capture images of waterfalls. One of his favorite locations is Caribou Falls on the North Shore of Lake Superior.

Photographers study locations, look for the right time of day for the best light in search for something visually promising. Hiking to waterfalls is part of the planning and preparation Wolff says is crucial in capturing landscapes and other outdoors images.

"Getting lucky is not a strategy, and that's true with photography," he says.

Wolff began making photographs in the early 1990's where his work included community profiles for the Chamber of Commerce of Fargo Moorhead and contributions to the New Mexico Magazine. Now retired, he lives on the Fish Hook River in Park Rapids.

His works include a wide range of genres including street photography, landscapes, natural-light portraits and night photography in northern Minnesota and the west coast of Mexico. His images most often feature bold colors and dramatic composition. Current collections in process include graffiti from Las Brisas, Manzanillo, Mexico and a collection of doors and windows from Mexico and Minnesota.

Wolff explains his philosophy, in part, by referencing a statement by photographer Joel Grimes, who said: "If your photography simply captures what you see, you are not an artist, but a technician."

With today's technologically advanced digital cameras, his statement becomes more evident each day.

"Unlike other arts that start with a blank canvas or piece of manuscript paper, photography begins with a subject that already exists — something anyone can see if they were near the camera," Wolff says. "Because of this, a photograph can often be interpreted too literally, identified and dismissed; "Oh, a waterfall. Next."

Wolff goes on to say taking a photograph is just the first step in making a photograph.

"It starts with finding the most attractive elements of the subject and playing with light to enhance those elements. It may be using techniques to bring out lines, shapes, color or even capturing a decisive and unique moment. It could be anticipating when the light is just right to accent a shape or produce a complimentary shadow. It may be waiting for a certain temperature to melt the snow on the ground, but not on the tree branches. In the end, the successful photograph grabs you and invites to you see the subject as if for the first time — in a new light."

The photography exhibit runs May 4 through July 27 at the Nemeth Art Center located in the old Hubbard County Courthouse.