Photog’s work puts different spin on universe

Christopher Yasiejko

The Wilmington News Journal

2007, JULY 8

People tend to find something recognizable in the celestial. The signs of the zodiac are among the oldest examples. Images captured by the Hubble space telescope account for some of the most recent. We assign to the latter titles such as “Eye of God,” “Hourglass Nebula” and “Cat’s Eye Nebula” -- we describe what is difficult to grasp by using terms that bring the heavens down to Earth.

Ron Tarver has made a career of looking at things from a different perspective. Since 1983, he has been a staff photographer for the Philadelphia Inquirer. His work also has appeared in Sports Illustrated, Newsweek, Time, Life, and National Geographic, which in the early 1990s published his project “The Long Ride Home: The African-American Cowboy Experience in America.”
His latest series, “The World in a Grain of Sand,” at the Packard Reath Gallery in Lewes through July 27, inverts mankind’s conventional relationship with the cosmos. Instead of seeing the earthly in images of the unfathomably distant, Tarver has used small, everyday objects to create illusions of vast universes.
He did it all without using a camera. Instead, Tarver, 49, a Philadelphian originally from Fort Gibson, Okla., turned to a flatbed scanner.
He rendered grains of sand as distant stars, fruit as planets, seashells as galaxies. Layers of various media, including olive oil, obfuscated the objects. The use of small lights added depth.
The exhibition’s 15 images vary in size. “Red Giant,” whose title refers to the stage of a star’s life cycle in which it has swollen far beyond the volume of our sun, is 26-by-30 inches. Although a close inspection reveals hints that Tarver is playing with the viewer’s eyes, the image evokes a dreamy curiosity that remains true to Tarver’s larger body of work , which toys with depth of field and contrast while lending a timeless quality to scenes.
“The World in a Grain of Sand” is Tarver’s modern response to rayographs, the images Man Ray created in the 1930s and ‘40s without a camera. Man Ray placed objects atop photosensitive paper and exposed them to light, creating photograms of common objects.
Tarver has brought to that approach a digital sensibility, replacing the photosensitive paper with a flatbed scanner. With his choice of titles such as “Grand Nebula,” “Eclipse” and “Converging Galaxies,” he forces the viewer to consider his images from the perspective of astronomy before all else, but that won’t prevent eyes from probing for some smaller meaning.
The Packard Reath Gallery is located at 109 E. Market St. For more information, call 644-7513 or visit www.packardreathgallery.com.