News Column

Photos serve as inspiration for writers in 'Light-Write' exhibit

June 26, 2014

By Pat Muir, Yakima Herald-Republic, Wash.

June 26--Related Information

If you go

WHAT: "Light-Write" at the Yakima Light Project Gallery, 101 N. Naches Ave., at the back of The Seasons Performance Hall

WHEN: Opening reception from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. today; show runs through Sept. 6


INFORMATION: or 509-453-1888

The photos that served as inspiration for the writers in the Yakima Light Project Gallery's new exhibit, "Light-Write," weren't chosen by the writers; it was a matter of chance.

That may seem like a constraint on the writer, receiving a photo by email and having to come up with a poem or story that fit it. What if the photo didn't do anything for the writer? What if it didn't have any relevance to his or her life?

But for writers such as Dan Peters and Ed Stover, that was never a concern. They were able to take the photos -- primarily scenes from around the Yakima Valley -- and use them as starting points for writing that ended up being intensely detailed and personal.

"It's not restrictive, really," Stover said of the process. "Actually, it's sort of liberating."

The photos, taken years ago by local photographers, were repurposed for this exhibit after originally being part of a 2010 Allied Arts photo show based on Yakima's light. In "Light-Write," they share panels with the poems they inspired. There are 33 in all, including the one that combines Stover's poem "What Remains" with Patty DiRienzo's photo "Neon Treat," featuring the neon sign of the soda fountain attached to the Yakima Valley Museum.

Stover used the photo as a starting point to write about a poignant moment in his family's history. The ice cream in the poem acts as a symbol for innocence on the wane, something that really doesn't have much to do with the photo. But that's how these things work, Stover said.

"You use that (photo) to generate the creative juices," he said. "Very often, the poem that results from that has more to do with the poet than the piece of art, even though the catalyst is the piece of art."

The process -- using existing visual art as inspiration for writing -- is known as ekphrasis. And one of the interesting facets of ekphrasis is the unpredictable chemistry that takes place when a creative writer comes in contact with a visually stirring catalyst, said Laurie Kanyer, the Light Project Gallery's director.

The Yakima Valley, with two poetry publishing houses (Blue Begonia and Cave Moon) and an annual poetry festival (LitFuse at Mighty Tieton), has an uncommon wealth of literary talent for its population size, she said. So it just made sense to employ that in some fashion in the gallery, which needed a second exhibit after the success of its first show, which opened in March.

Peters, whose narrative poem "The Big Bell and the Little Bell" is paired with Tim Hull's black and white photo of a paleta cart in front of the First Presbyterian Church (now Grace of Christ Presbyterian), is the publisher at Blue Begonia. He and other local poets had for two decades used the recently defunct Allied Arts organization as a hub for their creative efforts. For them, working with the Light Project Gallery for this show presented an opportunity to carry on that tradition.

"One of the things Yakima has going for it is a vibrant writing community," he said. "I don't think Wenatchee has anything like it. Tri-Cities doesn't have anything like it."

That the writing itself took on a life of its own rather than focusing on a single theme is just a testament to that vibrant community, he said.

"The idea to start out with was this celebration of Yakima light," Peters said. "But people took it their own direction, and I'm glad they did -- rather than it just being a chamber of commerce art exhibit. People took it in different ways and did writing personal to them."

Local writer W.D. Frank, for instance, used Alexander Maxwell's photo of a hay field to honor two long-departed old friends he used to work with bucking hay in the Yakima summers. Big John Ellis and Clinton "Skate" Richards had come to Yakima from Louisiana to escape the Jim Crow South, and they made a huge impression on Frank. He had never figured out a way to write about them before, though.

"I adored these guys," he said. "They were so cool. They were incredibly tough. Have you ever bucked hay? These guys would reach down and grab the wire and just flip it up. ... I've always wanted to write something about these two guys. They're two guys that no one around here would ever remember, but they were just awesome guys."

And Maxwell's photo gave him a chance to memorialize them. It was a matter of chance, being assigned that photo for this exhibit. But it turned out to be liberating in the way that ekphrasis can be, he said.


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Source: Yakima Herald-Republic (WA)

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