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Photographer finds beauty in steel and glass

When Calgary photographer Bill Peters looks at the steel and glass buildings that make up modern cities, he sees something different than most people hurrying by.

He sees beauty — whether of line, texture, colour or pattern.

One of his most admired photos, of reflective revolving doors on an office tower at 333 5th Ave. S.W. in Calgary, can be viewed in the striking exhibit When the City Isn’t Looking: Photographs by Bill Peters, showing at the Kiwanis Gallery at the Red Deer Public Library.

Peters, who admitted riskily stepping back into traffic in order to get this striking image of glass and metal, later showed the same eye-catching photograph at a Calgary art gallery. The exhibit “was literally right around the corner from 333 5th Ave., and yet several people came up to ask me, ‘Where are those beautiful doors? They can’t be in Calgary.’

“I told them, ‘You probably walk by them every day!’ ”

Peters believes too many of us miss the forest for the trees, so to speak, by observing our cities too literally and too generally.

“Very few of my photos are purely descriptive or documentary in nature. I try to look at something intensely, then break it down into bits and pieces.”

And it’s in these photographed fragments of colour or abstracted pattern that beauty emerges.

For instance, Peters’ series of three large photographs of Frank Gehry’s Experience Music Project (now the EMP Museum) in Seattle show only details of the curved and twisted metal plates that cover the building. But they glow breathtakingly in the light, like the rainbow scales of a fish.

His Red Hands, Montreal photo shows part of a sculpture through the distortion of reflective glass. It appears psychedelic and bold and yet also has a dream-like, fairy-tale quality.

Peters’ large-scale colour pigment prints seem to challenge the viewer to take a deeper look at cities, observing them not as functional mundane environments, but as artistic creations that can exhibit the same emotional qualities — be it beauty, joy, inspiration or loneliness — as their human creators.

In his photos Night Building, Calgary and Reflections, 5th Avenue, Calgary glass office towers take on the same dissolving, rippling quality as a picturesque pond. The windows of neighbouring buildings are reflected back to us in wonderfully distorted abstract designs.

His Window Washer, Calgary shows the assortment of geometric patterns and lush colours that can be captured in one upward glance at downtown Cow Town.

This photo, in particular, supports Peters’ assertion that his hometown offers some of the best opportunities for architectural photography in the world.

“Calgary is unique for its concentration of glass towers that are all reflecting off each other,” said Peters, who drew inspiration from the city’s narrow streets and the proliferation of glass-covered buildings constructed during recent oil boom years.

Although the photographer — who started working in planetariums with his science degree and is still a museum planning consultant — has a bounty of subject matter close to his own front door, he has taken urban photos in Toronto, Montreal, Chicago, Dallas, San Francisco — and even Red Deer.

Peters, who also studied cinematic arts at the University of Southern California, spent several days looking for Red Deer photo ops, so he could include one image of this city in the Kiwanis Gallery exhibit. He came up with a shot that contrasts the vivid orange and lime green of a metal sculpture of trees by local artist (and city councillor) Paul Harris, with the deep blue sky.

The photographer said the sculpture in the parking lot of the Sheraton Red Deer Hotel seemed “like an orphan” in that location. “A lot of people might see it, incidentally, as they cruise up and down Gaetz Avenue.” But he hopes his abstracted photograph encourages more people to appreciate its colours and stylistic design.

In fact, Peters hopes his Kiwanis Gallery photo exhibit will open more people’s eyes to the “unintentional art that’s surrounding us every day.”

The exhibit, presented by the Red Deer Arts Council and public library, continues to April 25. There’s a First Friday reception tonight from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. with Peters expecting to attend.



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