Whether it’s a cluster of colourful umbrellas, or electric reflections on a slick city street, photographer Arto Djerdjerian sees extraordinary beauty in the ordinary.
His photography exhibit Urban Moves, at the Kiwanis Gallery in Red Deer’s downtown public library, buzzes with big city life. Djerdjerian’s streetscapes include a spectrum of colourful characters — from a sweaty guy playing with a tethered ball, to a chatty society matron in a massive hat, to a cat crusader feeding rescue kittens with a tiny bottle of milk.
The Lacombe photographer took all 15 urban images during his annual photography trips to New York City. He calls the Big Apple “a tremendous place … it’s alive, it vibrates …”
Best of all, no one minded him snapping away.
“People don’t even notice you. They go about their business,” said Djerdjerian, who found fading into the background remarkably easy in NYC. With street performers like The Naked Cowboy and a Boba Fett-costumed accordion player vying for public attention, who’s going to notice a moustached guy with a camera?
Djerdjerian was able to capture the kind of images that are only possible when no one’s on guard or posing.
One of his most arresting is titled Big Sister. A large model’s face from an advertisement is crossed with shadowed lines of scaffolding. The entrance of a real woman from the right of the frame creates an uneasy equilibrium: This dark-haired pedestrian wearing a red jacket is the polar opposite of the blond billboard model clad in black.
With the surreal blending of black-and-white and colour imagery, viewers might not believe this photograph was possible without the magic of Photoshop. But Djerdjerian is adamantly against the manipulation of images. Aside from a bit of cropping, he stressed that all of his photos represent what he actually saw through his viewfinder.
“It takes patience. I always think, let’s wait and see what develops. Let’s see what’s going to happen …”
Djerdjerian spent four hours standing at one street corner to capture Dare to Differ. Pedestrians are shown from the waist down, crossing the street. Amid all the dark business flannels are a pair of eye-catching flowered pants in bold reds and yellows that exactly match spray-painted lines on the road.
While Djerdjerian could have had no idea when he started standing at that corner that someone wearing flowered pants would eventually show up to make his frame, something about the abstract paint on the roadway attracted his artistic eye — and his patience paid off.
Some of his city images were just waiting to be noticed — and photographed. For instance, dynamic, multi-layered reflections in a cafe window can be seen in the panoramic photo, Legs. Look past the cafe’s yellow bar stools and patrons’ shoes, and you can just make out the reflection of Djerdjerian’s own bowler hat in the glass.
More watery reflections were captured in Night Rain. The electric colours of light and red metal cafe tables and chairs are seemingly melting into the pavement of Times Square.
“Whenever I go to New York, I get off the bus and I walk. I go right, or I go left,” said Djerdjerian. He never knows exactly what he’s going to find, but he’s confident that moments of regular life can be transformed into art
Among the images selected from his 5,000-6,000 NYC shots are some portraits of strangers.
Urban Straw Hat shows a guy with attitude. “He looks like a bad ass,” said the photographer. But when approached, the man readily agreed to get his picture taken — although Djerdjerian had to wait a while for him to look natural. “This was the last picture I took — when he stopped posing.”
Getting the head shot of a striking young woman with red-highlighted hair in Little Red Riding Tuque took less effort.“I asked her ‘Can I take a picture of you?’ She said, ‘Why?’ I said, ‘Just look at you!’” he recalled, with a laugh. In this case, all Djerdjerian had to do was activate his camera shutter.
“She was just standing there against this black background. It was perfect.”
Djerdjerian may have developed his objective eye from growing up in Montreal with an outsider’s perspective. The Egypt native had emigrated to Canada with his family at age 11.
He took a photography course at a private college before taking up a more practical career as a power engineer. But after moving to Central Alberta in 1990 and working at Nova for a decade, he went back to his first love — first as a commercial photographer, then, since 2012, as an art photographer.
Djerdjerian finds he’s drawn to two extremes — urban and wilderness photography. He next plans to take pictures at the Ya Ha Tinda Ranch, west of Sundre, the only federally operated working horse ranch in Canada.
But don’t expect conventional beauty shots.
“Does anyone really need to see another picture of mountains or trees or flowers, or a barns in the fog? I think, that’s enough of that,” he said. “What’s really exciting is when you don’t know what you’re going to get.”
The Urban Moves exhibit continues to Feb. 21. An opening reception will be held this evening from 6 to 8 p.m. in the gallery operated by the Red Deer Arts Council.