On October 19, photography enthusiasts worldwide sat in front of computers streaming live feed from the premier international award for black and white photography, the Black and White Spider Awards. Broadcast from London, the prestigious awards were selected from over 9,500 entries representing more than 75 countries. Jurors included leaders in the field from institutions such as the Tate, London, Galerie Baudoin Lebon, Paris, and Art Stage, Singapore.
As the names of accomplished artists were recognized, one artist in Fort Wayne was surprised to learn that his entry was among the most notable works. Rob Borel, a prolific Fort Wayne photographer, was recognized as a nominee for his piece titled, “Pas De Deux.” The piece illustrates a “duet of gracefulness” as a ballerina dressed in a cloud of white tulle drapes her body lovingly over the back of an elephant that appears to be rolling gracefully through a setting of urban decay. The photograph doesn’t make a clear statement, but rather ignites a stream of questions from the viewer. One might ask, how did they end up there? What has happened to these two? Where are they going now?
Through his journey of creating the piece, Borel learned of the abhorrent treatment elephants are subjected to, not only in circus environments but also in countries where elephants are revered. These magnificent, gentle giants are dominated by abuse in order to serve man. Borel began to question how human behavior could turn so dark. His questions led him to uncover a disturbing truth about the treatment of these animals. “Pas De Deux” offers a sense of peace and nurturing to a situation that is in reality dark and horrifying.
The balance of a delicate dancer upon a massive animal can at first be interpreted as contrast, but if one is inquisitive enough to investigate, he will quickly learn that the elephant, too, is light on its feet. Thus, the viewer is prompted to search for more similarities that might be represented in the work.
Borel’s artistic pieces generate more questions than answers. He himself is an artist who shoots out questions more than explanations during a conversation. When Borel hears a comment describing his work as being original, his brain reacts by posing a question in return.
“How do you know when a work is original? Everyone is influenced by what they have seen and the work of others. But your eyes aren’t going to see the work in the same way as the next person.”
Influenced by artists such as Man Ray, Edward Weston and Irving Penn, Borel’s work follows the same vein of curiosity as early surrealist work. Borel often shoots ordinary objects from unusual perspectives or sets objects in curious combinations. One can only assume that his creative process is filled with a continuous internal dialogue of inquiry streaming with an endless line of questions.
“Why is that isolated wall standing in a field?” Borel asked of a concrete structure that stood alongside I69 behind the old Seyfert’s potato chip factory. (The orphaned wall happened to be a remnant from an abandoned hotel construction project.) “What if I put a couch in front of that wall and take a photograph?” His work asks viewers to consider the ordinary with fascination and to also consider “what if” even a small part of ordinary life were to change.
While many people continue to condemn Fort Wayne for being a cultural wasteland void of artistic expression, Borel looks for inspiration in places that many of us pass dozens, even hundreds, of times. He finds tiny compositions that, when put to print, are intriguing and certainly worth a few moments of sustained staring and even pondering. He has photographed countless shots of urban decay throughout our city – not with the intent to throw up his arms in disgust, but rather to say simply, this exists; take a moment to stop and admire the crumbling concrete and brick.
Borel has created works that grip the viewer and wrap him in tension. He uses the nooks and corners of the main floor of his apartment building for background settings and has even ventured down to the basement where the boilers and furnaces live to shoot some unusual scenes. He has taken bits of the vacated Byron Health Center and created pieces heavy with anxiety that echo a hollow chill, even after leaving the viewer’s eye.
His artistic work tends to lean toward the dark side.
“I’m not consumed by the dark image, but I’m not afraid of it,” he says. Somehow, he is able to create pieces to which a viewer may instinctively comment, “This should scare the crap out of me,” but for some reason the images allow one to jump in and explore without running away screaming in terror. He presents images as if they were cut from a dream and veiled by a thin shield of mystery that tempts the viewer to look fear straight in the face.
Not all of Borel’s work is quite so mysterious or tense. Most of his camera career revolves around editorial, commercial or industrial work. He takes photographs of workers in action as well as functioning industrial equipment. Many area industries pepper their annual reports and advertising media with Borel’s work. He currently serves as the exclusive photographer for Northern Indiana Lakes Magazine where he shoots interiors and exteriors of multi-million dollar homes. Even on these assignments where the end goal may seem mundane for an artist, Borel’s brain still rolls out questions.
“How are these things made?” he asked of some locally produced tools. “Where did that come from?” he wondered about a piece of massive machinery. Questions of the ordinary world lead him back to his own world where art gives him the freedom to express whatever he so chooses.
Borel chose to pick up a camera when he was still in high school. As a student of the Regional Vocational Center, now the Anthis Career Center, he worked with just one other student in the photo lab. Each day they took pictures and developed film. Borel’s mother bought him a Nikon camera, and he set up his own darkroom in a bathroom at his house. He worked hard and he worked with intention. By the age of 17 he landed his first job working for a commercial photographer developing film. By 1987 he bought the business and has since been working as a commercial photographer.
Borel has witnessed the evolution of digital photography and photo manipulation. He worked with the very first version of Photoshop and remembers when the first pixel manipulation equipment cost $600 an hour to use.
“Now the technology is available on everyone’s desktop,” he says. He is quick to warn that technology doesn’t replace artistry.
“It’s a mistake to create an image based on technology alone. Having the knowledge to create a balanced composition and editing for correct lighting will never change. Digital manipulation is just a tool.”
He went on to point out that today the viewer can no longer accept a visual image as truth.
“The integrity of the visual image is lost. The honesty is gone. Visual proof is no longer proof. Photography has become an animation. There is reality attached but the image is rearranged to create an illusion.”
His point brings up an entirely new swell of questions which one can only assume Borel will investigate with thousands of camera shutter clicks. With his recent, honorable recognition from the artistic realm, Borel feels ready to strike out on a new adventure.
“I do feel good that the international world has recognized me,” he said. Over the past 40 years, Borel has been developing a body of work and has yet to devote time to finding a gallery home.
“Now I just have to put the feelers out there and see if anybody bites.”
When asked which type of work he preferred, Borel did not hesitate.
“If I had my choice of daily activity I’d choose to do the artistic work.” Perhaps he doesn’t realize that even his industrial photos reflect the eye of a seasoned artist.
Friday, April 28
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Concordia Comedy Festival — Concordia Lutheran High School presents a showing of comedy films from middle and high school students, 7 p.m. Friday, April 28, Room 101, Neff Hall, IPFW, Fort Wayne, free, 483-1102
Tapestry: A Day for You — Day of inspiration, renewal and education for women in all stages of life with keynote speaker Ann Curry, 7:30 a.m. Friday, April 28, Allen County War Memorial Coliseum, Fort Wayne, $75, 483-1111
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Blooze Faktor — Blues at Dupont Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m.-1 a.m., cover, 483-1311
Chris Worth & Company — Variety at Arena Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m.-1 a.m., no cover, 557-1563
Classic Voice — Variety at The Venice Restaurant, Fort Wayne, 7-10 p.m., no cover, (260) 482-1618
Cougar Hunter — 80s glam rock at The Venue, Angola, 10 p.m.-2 a.m., $5, 665-3922
Expanding Man — Variety at Club Soda, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m.-12 a.m., no cover, 426-3442
G-Money Band — Blues at Nick's Martini & Wine Bar, Fort Wayne, 8:30 p.m., no cover, 482-6425
Hubie Ashcraft & Travis Gow — Country at Billy's Downtown Zulu, Monroeville, 7-11 p.m., no cover, 623-3583
The Illegals — Rock at Latch String Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m.-2 a.m., no cover, 483-5526
IPFW Bands & Choirs w/Fort Wayne Children's Choir — Classical at Auer Performance Hall, Rhinehart Music Center, IPFW, Fort Wayne, 7:30 p.m., $4-$7, 481-6555
Joe Stabelli — Jazz at Don Hall's Gas House, Fort Wayne, 5:45-9 p.m., no cover, 426-3411
John Curran & Renegade — Country at American Legion Post 241, Waynedale, 8:30-11:30 p.m., no cover, 747-7851
Kat Bowser — Variety at Don Hall's Guesthouse, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m.-12 a.m., no cover, 489-2524
Rebecca Rego — Americana/country at Two-EE's Winery, Huntington, 7:30-9:30 p.m., no cover, 672-2000
Secret Mezzanine — Variety at Deer Park Irish Pub, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m.-12 a.m., no cover, 432-8966
String Theory — Acoustic variety at Friendly Fox, Fort Wayne, 6:30-8:30 p.m., no cover, 260-745-3369
Todd Harrold & Nick Bobay Duo — R&B/blues/variety at O'Sullivan's Italian Irish Pub, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., no cover, 422-5896
Trichotomous Hippopotamus w/Trackless, John Fishell — Rock at Brass Rail, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., cover, 267-5303
The Why Store — Rock at Mitchell's Sports Bar & Neighborhood Grill, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m.-2 a.m., $5, (260) 387-5063
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Big Dawg Karaoke w/Brian — Variety at Wrigley Field Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 7-11 p.m., no cover, 485-1038
Bucca Karaoke w/Ashley — Variety at Tower Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., no cover, 436-6310
Classic City Karaoke w/Bryan Lee — Karaoke at Pine Valley Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 9:30 p.m., no cover, 490-9464
Dance Party w/DJ Rich — Variety at Columbia Street West, Fort Wayne, 10:30 p.m., cover, 422-5055
DJ dance party — at Rum Runners, Fort Wayne, 8:30 p.m., ,
DJ Shawn — Karaoke/variety at Club Paradise, Angola, 10 p.m., no cover, 833-7082
Fort Wayne Karaoke — Variety at Tap Haus, New Haven, 9 p.m., no cover, 493-6622
Fort Wayne Karaoke w/Jay — Variety at Coconutz @ Crazy Pinz, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m., no cover, 490-2695
Fort Wayne Karaoke w/Scott — Variety at JR's Pub, Leo, 9 p.m., no cover, 627-2500
Fort Wayne Karaoke w/TJ — at Chevvy's, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., ,
House DJ — Variety at Early Bird's Ultra Lounge, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m., cover, 483-1979
House DJ — Variety at Flashback on the Landing, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m., cover, 422-5292
Karaoke w/DJ Chuck — Variety at DW Bar & Grill, Churubusco, 10 p.m., no cover, 693-8172
Karaoke with Rooster — Variety at Portside Pizza, Columbia City, 9 p.m., no cover, 691-3333
Karaoke — Variety at Coconutz @ Crazy Pinz, Fort Wayne, 9-11 p.m., no cover, 490-2695
Karaoke — Variety at Hamilton House, Hamilton, 9 p.m., no cover, 488-3344
Karaoke — Variety at Beamer's Sports Grill, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m.-12 a.m., no cover, 625-1002
Karaoke — Karaoke at Wrigley Field Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 7-11 p.m., no cover, 485-1038
Karaoke — Variety at Crooner's Karaoke Bar, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m.-3 a.m., no cover, 486-1979
Rockstar Karaoke & DJ w/Scotty — Karaoke at Backway Lounge, Angola, 10 p.m., no cover, 665-5081
Shooting Star Prod. w/Barbie — Variety at Uncle Lou's Steel Mill, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., no cover, 436-5787
Sidecar Gary's Karaoke & DJ — Karaoke at 4 Crowns, Auburn, 10 p.m.-2 a.m., no cover, 925-9805
Sidecar Gary's Karaoke & DJ w/Kevin — Variety at Danny's Italian Grill, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m.-12 a.m., no cover, 484-4444
SureShot Karaoke w/David — Variety at The Green Frog Inn, Fort Wayne, 9:30 p.m.-1:30 a.m., no cover, 426-1088
Three Rivers Karaoke — at Bottle and Bottega, Fort Wayne, 8:30-10:30 p.m., no cover, 494-1020
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Funny Little Thing Called Love — Romantic comedy by Jessie Jones, Nicholas Home and Jamie Wooten, 7 p.m. dinner, 8 p.m. curtain, Friday-Saturday, April 28-29 and May 5-6 and May 12-13, Arena Dinner Theatre, Fort Wayne, $40 (includes dinner & show), 424-5622
The Little Mermaid — Fort Wayne Civic Theatre musical based on the Disney movie, 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, April 28-29; 2 p.m. Sunday, April 30; 8 p.m. Friday, May 5; 2 p.m. & 8 p.m. Saturday, May 6; 2 p.m. Sunday, May 7, Arts United Center, Fort Wayne, $17-$29, 424-5220
Little Shop of Horrors — IPFW Department of Theatre performance of Alan Menken-Howard Ashman musical comedy, 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, April 28-29, Williams Theatre, IPFW, Fort Wayne, $5-$18, 481-6555
Next to Normal — Tony Award- and Pulitzer-winning musical about coping with mental illness, 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, April 28-29; 2 p.m. Sunday, April 30; 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, May 4-6; 2 p.m. Sunday, May 7, Three Rivers Music Theatre, Fort Wayne, $10-$20, 498-2270
The Taming of the Shrew — William Shakespeare’s now somewhat controversial comedy about the battle between the sexes, 7:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday, April 28-29 and Friday-Saturday, May 5-6; 2 p.m. Sunday, May 7; 7:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday, May 12-13, First Presbyterian Theater, Fort Wayne, $12-$20, 426-7421 ext. 121
A Wrinkle in Time — all for One productions’ adaptation of Madeline L’Engle’s young adult science fiction novel, 7:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday, April 28-29; 2:30 p.m. Sunday, April 30; 7:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday, May 5-6; 2:30 p.m. Sunday, May 7, PPG ArtsLab, Auer Center for Arts & Culture, Fort Wayne, $11-20, 422-4226
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37th National Print Exhibition — Juried exhibition featuring contemporary printmakers from around the nation, Tuesday-Sunday thru May 5, Artlink Contemporary Art Gallery, Fort Wayne, 424-7195
41st SOCA Student Exhibition — Works from students currently enrolled at USF’s School of Creative Arts, daily thru April 30, Weatherhead Gallery, USF Rolland Art Center, University of Saint Francis, Fort Wayne, 399-7999
Diane Allen Groenert — Exhibition of local artist’s Downtown Series and new works, Monday-Saturday thru June 24, West Central Microcreamery & Cafe, Fort Wayne, 415-9293
Echolilia — Works from Timothy Archibald and his autistic son, Eli, Tuesday-Sunday thru June 11, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, $6-$8 (members, free), 422-6467
Expressions of Existence — An exhibition of works by artists through history, including Jackson Pollock, Andy Warhol, Francisco Goya and others whose works have been influenced by disabilities, Tuesday-Sunday thru June 11, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, $6-$8 (members, free), 422-6467
Fort Wayne Artist Guild Exhibitions — Works by Alice Siefert at Aldersgate United Methodist Church, Jennifer Caudel at Allen County Retinal Surgeons, Anita Trick, Citizens Square (2nd and 3rd floors), Darlene Selzer Miller at The Einhaus Group for Women’s Health, Patricia Weiss at Heritage of Fort Wayne, Emily Jane Butler at Ophthalmology Consultants (Southwest), Linda Binek at Ophthalmology Consultants (North), Carolyn Stachera at Rehabilitation Hospital of Fort Wayne, John Kelty at ResCare Inc. Adult Day Service, Wiletta Blevins at Town House Retirement, Karen Bixler at Visiting Nurse Hospice and Barb Yoder and Karen Harvey at Will Jewelers, thru April 30, fortwayneartistguild.org.
Fort Wayne Photographers Club — Exhibition featuring local photographers, Tuesday-Sunday thru April 30, Foellinger-Freimann Botanical Conservatory, Fort Wayne, $3-$5 (2 and under, free), 427-6440
Glass: A Medium in Art and Automobiles — Dale Chihuly blown glass and fiberglass auto, daily thru Sept. 8, Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum, Auburn, $7.50-$12.50, 925-1444
Jan Krist-Finkbeiner — Exhibition of ceramic reliefs, Tuesday-Sunday thru May 5, Artlink Contemporary Art Gallery, Fort Wayne, 424-7195
Juxtapoz Magazine: 25 Years Under the Influence — A chronicle of the iconic magazine’s evolution into one of the most influential magazines of art of the counterculture, Tuesday-Sunday thru July 9, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, $6-$8 (members, free), 422-6467
Kathy Funderburg & Diane Schafer-King — Acrylic paintings (Funderburg) and works in marbled paper and fabric (Schaefer-King), Monday-Saturday thru April 29, Orchard Gallery of Fine Art, Fort Wayne, 436-0927
Norman Bradley and Friends — Exhibition of works by friends and colleagues of the late Fort Wayne artist, Tuesday-Saturday thru May 20 , Crestwoods Frame Shop & Gallery, Roanoke, 672-2080
Outdoor Sculpture Invitational — Fifteen outdoor sculptures from regional artists, daily thru April 30, School of Creative Arts campus, University of Saint Francis North Campus, Fort Wayne, 399-7999
Perspectives Live Butterfly Display — Up close and personal perspectives of the Conservatory’s newest collection of live butterflies, Tuesday-Sunday thru June 25, Foellinger-Freimann Botanical Conservatory, Fort Wayne, $3-$5 (2 and under, free), 427-6440
Rhoda Gerig: The Hope of Eagles — Photographic images of eagles, daily thru June 4, Clark Gallery, Honeywell Center, Wabash, 563-1102
Robert Williams: SLANG Aesthetics! — An exhibition of new work by the artist considered the godfather of the lowbrow, pop surrealist and colloquial realism art movements, Tuesday-Sunday thru July 23, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, $6-$8 (members, free), 422-6467
Sharon — An exhibition of Leon Borensztein photographs chronicling the struggles he faced raising his severely disabled daughter, Tuesday-Sunday thru June 11, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, $6-$8 (members, free), 422-6467
SOCA Graduate Program: Student Highlights — Juried exhibition of works by students enrolled in USF’s School of Creative Arts graduate program, Monday-Friday thru April 30, Lupke Gallery, University of Saint Francis North Campus, Fort Wayne, 399-7999
Spring 2017 BFA Exhibition — Exhibition of works by IPFW graduation seniors, daily thru May 3, Jeffrey R. Krull Gallery, Main Library, Allen County Public Library, Fort Wayne, 481-6709
Spring 2017 BFA Exhibition — Senior thesis projects from Bachelor of Fine Arts candidates Brenda Drayer (sculpture), Derek Hibbs (printmaking), Ellen Mensch (painting), Nathaniel Morris (sculpture) and Kyle Snodgrass (sculpture), daily thru May 7, Visual Arts Gallery, IPFW, Fort Wayne, 481-6709
Spring Palette — New original works by more than 50 nationally recognized artists, Tuesday-Saturday and by appointment thru May 20 (Cinco de Mayo Fiesta featuring mariachi music by Mark Meussling 6-10 p.m. Friday, May 5), Castle Gallery Fine Art, Fort Wayne, 426-6568