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.
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Art on Broadway — Tours of 5 downtown venues featuring art from Alexandra Hall, Julie Wall, Peter Lupkin, Daniel Dienelt, Knotodday, Kay Gregg, Terry Ratliff and St. Monci, 5 p.m. Saturday, March 25, Broadway Street, Fort Wayne, free, 417-5925
Beer, Bourbon, Bacon Festival — Unlimited beer sampling from national and regional craft breweries, fine bourbon sampling and bacon inspired treats, 6-9 p.m. Saturday, March 25 (5-9 p.m. VIP), Marquis and Three Rivers Ballrooms, Hotel Fort Wayne, Fort Wayne, $35-$75, 484-0411
An Evening with Author Tom Frank — Author of What’s the Matter with Kansas talks about his new book; hors d’oeuvres, lecture and book signing included in admission, 6 p.m. Saturday, March 25, CS3 Hideaway, Fort Wayne, $15 plus donation, 602-1008
Puttin’ on the Ritz —Active 20-30 club fundraiser with live music from Chris Worth and Company, gourmet edibles, wine and beer, live and silent auctions; black tie optional, 7 p.m. Saturday, March 25, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, Fort Wayne, $50-$90, 450-2844
Shipshewana on the Road — Food, craft and primitives show and sale, 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday, March 25 and 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday, March 26, Allen County War Memorial Coliseum, Fort Wayne, $4, 483-1111
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Big Dick and the Penetrators — Classic rock at Navy Club, Ship 245, New Haven, 7-11 p.m., no cover, 493-4044
Brat Pack — Rat Pack/variety at Nick's Martini & Wine Bar, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m., no cover, 482-6425
Cougar Hunter — 80s glam rock at Vinnie's Bar, Decatur, 10 p.m.-2 a.m., $5, 729-2225
Ellsworth Sharp — Neofolk at Friendly Fox, Fort Wayne, 6:30-8:30 p.m., no cover, 745-3369
FBC Band w/Sheba — Variety/Music and Memories benefit at C2G Music Hall, Fort Wayne , 8 p.m., $7-$15, 426-6434
Fireball Matinee — Rock at Hideaway Lounge, Bluffton, 9 p.m.-12 a.m., no cover, 824-0455
Fleshwounds — Rock at Hamilton House, Hamilton, 9 p.m.-1 a.m., no cover, 488-3344
Fort Wayne Funk Orchestra — Funk at Dupont Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 9:30 p.m., cover, 483-1311
Fu5ion — Variety at Mitchell's Sports Bar & Neighborhood Grill, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m.-2 a.m., $3, (260) 387-5063
The Illegals — Rock at O'Sullivan's Italian Irish Pub, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m.-1 a.m., no cover, 422-5896
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 Alley Sports Bar, Pro Bowl West, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m.-1 a.m., no cover, 483-4421
Johnny Freakin' Xcitor — Country rock at Beamer's Sports Grill, Fort Wayne, 9:30 p.m.-1:30 a.m., no cover, 625-1002
Kat Bowser — Variety at Don Hall's Guesthouse, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m.-12 a.m., no cover, 489-2524
The Orange Opera w/Mickyle James — Rock at Brass Rail, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., $5, 267-5303
Prime Suspects — Variety at American Legion Post 499, Fort Wayne, 8-11 p.m., no cover, 483-1368
Quincy and the Q-Tet feat. Phil Potts — Rock/variety at Downtown Eatery & Spirits, Warsaw, 10 p.m.-1 a.m., no cover, (574) 267-6000
Second Nature — Pop at Crazy Pinz, Fort Wayne, 8-11 p.m., no cover, 490-2695
Shannon Persinger Quartet — Jazz/variety at Club Soda, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m.-12 a.m., no cover, 426-3442
Todd Harrold & Nick Bobay Duo — R&B/blues/variety at American Legion Post 148, Fort Wayne, 7 p.m., no cover, 423-4751
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Ambitious Blondes Karaoke — Variety at Office Tavern, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., no cover, 478-5827
Beat Karaoke & DJ — Variety at American Legion Post 296, Fort Wayne, 8 p.m. , no cover, 456-2988
Bucca Karaoke w/Bucca — Variety at Tower Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., no cover, 436-6310
Classic City Karaoke w/Bryan Lee — Karaoke at Corner Pocket Tavern, Fremont, 10 p.m., no cover, 495-9255
Classic City Karaoke w/Tobin — Karaoke at Toad's Tavern, Monroeville, 10 p.m., no cover, 623-6226
DJ Shawn — Karaoke/variety at Club Paradise, Angola, 10 p.m., no cover, 833-7082
Fort Wayne Karaoke — Karaoke at Latch String Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 10:30 p.m., no cover, 483-5526
Fort Wayne Karaoke w/Brian — Variety at AJ's Bar and Grill, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m., , 434-1980
Fort Wayne Karaoke w/Josh — Variety at Arena Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., no cover, 557-1563
Fort Wayne Karaoke w/TJ — Variety at Chevvy's, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., no cover, 436-4748
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 — Variety at Crooner's Karaoke Bar, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m.-3 a.m., no cover, 486-1979
Live DJ — Variety at Wrigley Field Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., no cover, 485-1038
Shooting Star Prod. w/Barbie — Variety at Uncle Lou's Steel Mill, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., no cover, 436-5787
Shooting Star Prod. w/Stu — Variety at Pike's Pub, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., no cover, 478-6200
Sidecar Gary's Karaoke & DJ — Karaoke at Kville Pub, Kendallville, 9 p.m.-1 a.m., no cover, 348-1677
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The Children’s Hour — Lillian Hellman’s seminal drama about bigotry perpetuated against the LGBT community and how easily a lie can spread, 7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 25, First Presbyterian Theater, Fort Wayne, $12-$20, 426-7421 ext. 121
Getting Sara Married — Comedy about an unmarried lawyer in need of a husband (according to her aunt), 7 p.m. dinner, 8 p.m. curtain, Saturday, March 25, Arena Dinner Theatre, Fort Wayne, $40 (includes dinner & show), 424-5622
One Foot in the Gravy — Howard Kingkade’s comedy and winner of Fort Wayne Civic Theatre’s Northeast Indiana Playwright Festival, 8 p.m. Saturday, March 25; 2 p.m. Sunday, March 26, Arts United Center, Fort Wayne, $10-$20, 422-4226
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22nd Annual Valentine’s Invitational — Works from local and national artists, Tuesday-Saturday and by appointment thru March 31, Castle Gallery Fine Art, Fort Wayne, 426-6568
2017 Scholastic Art & Writing Awards — Award-winning works from northern Indiana and northwest Ohio middle and high school students, Tuesday-Sunday thru April 9, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, $5-$7 (members, free), 422-6467
Afros: A Celebration of African Hair by Michael July — Contemporary photography exhibit by Brooklyn author/photographer, daily thru April 14, D’Agostino Art Gallery, Indiana Tech, Fort Wayne, 399-8626
An Artful Spring — Works by Gwen Gutwein, Patricia Weiss, Austin Cartwright and more, Tuesday-Saturday thru March 31, Crestwoods Frame Shop & Gallery, Roanoke, 672-2080
Decatur Sculpture Tour — 31 original sculptures and 15 permanent exhibits on display, walking tour maps available, thru April 1, Decatur, free, 724-2605
Echolilia — Works from Timothy Archibald and his autistic son, Eli, Tuesday-Sunday thru June 11, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, $5-$7 (members, free), 422-6467
Entropy — Daniel Swartz solo exhibition explores relationship between death and mourning through combinations of mythology, mathematics, multi-dimensional physics and pop culture, Monday-Saturday thru April 1, Jennifer Ford Art, Fort Wayne, 740-1309
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
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, $5-$7 (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
Garden Party — Garden-themed works in a variety of mediums from over 30 local artists, Monday-Saturday thru March 31, Orchard Gallery of Fine Art, Fort Wayne, 436-0927
Generations: A View of Who Was Who — Works by Romare Bearden, Kara Walker, Alma Thomas, Jacob Lawrence and other African-American artists, Tuesday-Sunday thru April 9, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, $5-$7 (members, free), 422-6467
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
A Mary Poppins Garden Party — Child-oriented garden exhibit, Tuesday-Sunday thru April 1, Foellinger-Freimann Botanical Conservatory, Fort Wayne, $3-$5 (2 and under, free), 427-6440
Moments in Time: Reflecting on the Human Spirit — Elizabeth Opalenik photographs from her recent Amish series A Journey Home and her Reflecting on the Edge exhibition, daily thru March 26, Visual Arts Gallery, IPFW, Fort Wayne, 481-6709
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
RAW. Untamed. Unashamed. Visions of Freedom. — Abstract romanticist works in acrylics and epoxy from Kristy Jahn, Fridays and Saturday-Thursday by appointment thru March 25, The Gallery at Pranayoga, Fort Wayne, 423-9642
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, $5-$7 (members, free), 422-6467
Wabash County Schools Exhibition — Works by high school art students, daily thru April 16, Clark Gallery, Honeywell Center, Wabash, 563-1102