According to industry figures from a couple of years ago, there were nearly 200 million cameras in the U.S. accounting for something like 17 billion photos. These figures represent images made on celluloid, then chemically processed, and do not include those digitally captured and most commonly, ink-jet rendered.
To that total we can add even more "mirrors with memory" reflections like school, class and team portraits, identification pictures, drivers licenses, police mug shots, passports, immigration cards, work and player passes, etc. Then there are the gazillions of others in museum and library collections and those reproduced in books, and let's not forget the millions currently stored somewhere underground in Pennsylvania by Corbis (formerly the Bettman Archive), which is a Microsoft subsidiary.
Sitting at my kitchen table I'm confronted by more than 40 framed snap shots of family and friends and were I to include those in other rooms I could easily top 100.
In other words, we are a part of a culture that is obsessive about taking, displaying, filing, e-mailing, misplacing, collecting, recording and otherwise surrounding ourselves with "Kodak moments."
No doubt we've come a long way from a century and one-half ago and the rudimentary borrowing of images and events. We've all read about or seen depictions in cinema of the so-called spear brandishing "primitives" threatening early photographers for stealing their souls via a big black box on a tripod.
Ironically, capturing souls and stealing the spirit of places has become the measure of quality in fine art photography and that ideal is where local photographer Tim Brumbeloe has focused his lens and craft.
The 36-year-old Fort Wayne native has shown in galleries both locally and in Europe to enthusiastic patrons. But his current exhibition at the new Vorderman Gallery in Roanoke is his first solo installation where all elements of his three-part work have been on the wall simultaneously. Timely enough, the cameraman will be hosting an open house Friday, March 29 from 6 to 9 p.m. before making his annual sojourn to Italy and in particular Sicily, his primary source for subject matter.
And there on April 10 in a town called Ragusa he is scheduled to re-marry his wife Carmelinda Migliorino in traditional Sicilian style (they were hitched here in a civil ceremony in January).
As a kid Brumbeloe bugged his father enough for use of the family camera to where he bought his son a 35mm Canon and set him up in a darkroom. In this environment and over hundreds of hours, the young amateur developed his taste for both the art and science of photography.
Brumbeloe spent an otherwise normal upbringing except for traditional youth sporting activities. "Somehow any genes specific to athletics skipped over me," he admits. He did, however, discover music and the guitar, which has provided him with a release. Over the past dozen years he has performed on rhythm and/or lead guitar for a group formerly known as the Jury.
After graduating from South Side, Brumbeloe took some art classes at IPFW, but he had already been working on the commercial stage, and academia paled in comparison to the first-hand lessons he was learning in the field. He continues to maintain an ongoing relationship with his clients in the commercial field, and his success has allowed him to schedule and retain both advertising shoots and his fine art efforts.
"Some may see a conflict in serving, in a way, two masters but," says Brumbeloe, "I find it a very comfortable world. Each has its special demands or rules, but I'm able to bring elements from one into the other, and the whole process is one of creation, not competition. Craft and art can be merged. They're not mutually exclusive."
In upwards of 40 pieces at Vorderman's freshly opened gallery Brumbeloe shows off distinct techniques ranging from simple to complex. Of these, perhaps the most original and strongest collection is a series entitled "Visione sulla vita e sulla fede" which translates roughly as "Concepts about life and worship."
Wandering through churches in southern Sicily, Brumbeloe occasioned upon religious statuary dating back several hundred years. These silent, sculpted forms gave birth to the notion in Brumbeloe's mind of the eternal queries "Who, What, When, Where, How and Why?" In turn, the questions evolved into excellent fodder for photography and Photoshop.
Using an inauspicious Nikon Coolpix, Brumbeloe pilfered dozens of shots, then manipulated and colorized them into individual views that are at once startling, chilling and reaffirming icons. I immediately referenced Fellini and Ken Russell, but that may say more about me than the images. They are definitely one of a kind, and they tell why Brumbeloe is not acting out the role of a tourist but that of a serious interpreter.
The second part of the series, "Intimate Spaces," speaks to Brumbeloe's craftsmanship and artistry as he records the historic architecture and ruddy landscape of Italy then doctors some images with oil paint and other alchemical recipes.
Frozen in time are glimpses of arcades, walls, doorways, windows, buildings and hallways. With these Brumbeloe first pulls silver prints from his 2.25 negatives then retouches them with oils and pastels, enhancing the Italian light and adding intimacy and illumination.
A particular favorite captures a cluster of men assembled in various poses studying a poster advertising a soccer match. The picture adds meaning, even drama, to an everyday, mundane slice of life. The men find answers for the site and tickets, but there's no solace for the fact that they won't be playing.
In his third and last series, entitled "Spy Photos," Brumbeloe snaps everyday gestures as he moves about the Italian streets. A pedestrian waiting curbside for a light to change, a market vender, a posed hand - they are all images depicting the normal routine of life, but here, removed from their original context, they take on additional meaning through our attention.
All in all Brumbeloe proves himself an adept, insightful and talented artist. Ultimately, he says, he wants to produce a coffee table book of his Italian odyssey. No doubt it would be a very thick and rich volume.
Steve Vorderman, a professional portraitist photographer himself, maintains his studio at the Roanoke site, which he salvaged from a turn-of-the-century bank. The gallery, which will specialize in fine art photography, is located at 112 North Main Street.