East City Art Reviews: Thom Goertel Finding Light

By Jan Aucker on June 20, 2018
Red Facade, 2018 – 21 x 14 in, Metallic Print.  Photo courtesy of the artist.

“Wherever there is light, one can photograph.” – Alfred Stieglitz

Artist Thom Goertel lives by this quote, traveling the world to find light in the most unusual settings.  His latest show on view at The Corner Store on Capitol Hill through July 28th displays recent works that showcase his unique ability to prioritize variations in luminosity.  His photographs provide unusual perspectives that have a depth of content in a single image.  They provide viewers with an intimate experience by transporting them into the world he has isolated at a unique moment in time.

Goertel grew up in North Dakota, dreaming that filmmaking was going to be his vocation.  While in high school, a Governor’s School for the Arts summer program changed his mind. His father gave him a camera merely to document his experience there.    Instead, another student introduced him to photography as an art in its own right.  Goertel did not look back. After graduate school, he began working in a variety of creative jobs, expanding his artistic and technical knowledge to include filmmaking, animation and digital editing. The same curiosity helped him to develop his photographer’s eye for innovative techniques when creating his works.

Dog, Child and Arrows, 2018 – 21 x 14 in.  Metallic Print.  Photo courtesy of the artist.

Goertel’s wanderlust provides him with a variety of opportunities to explore light and shadows.  He is interested in finding the unexpected. His photos of urban life occur as he walks the streets.  This is evident with a series of shots from Mexico. The florescent green building in Dog, Child, and Arrows may immediately attract your attention, but a closer look will reveal much more.  The photographer catches a young girl as she has come out of the shadows. Her red shirt and pink tights stand out sharply against the green wall and the yellow caution arrows as a dog watches her intently. The artist looks for this broken symmetry, where the relationship between objects is not always readily apparent but underlies the overall composition. In Women/Light Shafts, the uniform pattern of lines draws you in and flows through the two women, as your eye continues to the billboard behind them.


Woman w/ Statue, 2018 – 21 x 14 in.  Metallic Print.  Photo courtesy of the artist.

As Goertel wanders and watches, themes begin to appear.  According to the artist, memories are the basis for the reaction he feels when taking a photo. Sometimes we all feel a sense of déjà vu when we see or experience something. This is the instance with Woman w/ Statue, where he felt the mood and characteristic of the lighting reminded him of the neoclassical bedroom at the end 2001: A Space Odyssey.  The room’s ceiling seems infinite, confined only by its elegant muted blue walls.  The statue of Terpsichore, the muse of lyric poetry, is the focal point.  Yet, the woman in the background, in a bright yellow tunic, attracts attention, suggesting a reversal of the statue’s pose with her legs crossed and head tilted in the opposite direction. A moment which might have seemed ordinary is made extraordinary.

Church, 2018 – 21 x 14 in.  Archival Pigment Print.  Photo courtesy of the artist

When the artist escapes from the city, he usually has no destination in mind. His photo Church, shot in southern Iceland in black and white appears to reveal his solitude. The naturally illuminated church perched on a hill is tranquil and bleak. It is the focal point, with a few puffy clouds on the horizon and a path that could lead to the heavens. Goertel’s photo fully captures the particular character of the brightly illumined building against the dark sky at that moment in time and place.

Painted Face, 2018 – 13.5 x 18 in.  Archival Pigment Print.  Photo courtesy of the artist

The artist finds a type of stimulation taking pictures on the street and conversing with people. He works with just a small pocket camera to stay discrete and unnoticed. This anonymity allows him to create intimate portraits of people in natural situations.  His portraits Nun (thumbnail image) and Painted Face show that his subjects trust him and feel comfortable revealing themselves to the camera.  Each person is wearing a type of costume and stares seriously at the artist as he gains their trust, allowing him into their world.

The title of the show, Finding Light, is an homage to a portrait teacher who instructed him to always find the light, echoing the words quoted above of Alfred Stieglitz. This instruction has remained with the Goertel throughout his career. He is masterful at uncovering light sources that provide the ambiance for his random encounters. His fascination with broken symmetry and composition allows him to skillfully convey his memories and emotions at any point in time.  As you view the 19 framed prints and others that randomly display on a video screen, you feel as though these pictures can transport you to an interesting place.  When we see what the artist perceived, we are encouraged to look at the world differently and find the light.

Finding Light is on view through July 28, 2018 at The Corner Store located at 900 South Carolina Avenue, SE across from Eastern Market Metro. For more information, visit the gallery’s website cornerstorearts.org

Corner Store Arts Gallery Hours through June 30, 2018:

  • Tuesday 11am-4pm
  • Thursday 2-7pm
  • Saturdays 10am to 4 pm
  • or by appointment.

Beginning July 1, 2018 Corner Store Arts Gallery Hours are as follows:

  • Thursdays & Friday  2-7 pm
  • Saturdays 10am to 4 pm
  • or by appointment.

This article was funded in part by a grant from the Capitol Hill Community Foundation.  Visit their website at www.capitolhillcommunityfoundation.com