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From Night To Day

Darkness ebbs slowly. Especially for a reticent fellow like John Atchley. In recent years this Salisbury resident has suffered fire, losing his house; flood, losing his stored photographs; and, after rebuilding, a plague of carpenter ants. “They were dropping from the ceiling on us. “Biblical,” he called it. Then Atchley did something brave. “I just got over my block about being in public.” He entered a Housatonic Camera Club show, the first photograph he had exhibited in decades. Not that he had quit shooting, of course. It’s just that after graduating from Yale with a master’s degree in photography in 1971, he lost the thread. He had been photographing “rocks and trees and water,” using a big clunky view camera. But for a man who likes the outdoors, graduate school required much too much time indoors. “Two years in a darkroom almost killed me.” Also, he had no interest in commercial photography, so he considered the kind of work his friends were taking: Teaching. In his case, teaching photography. Not a good move. “I was way too shy,” he says. Also, “I had no tolerance for people who were not like me. Over serious.” So he became a carpenter. A carpenter who stored his photographs of rocks and trees away. That’s the story until photographer Cassandra Sohn saw his work in a couple of area shows and asked Atchley to put an exhibit together for her new gallery in Stockbridge, MA. There had to be a theme, of course, Atchley told me. “You can’t have a show without one.” His: Out of Darkness. Still rocks and trees and water, but more painterly than earlier work, he says, more abstract, more reckoning with movement and light. Most striking is a black-and-white shot of the Housatonic River in Falls Village. Standing on the river’s edge he photographed the falls straight on, a vertical storm of silky white water, hand-holding his Canon 5D MK II and using a slow shutter, a small aperture and a wide lens. The result is, well, abstract. And beautiful. He has color in this show as well, a subdued amber, really. A fine panoramic shot of hills is memorable for a couple of birds overhead. Anyone who shoots knows it’s hard catching birds on the wing. But not so hard in Florida, evidently. “Flamingos just fly into view. They just keep coming,” Atchley says. Now he never leaves the house without a camera, and he is working in his own style, panning with a slow shutter, slipping sideways and vertically to give his shots a lovely, veiled look. “At 64,” he says, “I’m an emerging artist.” “Out of Darkness” runs at Sohn Fine Art Gallery, 6 Elm St., in Stockbridge, MA, through Nov. 19. For information, telephone 917-849-9193 or go to www.cassandrasohn.com.

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