Laura Dawahare

UK's Arts in HealthCare Program Features Photography of Kentuckian James Baker Hall

Published: Feb 21, 2014

 

James Baker Hall reflects on his love of photography

 

LEXINGTON, KY. (Feb. 21, 2014) -- Most people remember James Baker Hall as a writer, and with good reason. Hall was a critically acclaimed author, mentored dozens (if not hundreds) of aspiring authors in his 30 year tenure as director of the Creative Writing Program at the University of Kentucky, and was Kentucky's Poet Laureate from 2001 through 2003. Just last month, he was inducted into the Kentucky Writers Hall of Fame.

 

But Hall was an equally engaged and prolific photographer, taking and developing thousands of photographs in his lifetime. He was a contributing editor for Aperture, a national magazine for the photo community, and lectured widely on photography in such places as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Rhode Island School of Design

 

The public can see how James Baker Hall expressed himself through photography at a special exhibit sponsored by UK HealthCare's "Arts in HealthCare" program. Called, "The Mirror's Beveled Edge," this exhibition is an ambitious undertaking on Hall's behalf.  Occupying the West Gallery of the University of Kentucky Albert B. Chandler Hospital, nearly 40 photographs in a multitude of genres will be on display from Feb. 20, 2014, through July 31, 2014.

 

"James Baker Hall was much more than a teacher.  He was a mentor in the purest sense," recalls Sarah Wylie VanMeter, manager of the James Baker Hall Archive. "He viewed each of his students as an opportunity to nurture a deep and creative inner mind."

 

VanMeter was a creative writing student of Hall's, but their mutual interest in photography dovetailed into a long term collaboration.  VanMeter began working as his studio assistant in 2001, managing the printing of his work. In 2009, she co-created a documentary: "Elbow of Light: A Film on James Baker Hall." She now oversees the preservation and promotion of the James Baker Hall Archive, which culminated in this exhibition.

 

As a child, James Baker Hall developed an interest in photography when he worked for his cousin, Mack Hughes, a commercial photographer. But by the time he graduated from UK in 1957, his promise as a writer obscured his talent as a photographer.  One of the celebrated Stegner Fellows at Stanford University, Hall mingled with iconic American writers like Ken Kesey and Larry McMurty, forging a lifelong passion for writing and developing a fine library of published work.    

 

But he never abandoned his love of photography.

 

"Wherever he went, he managed to find the photographic community," says VanMeter. "He was actively pursuing his photographic endeavors even as he was writing and publishing critically acclaimed material like Praeder's Letters."

 

VanMeter is particularly impressed with the range of Hall's work. "He spent a lot of time in portraiture, especially photos of friends and family.  But he was also skilled at landscape photography, photos that required intense observation, and photographic art that incorporated pieces from his family album into artistic commentary shot through an emotional yet observational lens."

 

Photos from the latter category are part of what is called his "orphan series," which draw heavily from the childhood trauma of his mother's suicide. Some of that series will be in the exhibit, as well as photos made during his membership with the famed Lexington Camera Club.

 

"We had a terrible time choosing which of his thousands of pieces would be in the show," laments Jacqueline Hamilton, director of UK HealthCare's "Arts in HealthCare" program. "We tried to cull Jim's prolific body of work into a cohesive experience that accurately reflects James Baker Hall, the photographer."

 

Hamilton leapt at the chance to host a Hall exhibit. She notes that photography is a highly representative media, one that most folks can identify with and understand.  But to be able to give hospital patients, families, faculty and staff the opportunity to view and interpret the work of one of Kentucky's beloved literary artists was too good to be true.

 

"Museums are destinations -- people decide to go there, usually pay a fee to enter, and have expectations about what 'art' should be.  We are a destination, but we also serve a very important purpose -- to provide everyone in this hospital an opportunity to be entertained by art, which is both engaging and therapeutic."

 

Media Contact:  Laura Dawahare, laura.dawahare@uky.edu

 

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