Photographer Gary Hall: On exhibit at Edgewater Gallery
MIDDLEBURY — Fine art photographer Gary Hall was exposed to the craft from an early age back in the 1960s. “My father was constantly taking family photos and documenting our trips,” Hall said. Growing up in Charlotte, he was fascinated by the beauty of changing light on Lake Champlain, and wanted to capture those moments and scenes to share with others.
As a boy scout, 16-year-old Hall remembers the moment he knew he’d be a photographer.
“We were hiking the Long trail around Camel’s Hump,” Hall said. “As we came down that morning I happened to look over my shoulder, and the sunrise was hitting this peak; and it was a flash of orange. That’s when I knew, I had to get a good camera.”
Hall’s uncle helped him buy the equipment, and Hall took around 3,000 slides that first year.
With his grandfather and father being veterans of WWI and WWII, respectively, and his brother stationed in Germany during the 1960s, it wasn’t surprising that Hall enlisted in the military as an Army Signal Corps Photographer after graduating from high school in 1971.
As his first tour of duty, he was sent to Vietnam to capture images on the ground, and from above by helicopter. He documented everything from award ceremonies to combat, and has the blood soaked documents to prove it, he says.
“We were always about 3-5 miles out,” Hall recalled. “But the shelling still shook the beds… It was hot and all I had was a concrete bunker and some chemicals.” He laughed, “maybe that’s why the photos came out so flat.”
Hall developed his 8-by-10 negatives and sent the photos back to the Pentagon.
“When I first got there I was a young guy who was invincible, at least I thought I was, until the first incoming,” Hall, who enlisted at 18, said. “Then you realize how quickly you can die… You learn not to ask questions,” he said. “It was pretty much a paranoid sort of existence; but after a while you get pretty hardened by it.”
After the U.S. pulled out of Vietnam in 1973, Hall was transferred to Thailand where he continued his war documentation, until his return to the States in 1974.
Serving time in the military gave Hall the opportunity to pursue his career in photography at Southern Illinois University, one of few establishments that offered a four-year photography program at the time.
“I got a great education,” said Hall. “I got a lot of the Midwestern aesthetic there. But I didn’t want to go straight into teaching; I wanted to learn in the trenches; I wanted to make pictures for a living.”
So, after earning his degree in Fine Arts Photography, Hall came home to Vermont.
In the early 1980s, Hall was awarded two Vermont Arts Council grants to document the urban renewal of Burlington, which included the birth of the Church Street Marketplace. Working in large format “color studies,” Hall focused on capturing the light reflecting off the new structures. Hall was at an advantage to pick up on details that others may have overlooked in this project, as having been away overseas gave him fresh eyes for the familiar downtown area, and made him keenly aware of the distinct growth and changes in the area since he was a child. The successful project gained notoriety for Hall in the community.
Soon after coming home, Hall married and their family grew. He needed to start using his craft to make money to support his children and family, so began exhibiting and selling his first prints.
In 1983, Hall was presented with an opportunity to visit a friend from college who was working in product photography in Chicago. While he was there, Hall learned about commercial photography and how to properly capture products for well-known companies such as McDonalds and Samsonite Luggage.
When Hall returned to Vermont, he opened his own studio and pursued a career as a commercial photographer. His new skills, combined with the recognition he had garnered from the urban renewal documentation, opened doors for Hall that led to an affiliate membership with the American Institute of Architects and he began photographing high-end resorts around the world.
Gary on Upper Saranac Lake
It was then — in the early 1990s during the Gulf War and the 40 days of extensive bombing of Iraq — that Hall started suffering PTSD.
“I had pretty much buried everything,” he said of his earlier recollections. Hall had not been to therapy or explored any sort of post-processing since returning from Vietnam. “The bombing in Bagdad made me crash… My marriage lasted for another three years; then I found myself by myself.”
Hall got himself into therapy and inspiration began to return.
“I went out to the streams and woods; I could go out there and listen. It was really visceral,” he explained. “I was seeing time almost as a geologist would look at it; I was looking at things over a long time period ? growing, eroding… shapes, forms and power. I was very sensitive to it.”
In 2007, Hall held his first show at the Amy E. Tarrant Gallery at the Flynn Theatre in Burlington, titled “Experimentation in Contemporary Luminism: Photographs from the Archives of Gary R. Hall.” His influence for the show was the way in which painters are able to capture light and luminescence. To accomplish this, he set long exposures on the camera to capture scenes in a way in which the naked eye cannot see. The finished photographs were a 20-inch by 20-inch pigment print, wherein he used digital darkroom printing techniques of scanning black and white negatives.
Photography for Hall, today, is “more about reconnecting with the planet,” he said. “It’s about going out with film cameras and slowing down… It’s been a long time coming.”
Hall continues to photograph both architecture and landscapes. He takes a rowboat out on Champlain and thinks of ways to “create new photos of the familiar scenes.” The best way to do this, he said, is to “capture the right light.”
Recently he has been experimenting with a technique known as contact prints. The process consists of placing negatives in intimate contact with a sheet of sensitized photographic paper and then applying light through a glass plate to both the paper and the negative for a short amount of time. He describes the process as being “humbling,” as it is a dated technique requiring an immense amount of time and practice to get the image right.
Halls’s goal is to capture “the timelessness of nature.” The reason for shooting in black and white, he said, is for the soul. It is a way of getting away from everything and finding a sense of peace.
— Elsie Lynn Parini contributed to this piece.