• Photographer Snell asks, answers ‘What is that?’
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     | February 23,2013
     
    JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR

    John Snell

    BERLIN — John Snell’s “Still Learning to See” photography exhibit at the Central Vermont Medical Center’s gallery is providing a welcome glimpse of the unique perspective with which he views the world.

    Snell, 65, of Montpelier, submitted his work over a year ago for the juried show and it is the first ever to feature photography.

    Snell says his work tends toward the abstract; the subject could be nature or a built environment, and many of his photos elicit the question “what is that?”

    “I just really enjoy seeing the smaller piece of a big picture that stands on its own,” he says. “I work a lot with water and reflections, capturing the texture, which is something I never noticed until I started looking at it the right way.”

    Snell put together a write-up for viewers, which gives a brief description about either the subject or the locality and his inspiration for capturing each of the photographs exhibited. Thirty-one pieces, all taken within the past 10 years, are hanging in the well-appointed space that runs on the right hand wall in the entrance and lobby of the hospital, but Snell says it was a hard number to get down to.

    “I had a lot of fun putting things together. At first, I had picked a hundred and fifty pictures. It was at that point I needed to stop because I knew could pick 1,000 out of the 20,000 I have and about 30 was the right number for the space,” he says.

    Many of the photographs are shot here in the central Vermont area, some in Snell’s own backyard in Montpelier. But there are also photos from Amsterdam, London, Wales and other locales across the United States and a grouping of aerial photos shot from commercial flight windows.

    “As often as I can, I grab the window seat,” says Snell.

    Snell is no stranger to travel as his work training people to use a thermal imaging system took he and his business partner all around the world. Officially retired this year, he still travels for pleasure, but his favorite spots to take photographs are in and nearby Montpelier.

    “I always love coming home,” he says. “I do have favorite spots here, my yard is one of them, but going back again and again I can understand and anticipate what might happen,” he adds.

    The Drawing Board in Montpelier framed the prints in the show and Snell says he was grateful for their knowledge and experience.

    “I hate framing, I don’t know how to do it and though they were probably more expensive than some place online, the brilliance of working with the Drawing Board is they could give me feedback, because they’re experts,” he says.

    Snell says 20 have sold so far, which are priced near to cost and he is also selling signed and matted unframed prints as well as smaller, postcard sized prints also signed and matted.

    “I wasn’t sure what would come out of this, but I think my take away is that I just really enjoy having people see it. I don’t have to make a living, I just love doing it,” he says.

    Snell says he started shooting about 50 years ago and knew he was really in it when he sold his motorcycle for a Nikon F. These days he is never without his camera and tries to get out specifically to take pictures three or four days a week.

    “I’d be lying if I didn’t say that serendipity was part of every photo I make. That’s the way a lot of things are. If you’re ready and you’re looking and you’re lucky. A lot like painting, you have to be open and you don’t have control. The muse is there and if she’s happy then you can see, sometimes it works and hundreds of times it doesn’t,” he laughs.

    Snell says digital photography, which he has been shooting in for almost 10 years, has made a huge difference.

    “You can take a lot more pictures without going to the bank, I can remember some ten roll days and it was expensive,” he says. “I just unloaded bushels of slides, but it was fun, I kept the few that meant something to me and the rest, well, I’ve moved on.”

    Despite what can now be achieved with software like Photoshop, Snell keeps editing to a minimum, cropping and adjusting brightness are the only changes he typically makes.

    “Every one of these photographs has a story. But the big thing is that these are just photos, the real thing is outside. Learn form this, but get out and look at your own scenery,” he says.

    Snell’s work will be at CVMC through March 15, and any prints left over he hopes to hang at the Montpelier Senior Center and eventually sell and give the profits to the North Branch Nature Center. He would like to keep getting his photographs out there and continue to share his distinctive point of view wherever he can. Snell will be at CVMC on Tuesday, Feb. 26, from 4:30 to 6 p.m. and is willing to answer questions and talk with anyone interested in his work.

    You can view “Still Learning to See” and more of Snell’s photographs online at stilllearningtosee.com and eyeimagein.com.

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