Pacific University hosts black and white photos from Richard Cork

Lately, when photographer Richard Cork looks out into the world, he's drawn to the visual tension that awaits between order and chaos. With his camera pointed upward, Cork captures whatever may become — images that fuse nature’s disorder with the firm lines of the built environment.

Mostly shot in and around Portland and on his walk to work from his Broadway studio in the Pearl District, Cork uses his camera to bring order to the cacophony of the natural environment.

His black and white abstract photographs reveal simplified images of reality like patterns of tree branches against the sky or the bulk of a building seemingly thrust into space.

“It's music for the eye,” said Cork, “taken from the environment and orchestrated through photography.” The significance of each image lies within itself, connected by a loose reference to reality, he said.

Cork stretches the boundaries of reality in “Looking Up,” a recent collection of 20 monochrome prints, which is on exhibit at Pacific University's Cawein Gallery through Sept. 28.

Capturing melodies

As a lifetime graphic designer and artist, line, pattern and shape matter most in Cork's photos.

In one visually striking photo, "Curves," Cork shoots the edge of a contemporary building, its sinuous shape against the sky. The building's grid is entirely geometric, but against the light sky, its curving line provides a sense of movement — a counterpoint.

Cork views the point at which structure and sky collide like a composer would hear the sound of melodies crashing together.

“This is what I mean by visual music,” said Cork. “That's kind of how I look at the world. I let the content be whatever it is.”

While there is no sure way of knowing the real subject matter in many of Cork's prints, a few photos are more explicit.

In "Powerhouse Ceiling," the rivets, nuts and bolts of an industrial building provide texture and context, and an immediate sense of place. Cork is fascinated by the rhythmic clashing of shapes. He captures diagonal lines folding into the center of the composition while vertical lines, windows and other shapes interrupt the building trusses.

Cork leaves it up to the viewer to interpret his photos. “That way the viewer can exercise their own imagination,” he said, “or the internal artist that I think everybody has.”

Cork likes to shoot in the morning or evenings. He finds that’s when light enhances the texture, bringing out shadows and enhancing the photo’s graphic qualities. Afterward, he uploads his work to a computer to see what he has to work with.

Once on the screen, he subconsciously selects elements in the photo that speak to him or hint towards something meaningful. Then he tampers with the photo — cropping and converting its colors to black and white.

This process, Cork says, is as much a creative act as the initial image capture.

A lifetime of art

“I think I was really born to be a graphic artist,” said Cork. In school, he was the kid who sat in the back of class drawing little pictures all over his notebook. Early artistic tendencies lead Cork to a classic American arts education. In his hometown at San Diego State University, he studied oils, art history, drawing and color theory with a minor in English.

In spite of his father's initial concern, Cork has managed to make a full-time living in the visual arts as a graphic designer, working in publishing and advertising.

In his free time, he pursues his personal artistic interests, ranging from sculpture to painting on metal and, for the past six years, photography. Cork's work has been exhibited in California, Illinois, Texas and Oregon in individual and group shows, as well as in national and regional collections.

A few days before Cork opened his exhibit at the Cawein Gallery, he moved from Portland to Bend, where he is excited to see how the high desert will influence his art.