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Two photographers take inspiration from the wild for art show

Two photographers reveal the microscopic beauties and photogenic wonders of the natural world in the work showing Nov. 6-27 at the Water Cultural Arts Center in Hillsboro.

Gigi Conot – Photographer and Painter

Appearing from a pool of infinite blackness that mimics the dark of an exposed negative, Gigi Conot's images of organic vegetables are so rich in detail and texture that if you look long enough the pores of a pear will exhale.

Rather than a conventional box camera, the southwest Portland resident uses a high resolution, flat-bed scanner to render the minute detail, light and shadow of roots, leaves and fruits.

“I am motivated in this work by our human connection to the natural world,” said Conot. Her latest exhibit of work is inspired by a quote in "Letters to a Young Poet" written by Rainer Maria Rilke in 1903.

“If you will cling to nature, to the simple in nature, to the little things that hardly anyone sees, and that can so unexpectedly become big and beyond measuring; if you have this love for inconsiderable things ... then everything will become easier and more coherent ... not in your intellect, perhaps ... but in your innermost consciousness ...”

Living in a small urban studio in San Francisco circa 2004, deprived of plants and trees, the more Conot missed nature, the more she obsessed over it.

“I started going to the farmers market and looking at my produce very carefully, examining their shapes, leaves, contours and shadows,” she said. “I began to see a structural beauty that is truly unlike anything that you'll find in a man-made object.”

Conot combed Golden Gate Park and the city's Ocean Beach for more, wanting to capture “this almost freakish beauty that makes up everything living — seeds become fruit, leaves become trees, roots and fruits and vegetables become animals, and us”.

When the artist moved to Portland in 2007, she found herself in the middle of a nature that she so desperately missed in San Francisco.

“I did not have to travel far to seek it,” she said. “It is in my yard, on my walk downtown, in the gardens of my neighbors, and in many of the surrounding parks.”

From parks to farmers markets, Conot picks things up on her walks and continues to be amazed at both the simplicity and the complexity of everyday things.

She spends lots of time arranging objects in the precise position. Chance plays a large part in her process. It's all about symmetry — both in the objects themselves and their placement in the space around them, she said.

She has exhibited her work in Portland, Eugene, Hillsboro and San Francisco. Conot studied painting and drawing at the University of Santa Cruz and is a member of the San Francisco Photography Center.

“To me they convey something that transcends the stages of their living and dying, something perhaps that is both what it means to have life and, in our relationships with that life, what it means to be human.”

Don Jacobson – Photographer

“I am delighted by quality of light, vibrancy of color, unexpected and often unnoticed detail,” said southeast Portland photographer Don Jacobson, a man who views life as a series of photographs, “The stunning structure of an orchid, the intricate ornamentation on an older building, or dishes stacked in a dish drainer are fascinating to me.”

Usually vision fades with age, but not so for Jacobson. From electrical engineering novice and defense industry laborer to lifetime glassblower, photography connoisseur and nature guide, with a camera in hand, Jacobson's eye for natural beauty has heightened toward photographic enlightenment.

“My subject matter is limitless,” said Jacobson. “Abstractions and patterns are richer and invite investigation.”The camera, which narrows the field of vision, has actually expanded my vision."

Jacobson knuckled down for three years as an electrical engineer in the defense industry before having a change of heart. Contradicting political views and a desperate need for a creative outlet drew him into the world of glass blowing, where he humbly turned molten glass into gallery worthy pieces for 28 years.

Blowing glass by day, the Californian quietly practiced the art of photography in his spare time. Both mediums captured his fascination for light — the magic of glass is its ability to transmit and reflect light while photography cannot exist without it.

The artist was also a naturalist and guide who led hikes for sixteen seasons through the Sutter Buttes of the Sacramento Valley in California. In the high country of the Sierra Nevadas, he always packed a camera — a little Kodak Brownie, but the simple-lens exposures proved inadequate to express nature's brilliant range of light, so he upgraded to his first SLR, a Pentax Spotmatic.

Today, as an Oregon resident and Portland Photographers Forum and Interim Group member, Johnson's resume demonstrates a continued dedication to the art: Since 2005, he's had 23 photo exhibitions and 34 awards to match, including countless first places, best in shows and honorable mentions.

So far, Jacobson has a multitude of published works following his photographic travels and endeavors: "Beauty of the West," 2009's "Owner Decorated Vehicles," 2010's "Alaska!," 2011's "An Intimate View of Japan" and "Pacific Northwest Architecture - A Photo Essay," published this year.

A love for photographing Oregon's beautiful native wildflowers spurred on botany-inspired trips Jacobson led for the California Native Plant Society, the Native Plant Society of Oregon, Bark, Oregon Wild (formerly ONRC) and Portland Audubon.

“I see the world differently now,” said Jacobson. “My perception is enhanced and enriched from my pursuit of photography. An already dynamic and interesting world has become more so.”

A previous version of this article listed the dates for this art show incorrectly. The show runs from Nov. 6-27.

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