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ACMA graduate showcases abstract photography alongside her former teacher

TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - ACMA graduate and photographer Megan Paetzhold is showing work this month at Gallery 114.

Artist Megan Paetzhold has always seen the world a little differently.

This month, the Arts and Communication Magnet Academy graduate is sharing her vision at Gallery 114 in Portland, alongside work from one of her first photography teachers in “Counterpoint.”

Paetzhold, a Beaverton native who now lives in New York, is back in town to showcase “Studies in Amblyopia,” a two-channel, 12-minute video installation inspired by the rare eye condition she’s lived with all her life.

She’s joining Jon Gotshall, an ACMA art teacher who is showing his work alongside Paetzhold’s images.

Paetzhold was born with amblyopia, a neurological vision abnormality that causes her to only be able to see out of one eye at a time. Because her brain suppresses images from one eye or the other, her eyes don’t fuse their vision together, limiting her depth perception.

Growing up going to eye doctor appointments, Paetzhold became fascinated by vision and how it worked — or didn’t work. In “Studies in Amblyopia,” she delves into those ideas artistically for the first time.

Paetzhold took a medium-format film camera and hacked its “vision,” using a thin piece of black cellophane plastic to mask off either the right or left side of the plane between the lens and the film.

The distorted film plane then became an analogue for the retinal plane of the eye — and for the precarious nature of sight.

“My interest is — what can cameras see that we can’t see?” said Paetzhold.

What they can see, according to the works in her installation, are amorphous and angular shapes, varying intensities and gradients of color, and textured, floating artifacts. Her images are a result of manipulating shutter speed, exposure, and her home-made filter which redirects light.

Paetzhold’s interest in abstract photography began when she was a freshman at ACMA, where she signed up for a darkroom class with Gottshall.

TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - ACMA instructor Jon Gottshall hangs his prints at Gallery 114 prior to the opening of his and his former student, Megan Paetzhold's show.

“Art classes with him were a lot of fun,” said Paetzhold. “He encouraged a lot of experimentation.”

She started out with a pinhole camera. Sitting in the darkroom and working with the prints drew her in immediately.

“It’s like this slow moment,” she said. “It’s something about rocking the actual chemicals in the water. If you’re alone in the darkroom, that whole rhythm is very relaxing.”

During those early classes at ACMA, she would get in trouble for dipping her hands in the developer and putting them on the print.

“The materiality of photography is something I’ve always been really interested in,” said Paetzhold.

In Gottshall’s classes, she enjoyed lectures about practicing photographers and the self-direction that was allowed as she progressed.

“Megan was very self-motivated,” said Gotshall, adding that he saw her talent and vision blossom in his digital photography class. “For the most part, she was off-syllabus.”

Gottshall has been an art teacher at ACMA since 2001.

“Teaching through art is a fabulous way to train the brain,” he said. “You learn to think in a much more dimensional way.”

Paetzhold concurs.

“I think arts education helps you to get to know yourself really well, because there’s a certain level of introspection that’s necessary,” she said. “The way art exists, you have to think about your own brain a lot.”

Paetzhold graduated from Parsons School of Design in May with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Photography and a Bachelor of Arts in Culture and Media from The New School. She’s currently working at a gallery in New York City.

While visiting family in Beaverton, Paetzhold met up with Gottshall in December to discuss her thesis show in New York. He talked about an opportunity for her to display her work again at Gallery 114, where he is a member.

Gottshall is showing a collection of photographs depicting the old and new Sellwood Bridge. Knowing the old bridge was due to be rebuilt, he wanted to document it, become intimately familiar with it.

“Both of our works are about dualities,” said Gottshall.

Like Paetzhold’s work, Gottshall’s photographs contain an element of the unpredictable.

His printing process, discovered by accident, gives his photographs a painterly effect.

“I can never anticipate how they will come out,” he said, adding that he likes the possibility of randomness.

“I tell my students, ‘If you can remember what you did wrong, then it’s not a mistake — it’s a technique,’” said Gottshall.

To this day, Paetzhold is most interested in the technical, empirical process of creating her work.

As she collected images for her project, Paetzhold would shoot whatever caught her eye. One image captures fluorescent bulbs. Others capture a street light intersection, a subway station, window blinds.

But for Paetzhold, the subject of the images isn’t important. It’s more about the resulting shapes and colors, the process that renders images the human eye couldn’t see on its own.

Paetzhold has no idea how the images are going to turn out until she scans them in by hand, often feeding them in multiple times per image and coming up with different hues each time.

Because of her condition, Paetzhold is quicker to accept the instability of vision — a concept which she says is scary for most people. The brain reaches to see a familiar image, and abstraction works challenge that.

“I have a different relationship with photography than a lot of photographers do,” she said, explaining that she’s able to approach photography in a much more analytical way. “It’s not necessarily a better relationship, just a different relationship.”

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