Capturing old Gilbert through vernacular photography

"Cotton Stomper," original photo by Marvin Morrison, interpreted by Gina DeGideo.

“Cotton Stomper,” original photo by Marvin Morrison, interpreted by Gina DeGideo.

Gilbert’s rich agricultural heritage takes the spotlight in a creative display of photographs at Art Intersection, a gallery right in the heart of the city’s historic buildings.

Artist and photographer Gina DeGideo took a cherished collection of Morrison family photographs under her wing and turned them into an exhibit called “Revisiting the Photographs of Marvin Morrison.”

That’s “Morrison” as in the family with a vast farming and ranching enterprise in Gilbert in the latter half of the 20th century. Marvin, who died in 2007, was a patriarch of the family, a real shutterbug who captured the everyday motions of farm life with his Pentax camera. Today, Morrison family land has mostly given way to a master-planned community called Morrison Ranch. Still, the exhibit pays homage to the way things were. It’s also a remarkable validation of vernacular photography as an art form.

For instance, there’s “KIng,” a color photograph of father and son baling cut alfalfa, in which the boy takes a commandeering position on the mowing machine and you can easily infer he’s pretty pleased with himself. And there’s “Bales on Truck,” showing high school football players from a few decades ago with bales of alfalfa. A caption explains that the athletes stayed in training over the summer by loading bales in the heat.

One of my favorites was “Cotton Stomper,” a wonderfully composed shot of a bracero standing in a pile of cotton, getting ready to stomp it down to condense it. A caption recounts Morrison’s amazement at the “superhero-like strength” it took to process the crop in this way, in decades past.

DeGideo’s task in preparing the exhibit included working with the Morrison family to select the photos from among the hundreds that Marvin shot, as well as conducting many interviews with family members. She prepared the enlargements and captions (from Morrison’s narrative) and integrated several found photographs from unknown sources, all with an eye toward honoring Gilbert’s farming history yet impressing her own vision upon the story told in the images. In an artist’s statement, she says, “As a person who has experienced this land in its modern state, yet still remembers some of its history from my own experiences, I now view this place and the people here through a new lens.”

The exhibit runs through August 31, 2013, in the smaller of Art Intersection’s galleries. And there’s no excuse not to wander into the other gallery to see “No Strangers,” a group show spotlighting work — mostly photographs — by Art Intersection’s members, faculty and staff.

I admired the archival pigment prints by Jesse Castellano, who renders unique views of ordinary objects, such as a Bartlett pear. Castellano taught high school photography locally for more than 30 years.

Tammy Cowden’s work takes a similar tack of infusing an ordinary, even ugly, sight with beauty, as in her views of dilapidated but highly textured buildings.

“No Strangers” also runs through the end of the month.

8/23/13 CLARIFICATION: I didn’t quite nail it in trying to describe Gina’s artistic process in examining Morrison’s photos and readying them for display. Let me clarify by quoting her words from an email:

” … the accompanying stories I wrote for the images are part of the artwork and are creative writing stories 100% generated by me based on oral information and memories gathered in my interviews with family members. The stories do not refer to the exact people or events in the images, and may take on many different family members’ voices.”

Thanks, Gina!


2 thoughts on “Capturing old Gilbert through vernacular photography

  1. Thanks for covering this show, which is off the beaten path of most art lovers. Congrats to Gilbert citizens, too, for recognizing the value of art and its intersection with our past.


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