Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2008

Kaleidoscope images in Garrett Park

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Charles E. Shoemaker/The Gazette
Al Teich poses in front of his "Kaleidoscopes in Black & White + A Splash of Color" exhibit, which runs through Sept. 6 as part of the Art at Penn Place series in Garrett Park.

It could be argued that Al Teich's photography career is owed largely to toys.

The North Bethesda man got his shutterbug start as a 10-year-old, having won a toy box camera as a third-place prize in a sneaker jingle contest. The hobby clicked like an Instamatic, and more than 50 years later, Teich is still playing around, taking black-and-white art photos of the inside of another childhood classic — the kaleidoscope.

The result is "Kaleidoscopes in Black & White + A Splash of Color," on display through Sept. 6 as part of the Art at Penn Place Series at Garrett Park.

Teich, a collector and aficionado of the novelty that first came to popularity in the parlors of the 1800s, said his kaleidoscope project began as a way to preserve the fleeting beauty of the images the toy creates.

"The images (in a kaleidoscope) are all very ephemeral, they disappear very quickly and you look at it and then you turn it and it's gone. You can't ever get it back," Teich said. "I just wanted to find a way to keep it."

That took experimentation, a natural fit for the man who is, by day, the director of Science and Policy Programs at the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Teich first had to puzzle over lighting conditions, ultimately using a kaleidoscope that is lit at the back so it does not have to be held up to a light source to be enjoyed. He then fiddled with the problem of taking a picture through a very small opening, discovering that he could use a digital camera with a small lens and a long exposure to capture the subtleties of pattern created by the kaleidoscope's beads and mirrors.

The resulting images are reminiscent of fractals, crystals or the optical-illusion posters native to dorm rooms, but without the glaring neon hues. The black-and-white pallet creates a psychedelia refined, and that, said Teich, is what's special about the exhibit.

"If you use black and white it helps you focus on the pattern so you see the symmetry and the essential pattern and aren't distracted by the colors," Teich said.

Susan-Marie Stedman of Burtonsville, who was in attendance at the exhibit's official opening Sunday, said that was the thing that stood out to her.

"I have never seen this kind of thing before," Stedman said. "I was really surprised when I saw all the black and white, because I was expecting all the crazy colors we saw in a kaleidoscope as a kid, and this is a more sophisticated approach to a kaleidoscope."

The kaleidoscope used by Teich was crafted by renowned kaleidoscope artist Corki Weeks, and contains black-and-white beads to begin with, making it easier to photograph. However, Teich has recently been experimenting with digitally adding a small color element to some of the photographs —the splash referred to in the exhibit's title — as well as printing some of the images on metallic paper, which gives them a 3-D effect.

The Art at Penn Place showing is Teich's first in Montgomery County, where he has lived for 32 years. The former Garrett Park resident said it was fun to have a chance for his friends and neighbors to finally be able to see his art locally.

"It's just nice to feel like part of the neighborhood," Teich said.

Teich has previously shown the exhibit at the Annual Member's Show at the National Press Club, at the AAAS Sciences and Art Gallery in Washington, at the International Gallery of Contemporary Art in Anchorage, Alaska, and at an invitational show at Reflections Kaleidoscopes in Mendocino, Calif. In 2005, his first-ever show at the Black and White Gallery in Arlington was the most successful the gallery had hosted to date in terms of sales.

Garrett Park Mayor Chris Keller said it was good to have Teich in the Art at Penn Place series, which strives to exhibit the work of local artists.

"The really nice thing about this series is occasionally you get something really out of the ordinary, which I consider this to be."