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2011 News Releases

Longwood student has photographs in art gallery exhibition

September 19, 2011

Alexander Leonhart

Photographic artwork by Longwood University senior Alexander Leonhart is in a current exhibition at an art gallery in Pennsylvania.

Ten large format color prints from Leonhart are part of "Beyond the Image: explorations of...illusions, allusions and visual storytelling" at the Marietta ArtHouse in Marietta, Pa., Leonhart's hometown. The exhibition, which opened Sept. 9 and runs through Oct. 23, includes work by two other photographic artists. One of Leonhart's photos, Atlas, adorns the front side of the exhibition card. Leonhart's portion of the show is called Modern Fables: A Series by Alexander Leonhart.

"His work is stunning," said Linda Mylin Ross, curator of exhibits at Marietta ArtHouse. "When I met Alex at a show here last spring, he said he was a photographer, and I asked to see some of his work. As soon as I saw his work, I was blown away, and I knew then and there we wanted him in a show. We wanted to contextualize the show, the theme of which is illusions, allusions and visual storytelling, so we brought in two other artists who tell stories in a different style. All three artists work with the idea of a narrative picture, of visual storytelling, and all make references to fables and fairy-tales but cast their characters in contemporary times. There is a little bit of mystery in all of them."

"Alex's work is very theatrical, dramatically lit, and has a staged quality," Ross added. "A lot of people come in here and ask 'Are these paintings?' He carefully lights everything, and he has an amazing attention to detail. His imagery has the quality of an older painting, and some of the costuming also looks like it's from another time. He uses literary and art references that play on the back of your mind, which you can't quite put your finger on. He has a handle on art history, and he's a reader, and is intelligent and thoughtful. In his work, there's a reason why things are there. He doesn't just throw things in there. And even though his photographs are digital, there is no Photoshop manipulation."

Leonhart's process involves performance art, found objects and set constructions. "The resulting photographs," says an announcement of the exhibition by the art gallery, "are dramatic scenes always featuring a female 'protagonist.'" Leonhart has a blog site (www.wonkyalchemy.wordpress.com) that features many of his photographs and his thoughts on his photography.

"It's certainly significant that an undergraduate student had work chosen by a curator for a show," said Michael Mergen, assistant professor of art at Longwood, who teaches photography.

Photography titled Atlas by Alexander Leonhart

Atlas

Leonhart, an art major, called the exhibition his "first professional show outside Longwood." Last spring he did his senior art show, in which he had three pieces, and about a year earlier he did a show, of 10 pieces, at the Mad Hatter Café, a now-defunct Farmville restaurant. He uses mostly a Canon EOS 50D, a digital single-lens reflex camera, and sometimes he shoots with a 35-millimeter camera from the old days.

"My work tends to be fantastic narrative and is kind of whimsical," he said. "I like to shoot in abandoned buildings. My piece Atlas was taken in the basement of an abandoned farmhouse in Palmyra that is now part of a park. That was the first abandoned place I've ever shot that has electricity; often I bring in battery-run lights. Much of my work, including Atlas, features my girlfriend, Rachel Wolfe, a 2009 Longwood graduate who lives in Palmyra. A lot of my photographs take a long time to set up, and I include myself in some of the frames. Unfortunately, the most you can set the camera for is 10 seconds, so it's hard to get in the picture."

Leonhart was originally a theatre major but "fell in love with photography" during the second semester of his freshman year when he took an introduction to photography class under Michael Lease, and he switched majors at the end of that semester. "Rachel (his girlfriend) was in that class, though we'd met before. We took each other's portraits for self-portraits because our cameras didn't have timers! Later I took photography courses here under Anna Cox."

His influences include photographers Francesca Woodman (1958-81) and Robert and Shana ParkeHarrison. "Rachel first showed me Woodman's work, which is black and white and was done in gritty, debased urban areas such as abandoned spaces and usually included a nude female form. Robert and Shana ParkeHarrision's work is very different and is more whimsical. It's sepia toned. It's about the environment."

The exhibition at the Marietta ArtHouse also includes photographs by K.K. DePaul, a well-known artist in nearby Lancaster, and Sarah Rineer, a non-traditional student at nearby Millersville University.

"The gallery tried to tie elements of my work and K.K.'s and Sarah's together," said Leonhart, who attended the artists reception Sept. 18 at the gallery. "We all make art as storytellers. However, we have contrast too. My works tend to have whimsical occurrences, mostly in large-scale color and building sets. DePaul's work hints at Grimm's Fairy Tales, in tiny sepia-toned prints with Photoshop overlays, while Rineer's work, done in traditional eight by 10-inch black and white format, features a dark juxtaposition of industrialization versus the human body."

Marietta ArtHouse opened in a Victorian house in December 2010. Ross, at the gallery, said the fact that Leonhart is from that area had nothing to do with his being selected for a show. "We would have had him in a show if he'd been from Boston or Baltimore," she said.

Leonhart will finish his degree requirements this December. He hopes to do an internship or residency before attending graduate school, where he plans to earn a Master of Fine Arts degree. He'd like to teach on the university level or work as a professional photographer.