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Marzolf's exhibit sheds new light on the 'everyday'

Feb 01, 2018 10:00AM ● Published by City Journals Staff

Photograph taken by Mark Marzolf for his "Everyday" exhibit at Whitmore Library. (Mark Marzolf)

Gallery: Mark Marzolf [3 Images] Click any image to expand.

So much of the world passes by without us really taking notice. Photographer and artist Mark Marzolf aims to make us stop and take notice with his work. His recent photography exhibit at Whitmore Library featured dozens of pieces that focus on the contrast, texture and patterns of everyday objects.

“I like to think of my work as looking at things in different ways,” Marzolf said. “It is more of a deliberate act.”

Marzolf started his artistic work over 10 years ago. Initially, he took landscape photographs. Then he got into natural still life work and eventually started photographing doors, windows and interesting rusty objects. “I keep changing my focus and trying new things,” Marzolf said. “I was done with taking snapshots. I felt kind of jaded with more traditional forms of photography. Anyone can photograph Delicate Arch. I wanted to get something new.”

Before he began his landscape work, Marzolf took a photography course from the University of Utah’s continuing education program. Getting specific assignments forced him to look for subjects and look at things differently all the time. “It’s a real learning and growing process to compose an image in your mind before taking a photograph.”

Marzolf grew increasingly interested in black-and-white photography, which is now his primary medium. He incorporates a lot of post-production manipulation of his photos to find fascinating ways of enlarging and distilling the images.

The secret to Marzolf’s work is that he is always ready and able to capture a new image. All of his photos from his “Everyday” exhibit at Whitmore Library were taken with his Apple iPhone SE. He moved from more traditional cameras to using his phone so he could be ready to capture any everyday object he stumbles upon. 

Photos from the exhibit included a close-up image of a dandelion before its seeds were spread into the wind. The sharp contrast between the fine white lines of the plant and the dark shaded space below make it resemble a medical image or something from a microscope. That is fitting, since Marzolf worked as a medical photographer before recently retiring.

Marzolf hesitated when asked what he would like people to get from his work. Then his voice lit up as he said, “I would love to have people see my work and really study the photograph and try to figure out what it is, how it was done, and why. If you can figure it out, then that means you can go out and do the same thing.”

After all, that is the point of Marzolf’s work — to shed new light on things we are all accustomed to. From the shadow cast by a tree or the pattern of a winding staircase to the accessibility of using a smartphone to capture them, Marzolf’s work is about drawing attention to the things around us and how we can appreciate them.

When asked for advice for aspiring artists, Marzolf again hesitated to offer any. “I’m still learning and developing myself. But if you want to be a photographer, you have to do what pleases you. Find out what you like.”

Marzolf’s interests now include star photography. Perfecting this ultimate form of black-and-white photography is among his artistic goals. The amount of work he does varies. While he does not take photographs every day, he generally takes several hundred each year. Having an exhibit to prepare for like the recent one at Whitmore motivates him to take more.

Marzolf gathers his material while on hikes or when traveling. Some of the over 70 images he took for his Whitmore exhibit include photos from London and other trips. From the alternating black and white lines of a winding concrete staircase to the twisted bark of an old tree, his work brings into sharp focus things that often remain in the background as we pass them by.

“I get a kick out of looking for things from a difference perspective,” he said. “I’m lying on the ground to take some of the photos in the exhibit. Super close-ups reveal a lot. I’m just always amazed at the image within an image. Within a landscape, there can be an old dead tree. Then a closer look at the bark. You can distill the landscape into a single knot of wood.”

Thanks to Marzolf’s work, that single knot of wood can stand out from everything around it — and around us.

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