How does a fine artist hang an exhibit?
Hammer a nail into a wall and center the piece on a wire stretched across the back of the frame?
Not quite. Not even close.
Ray LeBlanc, a Lexington fine arts photographer, now retired at age 71, is busier than ever. Not only does he wander worldwide — and Kentucky’s back roads, too — photographing beauty and what makes him happy, he’s preparing his first solo exhibit. (This year he’s already shown a dozen black and white and color pieces at two group shows at Gallery on Main in Richmond, and one in the community exhibit at the Berea Arts Council gallery.)
Getting ready for the solo show began in early April when he met with Calvin Gross, director of Hutchens Library on the Berea College campus, to show him flowers and fauna, landscapes and seascapes, boats, blue butterflies and blue skies with both fluffy white or gray clouds (and peachy ones, too) filling honey-hued wood frames. He uses green frames, too, or sometimes black, light blue or navy, occasionally purple, and sometimes ones handmade from barn wood.
Finding the right frame is part of the process, but that’s for later in the story.
In mid-Apri,l Gross said, “Let’s set a date.” October was open, and he’ll hang his art on Oct. 1; and December was available, too. October’s show is solo; December’s exhibit teams LeBlanc with photographer/ceramic artist Stacey Sizemore.
A Marine platoon sergeant in the Vietnam War, LeBlanc knows America honors veterans in November, only a week or so after his exhibit closes Oct. 31. Being a Marine combat veteran matters to LeBlanc. A friend suggested October to showcase how one an amateur, a veteran with a camera as his hobby, became an artistic calling. After all, the root of the word amateur is doing something simply for the love of doing it.
Now he’s called an artist by people who are artists, “and it’s very humbling to be called an artist by them,” LeBlanc reflected.
His eyes see art in a split-second, and in another one it reaches his heart. He wants to keep the memories forever. So, that’s what LeBlanc does: he captures love along with happy and beauty, and what he sees he hopes will capture the heart of others as well.
“I want to make them happy, too,” he said.
Is there a space limit to sharing happiness? Who knows? In May and June, LeBlanc’s planning and searching continued: look at the site to determine space, plan how to use it, how many photographs will go on the walls. That’s for starters. Then, look at parking space for patrons’ cars, and walking distance since there are few spaces available behind the library.
How to deliver the art work is another consideration, as is the equipment needed to move the art to the library atrium from LeBlanc’s car — and, return it there when the show is over. Once infrastructure needs are identified and covered, it’s time for LeBlanc to study his body of work.
And does he have a body. Some 60,000 photographs, more or less, are stored on his computer and memory cards. He had intended to use retirement to cull his collection and save his favorites, the ones he hopes to remember forever, those loved by family and friends. What that all comes down to, a former artists’ representative — now retired, too, and a friend — are those images LeBlanc considers his best art.
Right now, he’s not culling, he’s perusing and pondering, picking and choosing, and acknowledging what he sees as perfect this summer might not be his vision in October.
“It’s fair to say I might be selecting or changing photographs while I’m hanging them. Why, I might even exchange ones for others throughout the show,” LeBlanc said.
What does that depend on? “Maybe what I photograph between now and then,” he said.
LeBlanc’s arranged scenic trips for the rest of the summer; no one, not even LeBlanc knows or anticipates exactly the beauty, the happiness he’ll find.
He prints his choices on archival material, called eSurface Paper, “the most popular because its qualities include lifelike skin tones, true color, crisp clarity — and it’s said to last 100 years on display in your home and 200 years in dark storage.”
In some of LeBlanc’s photos, three dozen size choices are available, a consideration when staging an exhibit. There are innumerable mat colors and hundreds of different frames; material, texture and color must be considered for each photograph, as well as whether his work should be printed on paper, canvas or even metal.
LeBlanc’s intention is to be realistic, not skeptical, when discussing what makes something archival. “A hundred years? Two hundred? Who’s going to prove it?” he asks rhetorically. Certainly not this photographer: his current focus, the Hutchens Library show, faces a Dec. 20 take-down date — his last deadline this year — unless his next exhibit’s booked, probably in the nearby future.
For more information, LeBlanc’s email is firstname.lastname@example.org. He’s available to answer questions, to educate, to hear suggestions about a patron’s idea of beauty.