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The image collector — Kim Sallaway’s perfect moments 

click to enlarge “Young Americans” by Kim Sallaway
  • “Young Americans” by Kim Sallaway

SoHum photographer Kim Sallaway is one of those people who carries a camera at all times -- just in case. He always wants to be ready should some image present itself, some magic moment that cries out for capture. For the last couple of months he’s been sorting through thousands of images he’s collected over the years, selecting a few dozen for a one-man exhibition opening this weekend at Piante Gallery in Old Town, a show he calls “Perfect Moments.”

Funny thing: Sallaway has been hanging a collection of his photos the first weekend in August for years. He was the official staff photographer for Reggae on the River for as long as I can remember -- that’s where I first got to know him, in the photo pit in front of the stage. Every summer he arranged dozens of his artists-in-action portraits documenting the history of the show behind large pieces of glass for a backstage exhibit. However, since Reggae Rising supplanted Reggae on the River this year, he won’t mount that display this time out. And his show in Eureka does not include any of his concert photos.

As he puts it in the artist’s statement accompanying the show, “There are perfect moments everywhere for me. I find my ‘moments’ in the nature around me, in the kid hitting a homer, or in the objects we tend to overlook because we have seen them so many times before.”

As someone who is on Sallaway’s e-mail list, I’ve experienced a fair number of the photographer’s “moments.” For four years and counting, Kim has sent out daily digital missives, subject line “potd,” short for “photo of the day.”

On one level, it’s an assignment he’s made for himself to enforce self-discipline. “I want my work to be better this year than last year; to be better tomorrow than it is today,” he says. “And looking across the collection I can see a refinement over time.” So, it’s worked.

The potd also serves another purpose. “It’s like a diary. Some people blog, some write in a journal, I make pictures. Some people can tell you what they did with their day; I try to show you some part of my day.”

He tends to mix things up day-to-day, sometimes offering a record of what he’s up to; this week, a few images showed progress onsite at Reggae. Before that there was a series shot at the Oregon Country Fair (he’s a regular). He’s attracted to events where the crowd becomes part of the show: Earthdance, Burning Man and San Francisco’s Gay Pride Parade are on his circuit, along with things like local rodeos and any sort of SoHum gathering.

For the last year or so, he’s periodically focused his lens on the birds that show up outside his living room window. With patience and perseverance, he managed to capture particularly striking images of hummingbirds in flight. The Rufous, caught in a blur of motion, shows up in the exhibit.

The Piante show includes some of the work he sends to his e-list, but also draws on his entire collection of images. “Some were my photo of the day, but not all,” he says. He has to stop and think when asked exactly how many years the photos in the show cover.

Initially, he figures a photo titled “Young Americans” is the oldest. The portrait of a group of teens in black berets and camouflage gear was shot at Mardi Gras in 1986. The kids, who look to be around 12 or 13, stand in military at-ease posture looking stern, except for one, who has obviously seen the photographer. He offers a smile that could be either sly or shy.

“But the ‘The Rubber Man of Ocho Rios’ may be even older,” he suggests as he peruses a digital contact sheet, noting that the shot of a man in a Jamaican jungle twisting a flap of skin on his arm was purchased by Ripley’s Believe It or Not . “A friend told me about this competition they had. They said something like, ‘You probably have something in your attic that’s weird.’ I entered the competition and it was selected and hung in their galleries.”

The Rubber Man is an example of imagery that can sometimes veer into what might be deemed shock and “aww.” The show runs the gamut from a photo of a cute pair of raccoons and one of a butterfly perched on a flower, to a tattooed woman with a mastectomy wearing bondage gear and a drag queen whose face is circled by a rainbow of plastic tumblers, to the wrinkly butt of an old guy with a ponytail at San Francisco’s Folsom St. Leather Fair.

“No subject is taboo,” says Sallaway. He’ll admit to a “photojournalistic approach,” but he does not really see himself as a reporter. “I definitely don’t chase ambulances,” he emphasizes.

His artiest photos focus on patterns from nature or from day-to-day life: a box of baseballs, a pile of carefully arranged carrots, white plastic lawn chairs set up for some unknown performance. Some are simple statements about color: The vibrant yellow of the fender and grill of a classic car, a row of blue-green canoes floating in green water, a tube of white paint next to an egg. There’s the casual riot of color in a hot-air balloon, or in details from murals. Some, like the stark floral arrangements shot with a black background, are formal in their composition, almost to a fault.

When we spoke, he’d obviously been arranging the layout of the show in his head. “Some images will lend themselves to grouping together. They talk about a picture being worth 1,000 words. Well, when you hang one picture next to another, there’s an opportunity to make them say even more. I see it as something like complimentary proteins, where one plus one can equal three.”

While he has not finalized the plan, he’s visualizing groupings: a shot of two kids with a protest sign reading “War is Dumb,” hanging by a photo showing a couple standing in front of an American flag and a sign saying “Vote Here.” The youth in camo might be nearby; a shot of a wounded veteran juxtaposed with a kid at a carnival shooting brightly-colored clowns with a water pistol on the same wall.

As Susan Sontag wrote in her book--long essay, On Photography , “To collect photographs is to collect the world.”

Kim echoes her thoughts, saying, “Some people collect things; treasures from their travels, mementos from passing seasons and miles. I collect pictures of people, places and things.”

Check out Kim Sallaway’s photo collection, “Perfect Moments,” opening Aug. 3, and running through Aug. 31, at the Piante Gallery, 620 Second St., Eureka. For more information call 441-1322. For a hint of what will be in the show (and much more) go to www.kimbacan.com.

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Bob Doran

Bob Doran

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