09Throughout the year Gallery 208 exhibits contemporary works of art which include a variety of themes, techniques to express ideas, styles ranging from representational to nonobjective abstraction and exhibits that can often be challenging. Yet rarely do we have an exhibit about beauty.

Beauty, especially if it relates to the figure, can be a problematic subject: we each see beauty differently and images of beauty have been marketed in ways that result in stereotypes. Yet it is still important in the human psyche to experience beauty. For example, we welcome the beauty of sunshine after many days of overcast and rainy weather.

Beautiful Strangeness: Photographs by Kyle Harding opens Nov. 9, at 5:30 p.m. at Gallery 208 and is an exhibit that explores the beautiful strangeness of being a child, any child, or our own experiences as a child. The challenge for Harding was to enable us to go beyond a family portrait and experience a universal time that should have been filled with wonder, mystery and simple pleasures in the smallest events, ordinary objects and everyday activities.

Harding earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts in Art Education, with a concentration in photography, from East Carolina University in 2008 and earned a Master in Art Education at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke in 2017. A public art schoolteacher, adjunct faculty at Fayetteville State University, mother of two young children, married with a large family of in-laws, and a daughter and niece to her immediate family, Harding is a very busy individual.

Intermittently she takes time to focus on what is happening during the daily and never-ending experiences of being around her two young daughters as an artist. As an artist, she tries to see past the familial and capture the universal.

After being invited to participate in the 2021 Art Faculty Biennial in Rosenthal Gallery at FSU, Harding shared the following in her artist statement: “I chose a subject I am most passionate about at this time in my life: my 4-year-old and 7-year-old daughters." The selections in the exhibit are part of a larger body of work to capture universal themes with my children as the subject: innocence, reflection, play, hope, and vulnerability. In a larger context, I hope the photographs have the power to evoke memories for everyone of what it means to be a child and to remember the strange beauty of the world around us when we were children.”

One of the many reasons for visitors to attend the opening of Beautiful Strangeness at Gallery 208 is to meet the artist and enjoy how a photograph, by an art photographer, can go beyond the subject. Harding’s main objective is making an artistic statement through a photograph – photography is used as a medium for creative expression, to express an idea, a message, or an emotion.

A definition of fine art photography involves bringing a vision, emotion, or a state of mind to life through a photographed image.

It involves creating something that previously only lived in your mind, as opposed to simply capturing what you see in an artistic way.

In Beautiful Strangeness, Harding has selected images from activities we would take for granted and elevated the cropped images to convey states of mind through the photographed image.

In the photograph titled "Three Amigos," the viewer is looking down on two sets of small bare feet standing on cement, the two front legs of a spotted short-haired dog are between the children.

The legs of the children are captured below the knees and cascade into the photo from the top edge, almost as if thin columns on each side of the photo. Thin, yet muscular front legs of the dog are combined to create repeating pairs of legs and feet, all related in some unknown way while individually anchored to their placement on the
cement.

In "Three Amigos", like the rest of the photographs in the exhibit, visitors will enjoy the ways in which Harding’s keen or heightened sense of seeing brings vision and states of mind to life through the photographed image.

She has successfully shared with us a way to see the world that we may have forgotten is possible.

In "Sadie with Sunglasses", Harding has photographed a close-up of a young Sadie wearing a seemingly large pair of sunglasses. The face is relaxed and almost expressionless, the child’s eyes are hidden. Details of the hair, sunglasses and gathered printed shirt contrast with an out-of-focused and minimal background. The smooth surface of the skin echoes the minimalism of the background tone but is brighter - the smooth fullness of youth presents itself as a natural and emerging, volumetric form.

Harding has only included black and white photos in the exhibit for several traditional reasons. Color can distract us from what the photograph is about. When you remove color the emphasis of an image shifts to other compositional elements like contrast, texture, lighting, and form. Viewers are no longer seeing something familiar in color, but a different version of reality.

One in which black and white photography is more interpretative.

Harding combines the above advantages of a black and white photograph with its other potential of seeming timelessness. By cropping the figures and often showing us only parts, she used fragments to suggest a larger story.

In each photograph, we see how a story symbolically overlaps or unfolds into another one. Each picture is a fleeting memory, a momentary experience. We can sense the lives of those in the photograph or remember our own lives as interconnected stories we may have taken for granted.

Harding brings us back to those moments in time, photograph by photograph.

I am confident visitors to Beautiful Strangeness: Photographs by Kyle Harding will leave the exhibit happier than when they arrived at Gallery 208. One cannot help but smile when we connect ourselves to innocence, joyfulness, and hope.

The public is invited to attend the opening of Beautiful Strangeness: Photographs by Kyle Harding on Nov. 9 at Gallery 208 between 5:30 – 7 p.m.

Gallery 208 is located at Up and Coming Weekly, 208 Rowan Street in Fayetteville, North Carolina.

The exhibit will remain up until the end of December. Gallery hours are Monday – Thursday, 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. For information call 910-484-6200.

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