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Wednesday, 25 March 2015 15:49

Former Vauxhall-area resident has first photography showing in Regina Gallery

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Regina Leader Post photographer and Vauxhall-area native Michael Bell has always been creative and innovative.

That’s why a new photo exhibit he has called “Light Passing Through Glass” which is at the Hague Gallery in Regina until April 15 shouldn’t be a surprise. It seems so simple, but it hasn’t been done and the results are quite remarkable.
Using his camera to shoot light refracting through a magnifying glass through glass marbles, Bell has been able to create some rather unique photos sitting in his old rented room in Regina’s downtown core.
“The project became what it was from not having much physical space to work in. I rent a room in Cathedral neighbourhood in a basement. It’s a weird long room, and I realized that one end of the room could be used as a mini studio,” explains Bell. “So when I started to think about long exposures, I had to think small. And then when I found the marbles and the magnifying glass at CMS (it’s a metal scrap yard/ hardware store/flea market), it seemed natural to work on a small scale.
“During the past year, my friend and (fellow) photographer Greg Miller invited me to lend a hand on some of his photo shoots. Greg’s pictures tend to be long-exposures shot at night, in or near abandoned houses, and often feature strange scenes lit with unusual light. Being at these shoots throughout 2014 got me thinking about creative ways to make long-exposure images, but on a smaller scale. I bought a bag of marbles and a magnifying glass from CMS and began to play. Three months later and too much time alone in a dark room, I made enough images to present what I’ve decided to call Light Passing Through Glass.”
In order to shoot it, Bell explains that the images are made from three parts. First, a small flashlight was the light source. The light passed through a magnifying glass. In some of the pictures, the magnifying glass focused the light on a marble; in others, the light was focused into or near the camera’s lens. Each picture was a single long-exposure, from one second up to 30 seconds in duration. Some of the effects were achieved by focusing the light directly onto the camera’s sensor; changing the focal length of the lens during the exposure; spinning the marble; or spraying water near or onto the magnifying glass. The images were edited to enhance colours, to sharpen and add contrast, but the subject itself looks as it did when it was captured by the camera.
Understanding a creative mind, it is all simple curiosity: “if I do this, what will happen?”
“It began with the flash light and the magnifying glass. I removed the bit that focuses the light, exposing the LED,” explains Bell. “I put the LED behind the magnifying glass, and focussed the camera on the magnifying glass. The result was surprising. (It) turned out the magnifying glass’s surface was full of imperfections and scratches that the light highlighted in a really pleasing way.
“That result was really encouraging. Then I wondered what it would look like if I moved the LED just to the edge of the magnifying glass. Boom! Totally different image and feel. (It was) very encouraging. The whole project evolved in this way. (I tried to) get a result that either worked or didn’t, but it would give me a new idea. Eventually I was using the magnifying to focus the light on the marble. Then I tried spinning the marble. Then I tried changing the camera’s focal length (zooming in and out). And so on. I felt like a miner picking away at a rich seam of visual coal.”
Because he is a photographer for a newspaper, Bell has to be more regimented in what he is doing. There is a particular reason for shooting and he needs to be specific, but still needs to shoot images in an interesting way. Bell says both types of photography need creativity and both are challenging, just different.
“Shooting news is creative, but it’s got to serve the purpose of conveying information about a timely subject that informs the reader of the story. I enjoy that work a lot, but this was creative in a completely different way. This was more like playing, and following my curiosity, but without a concrete objective,” explains Bell. “Is there meaning in them? I’m not totally sure. It must be subjective. I mean, a marble or a magnifying glass are everyday objects, but I made them look unusual. And if that, when looking at the images, even a tiny bit of wonder or mystery or feeling happens for the viewer, that seems meaningful to me. For me, the images mostly make me feel happy and proud that people seem to get something out of looking at them. (It) feels worth it.”
The Vauxhall native says these images ended up hanging on a gallery wall because his friend Risa Payant, a program consultant at the Saskatchewan Arts Board, saw a few of the images on Instagram. She told him he should consider applying for a show at the Hague Gallery, which had put out the call for submissions. Bell applied, and got selected.
The set-up was uncomplicated. He selected nine images, and made three clusters that seemed to go together. Terri Fidelak curated it, helping him get the images on the wall at the right height.
“I was still making the images when I got confirmed for the show. That was really helpful, because it applied pressure. It went from a loose personal project to something more firm, public and with a deadline,” explains Bell. “I wanted to get as many different effects, with their corresponding moods and feelings, as I could. Eventually, after about three months on and off in a dark room with a headlamp stuck to my forehead, it was enough.”
Bell doesn’t have any concrete plans to show the exhibition anywhere else down the road, but he’d like to take it to other communities if he could.
To see more of his work check out the website at:

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Ryan Dahlman

Managing Editor