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Olympia artist breaks photography jinx with Arts Walk map cover

It’s long been the case that photography gets less respect than, say, painting or sculpture. That maybe even more true these days, when virtually everyone carries a cell phone that doubles as a camera.

That just might be part of the reason that although the City of Olympia has commissioned art for the cover of the map since Arts Walk 20 in spring 2000, this is the first time that the jury has chosen a photographer, Duncan Green.

“Harms Woods,” the image on the cover of the map, shows a view through trees to a sunlit meadow beyond. The meadow is in soft focus and appears dreamlike, even magical.

For Green, the art of photography has many layers. His work is all about discovery — and what he’s discovered continues to reveal itself long after he puts down the camera.

“The actual clicking of the shutter is kind of the tip of the iceberg,’ said Green of Olympia, who has been a photographer since he got his first camera at age 14. “It can, and often does, take a long time and a lot of viewings before I can actually see a picture’s potential — before I can see how that image could convey something that’s meaningful to me.”

It certainly did with “Harms Woods,” named for the Glenview, Ill., forest preserve where Green took the photo in 2006.

In January, Green found out that he’d been chosen to create the image for the spring cover. He had about six weeks — of winter, albeit a mild one — to come up with an appropriately springlike image.

Although he started by taking photos in hopes of finding just the right image, he soon gave up on that. “It takes hundreds or thousands of clicks of the shutter to get an image that I like,” he said.

So he went, as he so often has, on an archeological dig through his own past, a past that includes more than four decades of taking art photographs, seven years as a session photographer for the state House of Representatives and 20 years as a frequent contributor to The Sun magazine. He studied photography at the Art Institute of Chicago and at The Evergreen State College, from which he graduated in 1986.

“When I’m putting together a show, I’m used to just going back through my negatives across my whole photographic career, looking for an image or part of an image that I can extract that fits,” he said. He looked at thousands of images before he found “Harms Woods,” taken with a square-format camera.

“I selected that image because it did seem appropriate to the season and it fits the format,” he said. “It has something about it that draws the viewer in, so it’s kind of like an invitation.”

“Duncan’s work kind of heralds the advent of spring,” said Stephanie Johnson, who organizes Arts Walk. “It has an atmospheric quality to it, being at the edge of a forest looking out into the light.”

The Olympia Arts Commission is delighted to have a photographer on the cover at last, she said. The commission had announced its desire to find a photographer for the cover this time around, Johnson said.

“Photography is well represented at Arts Walk, but for whatever reason, it has not been represented before on the cover,” she said. “Finding photography that spoke to the event was a tough challenge.”

Photographers had all but stopped applying for the cover spot, she said, since their medium had never been chosen.

Green, who’s had Arts Walk shows about 15 times in the past 20 years, said he’d applied for the cover multiple times.

“I’ve been submitting photographs and advocating for photography on the cover for like six years,” he said. “I understand the complications, and it seems to me that photography is more like every other visual art medium than it is different.

“What I hope is that I’ve kind of helped open the door for photographic art to be on the cover of the Arts Walk map,” he said. “That comes with maybe some more challenges for the jurors and the Arts Commission, but I think they’re up to it.”

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