For the last 10 years, photographer Jan Bell has been building a reputation with audiences at art fairs in the Midwest, who have been drawn to his pristine, meticulously crafted images of natural subjects, and more recently, urban forms, often shown in tight close-up.
Bell’s work recently debuted on the national stage when he won the Grand Prize from the Ansel Adams Gallery for his black and white photo “Agave.” Shot in Golden Gate Park, the image reveals the delicate striations in the succulent’s leaves in soft, pure grays, its curved shapes punctuated by the sharp spike of the flower stalk.
In asking viewers to pause and consider the beauty of the plant, the photo promotes the gallery’s mission to cultivate artistic appreciation of and concern for the natural world. Operated by Adams’ heirs, it is located in Yosemite, in a former 1902-era hut owned by his wife’s family. Photos in the competition had to have been taken in a national park.
Unlike the iconic photographer, who for over 60 years documented some of America’s most spectacular wilderness landscapes, Bell tends to work with a more intimate view. “It is the same world that we all see, but often overlook due to our hectic lives,” he says.
His body of work is also notable for its clean, elegant design. “I eliminate the clutter,” Bell said, attributing his aesthetic in part to his 30-year career as a graphic designer at Bowling Green State University. “Graphic design really comes through in what I’m doing now and influences my compositions,” he said.
Like Adams, Bell is an avid adventurer, and treks to remote locations throughout the U.S. in search of subjects. It is this time in the wilderness that allows him to connect with the land and compose his images, he said. His presentation illustrates his attention to detail—which has paid off, for example, in “Trees in Fog,” a mystical image of slender tree trunks taken in the Presidio area of San Francisco. Bell rebooked a plane flight so he could return to the spot at the early morning moment when the light was right to capture their ephemeral nature. Interestingly, those trees have since been cut down, Bell said.
Bell does have a number of landscapes in his collection, from dramatic Death Valley dunes to stark mountain scenes, some in remote places accessible only by guide. Like his nature work, his urban photographs represent architecture such as Chicago’s Marina City and landmarks like the St. Louis Arch in terms of shape, pattern, texture and, most of all, light.
The Ansel Adams Gallery award tops a list of prizes for Bell. Also in 2010, he was awarded two top prizes in a competition held by the Joseph Saxton Gallery of Photography in Canton, Ohio, where he will have a solo show opening June 3. He has frequently taken Best of Show awards in juried art fair shows from Ann Arbor to St. Louis and Chicago. The University of Michigan acquired four of his prints, and his work is displayed in the Argo Hytos Co. corporate office.
To see more of Bell’s work, visit http://www.bellimages.com