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Photographs Inspire Awe for Nature's Grandeur

David Halpern displays images of nation's parks. Santa Paula's Michael Moore shares views of Los Padres forest.


Almost by definition, art about nature goes beyond typical aesthetic concerns. Because nature's visual grandeur and metaphorical gusto are hard acts to follow--let alone capture--artists tend to be humbled and inspired by her example.

And so it goes with photography exhibits around the area. By focusing on unspoiled natural scenes, David Halpern and Santa Paula's Michael Moore seek to draw our attention beyond the gallery. The clear, yet unwritten ulterior agenda of these photographers is to inspire awe for nature while advocating preservation of our precious natural spaces.

Now at Santa Paula's Union Oil Museum, "By a Clearer Light" is a homage to nature in its relatively pure state--a tribute to the National Park Service in its 75th year. While the Park Service remains an important government entity, one can't help reflect on the irony of its necessity, as a bulwark against the threat of development, a good fight still being fought.

For nine years, Halpern was artist-in-residence for the National Park Service, and toted his camera through the nation's roughly 60 parks. This sampling of black-and-white images, replete with journal entries, amounts to a visual chronicle of one man's odyssey.

True to the show's title, the theme in Halpern's work is light and its relationship to the land.

In one image, late afternoon sunlight filters through tufts of cumulus clouds, gently casting raked light into a valley in Glacier National Park in Montana.

Halpern also shows a penchant for the strange, wondrous rock formations in Bryce National Park, where the jagged spires known as "hoodoos" evoke alien landscapes. "After a Day of Rain" shows sunlight peeking out over clouds, casting a mystical sliver of illumination on the land at Bryce.

Halpern's work here does not include the sharpest, most pristine prints possible. Nor is his work about creative perspectives. But his obvious affection for the subjects shines through. He has a sensitive, artful eye, but the show goes beyond aesthetics.

By reveling in the Park System's dramatic vistas, the work quietly champions their survival and awakens our sense of a larger natural order.

In a similar way but closer to home, Moore shows several color images from his ongoing "Los Padres Project" in another room at the museum. In recent years, Moore has been heading into Los Padres National Forest in our backyard. As Moore points out in a statement, more than 70% of the forest is untraveled and has not been photographed, making his findings unique.

Moore has found plenty of visual intrigue in the Santa Paula Canyon and the Sespe Wilderness, as well as other forest locales. The images here range from tight shots--poetic portraits of boulders--to the panoramic triptych, "Paradise Valley," a sweeping view of the the Santa Ynez Valley.

* "By a Clearer Light" and "Los Padres Project," through Saturday at Santa Paula Union Oil Museum, 1001 E. Main St., Santa Paula. 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Thursday-Sunday; 933-0076.

Landscape Images: Meanwhile, Moore recently hung a more expansive and ambitious exhibition of color prints at the Brooks Institute's Jefferson Campus.

Aptly entitled "The Universal Landscape," Moore covers a vast geographical spread, from the Sespe to Iceland, in search of what he calls "the visual language of nature." With this cohesive showing, Moore makes a persuasive case for such an elusive concept.

* Michael Moore's "The Universal Landscape," through Dec. 12 at Jefferson Campus of Brooks Institute, 1321 Alameda Padre Serra, Santa Barbara. Open daily 8 a.m.-8 p.m. Call 966-3888.

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