Exhibit shares ‘faraway experience’ of Appalachian TrailFebruary 8, 2019
By ALLEN LAMAN
JASPER — Chet Strange packed his camera equipment and traveled to the middle of the Appalachian Trail. He didn’t know what stories he’d find, but he knew what wouldn’t make its way into his photographs.
No mountains. No trees. Not even a leaf.
The Jasper native is a lifelong outdoorsman. So, when he and fellow photographer Parker Michels-Boyce set up their photo booth in Virginia at Mile 806 of the roughly 2,200 mile hiking path, they aimed to document travelers’ journeys with a fresh technique.
The result: A personal series of studio-style captures that focuses not on the breathtaking scenery that surrounds hikers on the trail, but the stories the journeymen and women carry with them.
Strange and Michels-Boyce took portraits of the hikers with studio lighting in front of a black backdrop and interviewed them about their trek. Excerpts from their project will be on display and for sale through the end of the month at the Krempp Gallery in Jasper.
“We wanted to make it more about them and less about their environment,” explained Strange, 28. “I think we were able to hone in on people’s stories a lot more accurately by removing the context of them, so you could focus on their faces or expressions a lot quicker.”
Strange is an independent editorial and commercial photographer based in Boulder, Colorado. A 2013 graduate of Indiana University, he studied photojournalism and environmental science and is a regular contributor to the New York Times. His clients also include The Associated Press and The Washington Post, among others. He lived in Richmond, Virginia, while working on the Appalachian Trail project.
He and his colleague gathered the photos and quotes on Memorial Day in 2016 and their work was first published in Outside Magazine. The portraits have also been displayed at the Craddock-Terry Gallery in Lynchburg, Virginia.
Strange credited the success of the series with the way it highlights subjects in a new way.
The sprawling trail can take more than half a year to hike in its entirety, and the 30-some people Strange and Michels-Boyce photographed each had different reasons for tackling it. Some were between jobs and wanted to hike the path before beginning a new chapter of life. Others were newly divorced or mourning the loss of a loved one.
“A big part of the project was getting these stories from them and talking about why they’re doing what they’re doing,” Strange said. “Focusing on the motives behind them being on the trail, rather than just saying that they’re on the trail.”
That element gives viewers something to connect to beyond the aesthetics of the photographs, he added. Two images that especially stick with him are currently on display at the Jasper gallery. They highlight a married couple that wanted to conquer the trail their whole lives, and finally had the time to walk it in retirement.
Other subjects that left an impact on Strange include a man who hiked the entire trail with his dog and a woman who traversed it in honor of a best friend who overdosed on heroin.
“Everyone just had a very different motive, or a very different approach,” Strange said. “And it was really cool to see this really vast network of people with different reasons and approaches brought together for these really six-month journeys.”
Strange led a discussion Thursday night at the Krempp Gallery to a crowd of about 50 people, outlining his goal for the series and answering questions. Prior to that talk, he expressed happiness in being able to share his work with his hometown and support its art scene.
Also available for reading were shelter journals that read like communal diaries written by those staying in various lodging sites along the path.
Arts Director Kyle Rupert said Strange’s exhibit is unique for the local gallery because it tells a story and shares a faraway experience. He hopes to see more exhibits like it when the new Jasper Cultural Center opens next year.
“It’s a different way to experience art than the pieces being there by themselves,” Rupert said of Strange’s interactive display.
Chet is the son of Keith and Rebecca Strange of Jasper.
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