NWC News Desk

Gestalt Critter Compositions opens November 14 at Northwest College

Posted October 30, 2007

P O W E L L, W y o. - Local photographer Richard Rivard shares a new way of looking at wildlife in his exhibit "Gestalt Critter Compositions" opening Wednesday, Nov. 14, in SinClair Gallery at Northwest College. The show opens at 7:30 p.m. with an artist's reception.

Rivard said the title of the exhibit reflects the work he's accomplished over the past year as a mentee of George DeWolfe, one of America's preeminent digital photographers. The Wyoming wildlife photographer studied with the photo "guru" from Maine to develop a "gestalt" approach to both the technical and aesthetical facets of the wildlife photography he's known for in this area.

The dictionary defines gestalt as "a configuration, pattern, or organized field having specific properties that cannot be derived from the summation of its component parts; a unified whole." Rivard condenses that into 10 words: "The whole is more than the sum of the parts."

For his purposes, Rivard said, "The composition is not viable if either the animal or the background and foreground are not present because the wildlife is dependent on the environ, and the environment is dependent on the species."

To illustrate, he points to his photo "Ritual Beginning" showing two Pryor Mountain wild horses engaged in a head-to-head communication that Rivard says precedes nearly all stud dominance wars.

"If viewers look just at the 'nuzzling' going on between the two horses," Rivard said, "they might think these two fellas are fond of each other. But if they pick up on the swelled necks, intense glares and rigid poses, they'll see that something more hardwired, more primal is happening. I wish I could have shown the horses' feet, too. The setting of pine trees and limestone scrabble is incredibly rough on horses' hooves, yet these guys are unshod and still have healthy, immaculate feet.

"In addition, these two wear the markers of their ancestors - the short backs and muscular frames of war horses. It's obvious they haven't been bred selectively to suit modern riders' needs. If you put all these observations together, you'll better understand the wild horses of the Pryors. The viewer who synthesizes all these visual clues will have a more acute understanding than the viewer who looks at the photo just as a single communication.

Rivard said catching all the elements to create this kind of gestalt image is difficult with wildlife because his subjects aren't stationary, nor does the artist have any control over what might happen next.

"My work does verge at times into the more accepted wildlife composition modes of portrait and scenic with wildlife in the image, but most often the influence of location on species and species on location is displayed. Research helps concretize the relationships in the images, but they are still dependent on an amount of serendipity."

Rivard said the notion behind "Critters" comes from "the fact that as much as I may display an amount of erudition (I hope), I, like the wildlife, am a product of my environment. I graduated from Powell High School in 1968 with an interest in pre-history. I have lived in the West my whole life and it shows, for good and ill. The influence is undiluted by long term urban exposure."

"Rivard's life history also includes a photography degree from Northwest College. After that, he did commercial photography, photojournalism and portraiture work in Montana. Before going into photography, he taught English and art for 26 years in high schools across Colorado, Montana and Wyoming.

Currently he's the photography studio and lab manager at NWC.

Rivard's "Gestalt Critter Compositions" hangs in SinClair Gallery through Dec. 14. Located in the Orendorff Building, the gallery is open from 8 a.m.-9 p.m. weekdays. Admission is free.