Traveling with his family on road trips as a child, Bruce Wodder always wondered about the precariously situated places some people lived. Houses that hovered too close to highways, or were towered over by power lines, or sat near noisy, foul-smelling factories, held a kind of fascination for the young Hunterdon County native.
Wodder never forgot those images. Decades later and midway through a successful career as a commercial photographer, he is mounting his first-ever solo show at Gallery 14 in Hopewell. The exhibit, “Living in the Shadow,” which opens with a reception on Friday, June 5, examines homes with a startling proximity to places that could raise distinct questions about zoning.
“As a kid, I always wondered, why do people live there?,” Wodder says. “I’d see these places, houses maybe right on the edge of the LIE [Long Island Expressway], or practically right under a power plant, and I’d think, what’s happening here? It was just observational. But it stayed with me.”
The “Living in the Shadow” exhibit is actually part of a book that Wodder has been compiling, on and off, for years. He started by taking pictures of homes near power plants, and the project began to mushroom. On his website, http://web.mac.com/brucewodder, eight of the pictures from the book are displayed. In each, the juxtaposition is striking.
One shot shows a swing set, sitting forlornly in front of one of those giant gas tanks one might see along the New Jersey Turnpike just south of New York City. In another, steam belches from two huge nuclear towers, behind a plain white farmhouse and a field. An elevated highway looms almost menacingly over a line of simple rowhouses in another image.
“I did a lot of scouting with Google satellite. I knew about certain towns and areas that had chemical and nuclear plants,” Wodder says. “So I didn’t spend a lot of time spinning my wheels. But once I got going on it, I kind of fell into a funny rhythm.”
Wodder grew up in Jutland, Hunterdon County. His father was a schoolteacher; his mother a homemaker. Wodder was 11 or 12 when his father bought him his first photography kit. He took to it right away, shooting pictures and developing them in the darkroom. But when he went off to Knoxville to attend the University of Tennessee on a track and field scholarship, the hobby was put aside.
Things changed when Wodder graduated from college and came back north. “I fell into a job as a photo assistant at a studio in Carnegie Hall,” he says. “I was really lucky.” With husband-and-wife photography team Jane and Arthur Klonsky, Wodder began shooting predominantly corporate and advertising assignments. Clients included Prudential, AT&T, TIAA-CREF, Nike, Club Med, Bell Labs, and Hilton Hotels, to name a few.
The work expanded some 15 years ago to include assignments such as director of photography for television commercials, documentaries, and independent films as well as stock footage. In 1992, Wodder joined forces with the Klonskys to form Yellow Dog Productions. The firm shoots business, lifestyle, and sports in 35-millimeter motion and still stock photography for Getty Images. “They put it online and sell it, and we get the royalties off of it,” Wodder says. “We have over 4,000 motion clips and 4,000 still clips on Getty. We’re one of the pioneers in this idea of combining motion pictures and stills.”
Yellow Dog’s stock footage has been used in TV commercials, programs, and movies. Wodder’s work has taken him all over the world, including Europe, Asia, Africa, India, and South America. For pleasure, he likes to shoot in black and white. He is an expert in creating black and white silver gelatin prints, in both medium and large format. Click on the three different “personal work” links on Wodder’s website and find several examples of his artistic range.
“I love black and white,” he says. “I just find it mesmerizing. I shoot color all the time for work. With black and white, I get to take a holiday and do what I want.” Wodder’s color photography is also widely represented on the site, from sports, architecture, and lifestyle shots to lush images of Norway.
Gallery 14 is an eight-year-old cooperative devoted exclusively to the art of photography. The 19 images that make up “Living in the Shadow” include five large and 14 silver gelatin prints, all black and white. The show marks a milestone for Wodder, who became acquainted with the gallery and arranged to have a show there. “I’ve had photos in every venue except a gallery and publishing a book, so I’m excited about it,” he says. “It’s a good thing for me. I’m busy doing commercial stuff all the time, and this is a break from shooting guys in suits. Whenever I can, I just shoot for me. It’s a good way to clear your head.”
As a commercial photographer Wodder shoots digital, but when taking photos for himself, he uses film and develops it in the darkroom. While he recognizes the convenience and technological advantages of digital, he holds a certain place in his heart for the old days of film. “Every professional photographer has a little bit of a rub that once digital came along, everyone’s a photographer,” he says. “The genie is out of the bottle. The mystery is gone, you might say.”
Entering the art world after years of commercial photography fulfills a dream for Wodder. While his transition has not been difficult, he acknowledges that it can be. “When you’re coming from a commercial background, it can be hard to break in,” he says. The hard core art world sometimes turn their noses up. You’ve got to be in the club.”
Art Exhibit, Gallery 14, 14 Mercer Street, Hopewell. Friday, June 5, 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Opening reception for “Living in the Shadow,” an exhibit featuring the works of Bruce Wodder; and “Princeton Council Children’s Show” in the small gallery. Through July 5. Meet the photographers on Sunday, June 7, from 1 to 3 p.m. 609-333-8511 or www.photosgallery14.com.