The inaugural exhibition of abstracted images at Schotland Gallery in Flemington, a new gallery devoted exclusively to photography, is a reminder of how far the medium has come since its earliest days. In the course of almost two centuries the photograph has evolved from a bit of technical “magic” into an significant player in the world of art.

It was not always so. At first, artists regarded the photograph as a potential enemy, afraid that the advent of a mechanically produced image marked the beginning of the end for painting and the visual arts. As it turned out their worries were in vain. Although the new medium rapidly captured the public’s fancy, painting and its companion arts continued to thrive.

Before long, however, the photograph had gained its own place in the panoply of fine art, in part because artists brought their discerning eye to the making of the mechanical picture. In addititon the men and women who chose the camera rather than the brush to make an image often turned out to be artists as well.

In recent years, with the combination of new technologies and the crumbling of the walls that once divided visual media, the marriage of the photograph with other visual arts has grown even stronger. Today it is often difficult to distinguish one from the other without careful examination.

The opening exhibition at the Schotland Gallery makes a good case for the strength of that marriage. The collection of heroically-scaled images by Belle Meade artist D.F. Connors could easily pass muster as abstract paintings or be mistaken for the fragmented patterns of the 19th century impressionists. Ranging from mammoth prints — 60 by 40 inch works — to smaller but still imposing 20 by 30 inch images, the assembled works make a strong statement about the potential range of the contemporary photograph.

Scale alone places these works into an arena outside the traditional. The use of color, too, is unexpected when it comes to the photograph. In fact, at first glance, these images are defined by their assertive palette. Spaces are actively filled with a complex array of highly saturated orange and blue areas.

Although the word “painterly” is not often used when it comes to the photograph, a careful look at Connors’ work reveals a complexity of surface that was once the province of those who used a brush. The artist says that the vibrant pieces of color in these king-sized works had their beginnings in the muted tones he discovered on the weathered walls of an abandoned military installation. He was able to use the magic of digital technology to translate inherent color fields into in-your-face color by increasing the saturation — that the high-key palette was lurking in the earth tones all the time. While architectural elements, including surfaces of weathered walls, indications of laid stonework, mysterious shadows, and a sampling of the nuts and bolts of military structures can be seen here, the overriding statement is that of color.

Connors says that for him, these images are characterized by “an overwhelming feminine feeling.” He calls these works “Ruminations on the Missing Goddess.” In the statement that accompanies the exhibition Conners describes them as “possible evidence of the sacred feminine that once occupied a place in the inner life of humanity.” He goes on to explain that “she has exited the scene, (leaving) us only shadows and markings.”

Works such as these would not have been possible a few years ago. Of late, however, Photoshop and other computer-based software provides the photographer with a stunning new range of mastery over subject and control over the image. The making of grand images like Connors’ is also a relatively recent phenomenon. In the pre-digital age, the production of such enormous images would only have been possible in a state-of-the-art commercial studio. Today, with the help of an Epson 9600 printer and archival pigment inks, Connors says he is able to go from start to photo finish in his own studio.

Connors, who earned a bachelors in communication arts from the University of Notre Dame in 1967 also studied filmmaking and photography at UCLA, although left for a teaching position before completing a graduate degree. An original founder of Gallery 14 in Hopewell, the only other area gallery dedicated exclusively to photography, Connors has taught filmmaking, aesthetics, documentary film, and the Great Books seminar at Notre Dame. In addition, he owns a video production company specializing in documentaries and corporate communications. Some of his work has been screend on A&E and the History Channel. His photographic work has been shown in New York at Gallery V and the Soho Photo Gallery.

Owner of Schotland Gallery Ron Schotland describes himself as a “serious amateur” who has been involved with the photograph for most of his life. Schotland, who grew up in Cedarhurst, Long Island, the son of a brush manufactuer and a stay-at-home mom, earned his BS in biochemistry from Cornell in 1954, and his Ph.D. in chemistry from the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn in 1962. Formerly president of Schotland Business Research in Skillman, a conference and exhibition management company specializing in plastics and packaging for 30 years, he retired early this year.

His “second act” is the Schotland Gallery, founded in a building that dates to 1858 and is a historic landmark in Flemington. Schotland’s sons, who are developers, gutted the space, and did a complete renovation over two and a half years. Upcoming exhibitions will feature the work of several area artists. Among them are Clem Fiori; Susan Hockaday (U.S.1, January 27, 1999), who just opened a solo exhibit at the Bernstein Gallery in the Woodrow Wilson School, on view through September 7, and profiled in ; and Madelaine Shellaby, who teaches art and photography at Stuart Country Day School.

Says Schotland: “The gallery program reflects my passion for photographic art and the possibilities that it offers to engage viewers in an emotional and intellectual experience with art. My aim is for the gallery to become a retreat where private and corporate collectors, art lovers, and interior designers are introduced to thought-provoking, contemporary photographic fine art. I also see it as a catalyst to further the revitalization of Flemington.”

Dea In Absentia, Schotland Gallery, 123 Main Street, Flemington. Belle Mead photographer D.F. Connors is featured in the inaugural exhibit of this new gallery dedicated to photography. On view through Tuesday, June 12. Gallery hours: Thursday through Saturday, noon to 8 p.m., and Wednesday and Saturday, noon to 5 p.m.; and also by appointment. 908-334-0549, www. schotlandgallery.com. For more information on D.F. Connors visit www.dfconnors.com or www.deainabsentia.com.

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