News From Terre Haute, Indiana

February 28, 2013

Through His Lens: Artist showcases beauty of America’s southwest at Rose-Hulman exhibition

Dale Long
Special to the Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — Terre Haute native Darrell Staggs never thought of himself as an artist, but always liked the idea of photography.

In the later stages of his career as an engineer with Eli Lilly and Co., and after raising his family, Staggs started taking photographs while traveling. He paid close attention to the textures and perspective in natural scenery, especially rock formations found in regions of America’s southwest.

Staggs, a 1974 graduate of Terre Haute South Vigo High School who went on to earn a chemical engineering degree from Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in 1978, gets his artistic inspiration from Henry David Thoreau’s statement: “It’s not what you look at, but what you see.”

Nineteen of Staggs’ dazzling photographs are featured in Rose-Hulman’s spring exhibition on the second floor of Moench Hall through May 27. The exhibit also includes photographs by Wabash Valley artists, other photographers and Rose-Hulman alumni on the first floor of Moench Hall, and throughout nearby Myers Hall.

“I have learned that it takes more than just holding down the (camera) button, and I still have a lot to learn,” said Staggs about his budding photographic skills. “My photos used to look like they were taken by an engineer, which they were. They always had to be symmetrical and focused.”

Then, he learned more about composition, and a whole new artistic world opened through his camera lens.

Three of Staggs’ photographs showcase the beauty of Pool Canyon in Lake Powell, Utah. The canyon has a pool of water that is sheltered from any wind, making it a perfect mirror for the canyon walls lit by the late afternoon sun. The images can be viewed normally or upside down.

When viewed in normal orientation, the reflection is interesting, but lacks a visual challenge. So, Staggs has turned some of the images upside down, which becomes obvious when you notice the dirt and rocks and grass in the “sky.” This flipping technique creates a new visual illusion.

In fact, one part of Staggs’ exhibit features two photographs that depict the same image of a hiker who appears to be walking at the base of a canyon wall, with his “reflection” under him. Both images look “right,” and you have to look closely to find out the original from the flipped image.

“This is perhaps my favorite image and view of all taken on the trip. Even though I know the image well, and have looked at it hundreds of times, it remains an elusive illusion,” said Staggs, an associate engineering adviser at Eli Lilly’s Pharma Engineering Tech Center. He lives in Mooresville with his wife, Patti, another Terre Haute native who is secretary of Rose-Hulman’s Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry.

Staggs’ Pool Canyon photographs required careful use of a polarizing filter to help control reflections, while also helping to enhance other aspects of the scene. A polarizer filter is one “effect” that cannot be duplicated or added through photo-editing software; it must be in place when the photo is taken.

“I don’t use Photoshop, only cropping and an occasional click of the ‘auto-contrast’ button in Picasa,” stated Staggs about his photographic techniques. “There are some really cool possibilities using High Dynamic Range techniques that I would like to learn, but that is cheating.”

Other photographers featured in Rose-Hulman’s spring exhibition include Spencer Young, a retired geologic engineer who captured images of rock and mineral formations through varying seasons and light at Parke County’s Turkey Run State Park. These photos can be found throughout the first floor of Moench Hall.

Alexandra McNichols Torroledo, a visiting adjunct Spanish professor, provides a revealing look at the plight of indigenous groups in her native Colombia through photographs on the first floor of Myers Hall.

Also, Rose-Hulman graduate student Rose Ann Haft has brought together a special “Living Branches” collection of images on the second floor of Moench Hall by six photographers that showcase the natural and human communities along the Peruvian Amazon River Basin. Several of the images were taken by Rose-Hulman alumnus Isaac Sachs. Proceeds from any sale of this collection’s photographs will support sustainability projects in the Amazon new forest.

A reception to recognize some of the artists involved with the spring exhibition is being planned for March 28, from 4:30 to 7 p.m., on the second floor of Moench Hall.

All photographs are available for public viewing from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays. For more information, contact Rose-Hulman Coordinator of Art Programs/Art Curator Steve Letsinger at 812-877-8452.