Rochester is well known for it's celebration of the arts, and the Corn Hill neighborhood sits close to a new exhit and performance venue. Gallery Seventy Four,located on the third floor of the Kee Lox building at 215 Tremont Street, opened in late March. Its owner/ director, Ralph Thompson, is an artist and photographer who shoots for serveral well-known modern dance troupes. Mr. Thompson plans to use the space to offer creative opportunites for people of all ages and to help to build communities through the arts, as well as a venue for more established artist. He brings a surprising depth and breadth of experience with the arts to a space just across the street from Corn Hill.
I met Mr. Thompson one mourning in June as he was preparing the space for the evening' presentation by FuturPointe. An unassuming and humble presence, Mr Thompson greeted me with a sincre and welcoming smile and showed me around the gallery." It's still a work in progress " he said, apologizing for a few corners of disaray. Still, the space is instantly energizing. Thompson's tender appreciation of life and art is immediately evident.
The gallery entrance, a lovely , light filled foyer, opens to several small rooms used for exhibts, with the main space dedicated to photography and performances. This space runs the width of the building, its two full walls of windows, the massive backdrop for shoots, and the paintings that cover the walls create an instant sense of energy and inspiration. In the far corner sits a piano. Next to it and across from yhe backdrop lay a seeming chaos of equipment for light and sound. When I visited, four or five rows of chairs were arranged for the evening event.
Mr Thompsons paintings range from abstract to realism,landscapes to social commentary; and reflect the artist breadth of interest and creativity. In one,an iconic black and white drawing by Aubrey Beardsley is re-created with color. In another, a silhouetted dancer leaps across a green backdrop, a clear homage to Matisse, yet this figure is more defined and muscular, in deferance to real dancers rather than just the idea of dance. Another painting, a quiet rural scene of a gray barn surronded by wildflowers, recalls the artist interest in simple images found in nature,displayed in photographs.For many years, Mr Thompson was a freelance photographer based in Oklahoma City.Through the 1960s and 70s,he documedted civil rights marches in Washington, D.C., and 1968, the Poor People's Campaign and encampment on the Washington mall. On April 19th, 2000, he photographed President Clinton's dedication of the Murrah Federal Building memorial in Oklahoma City.
After his son's death from AIDS in 1992, Mr Thompson turned his camera on the realities of the HIV/AIDS epidemic around the globe. Traveling to Ethiopia he visited with the HIV/AIDS Prevention Care and Support Organnization (HAPCSO), which provided access to hospitals and peoples homes to photograph caregivers, patients, and survivors. His website Infectious Disease Environmental Awareness Through Photography (ideatp.com), documents his travels and the stories of those he met. Images from the site are available to any valid organization or effort to contribute to HIV/AIDS awareness. In 2002, Mr Thompson moved to Canandaigua to be "a full-time dad" to his two daughters, and there opened the original Gallery Seventy Four at 74 south main . For purely aesthetic aims, Mr Thompson used first used the camera to capture images he wanted to paint, then found photography a very gratifing art of its own.His photographs,on display in the gallery and on his website (www.ralphthompsonphotography.com), reflect fasination with the intricate and fleeting composition found in nature,specifically those caught in time by ice.This appreceiation of form and transience perhaps explains why he has found a niche in photographing dance. " No two performances are ever the same,he says, explaining that posed shots lack the vibrancy of the moment. His ability to capture those fleeting moments during
performances has led to his being the photographer for FuturPointe Dance for the last five years, as well as for Bio/Dance and Garth Fagan Dance. He explains that "most of my life is a search for self-expression." Is he himself a dancer? He laughs. "Oh in my dreams, yes. I can't get these guys (the dancers) out of my head.
Gallery Seventy -Four is open most days between 10am and 3pm.,and most easily accessed through door #3 in the corner of the building that surronds the parking lot. Access to 215 Tremont is most easy by going west off Ford Street just a few hundred yards north of the Phyliss Wheatly Library.