By Laurie Maemura
A young couple in love, a third-generation commercial crab waterman carrying a bushel of crabs, and a woman baptized in Chesapeake Bay with members from church, were some of the nineteen images showcased, just to name a few of the working-class people living in the seaside community.
Over 50 students from a beginning photography and watercolor class were in attendance at a gallery opening on Wednesday evening, September 6, 2017. The focus of the event was a talk by photographer Preston Gannaway.
“I spent a lot of time waiting. Fifteen to twenty minutes or so,” Gannaway responds to an aspiring and eager student’s question on how to get the perfect shot.
Seemingly, most of her images exhibited in the gallery of the Visual Arts Building on City College of San Francisco’s Ocean Campus perfectly depicted a variety of lifestyles and colorful, bizarre characters of a changing neighborhood called Ocean View in Norfolk, VA.
Attracted by Virginia Beach’s geographical seven-mile neighborhood of beautiful landscape, Gannaway worked as a professional photographer for the newspaper The Virginian-Pilot for five years. An appreciator for “working with the parameters of reality,” the Pulitzer Prize-winning documentary photographer and artist did not have to think twice; composition came naturally.
City College student and illustrator Jen Peterson was immediately attracted to the composition of Gannaway’s groupshot images. “I’m drawn to the baptism image with the woman’s arms pointed outwards,” she said as she imitated the direction of the woman’s arm. “In a way, it’s geometric.”
As the title of the exhibit might suggest, “Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea” refers to facing the complexity of having two undesirable choices, and unbeknownst to some of the students, a reference to a famous Louis Armstrong song.
For five years, Gannaway explored the contrast between modern developments and old time neighborhoods around Ocean View. The building of strip malls happened at the same time as whale carcasses appeared on the shore.
While talking to the long-time residents, she learned to forge relationships, to gain trust quickly, and to be comfortable around new people.
After the artist talk and knowing more about Gannaway’s purpose, a few of the students returned to the gallery, looking more intrigued and thoughtful.
Flipping pages of Gannaway’s visual essay book also called “Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea,” City College student Rebecca Diablo stared at an image of a whale carcass and flesh washed up on the shore. Some might feel disgusted but Diablo did not put the book down.
“I’ve never been there [Norfolk, Virginia] but she brings the town alive and captured the bizarre characters through the photos,” Diablo said.
Charleston Pierce was one of the few remaining photography students staring at the photos post-talk.
“It draws your mind to the little things we take for granted,” Pierce said. With a calm demeanor, he saw what Gannaway wanted her viewers to understand: “a variety of lifestyles, moods, flow, emotions, and compassion.”