By Laurie Maemura
A young couple in love, third generation commercial crab waterman carrying a bushel 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 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 an artist talk by Preston Gannaway.
“I spent a lot of time waiting. 15-20 minutes or so,” Gannaway responds to an aspiring and eager students’ question to getting 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.
Taken by Virginia Beach’s geographical seven-mile neighborhood of beautiful landscape, Gannaway worked as a professional photographer for newspaper The Virginian-Pilot for five years. An appreciator for “working with the parameters of reality,” the Pulitzer Prize-winning documentary photographer and artist didn’t have to think twice; composition came naturally.
City College student and illustrator Jen Peterson was immediately attracted to the composition of Gannaway’s group shot images. “I’m drawn to the baptism image with the woman’s arms pointed outwards,” she said as she imitated the direction with 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 a sailor’s idiom: a literal symbol of geography – interaction of people to water and life – and a metaphorical symbol – improvements and complexity of two situations.
And unbeknownst to the aspiring students, a famous Louie Armstrong song.
For five years, Gannaway explored the transitioning neighborhood of Ocean View from the sight of whale carcasses on the shore to strip malls inland and its history of the “Coney Island of the South.” She also taught herself how to connect the rock and the sea. She learned how to forge relationships and gain trust quickly, and how to act comfortable and uncomfortable with 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 ponderous.
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 bloody pieces washed up on the shore. One might feel disgusted but Diablo didn’t 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,” she said, as she continued to stare at the bloody image.
Charleston Pierce was one of the few remaining photography students staring into the photos post-talk.
“It draws your mind to the little things we take for granted,” Pierce noted. In a soft spoken and calm demeanor, he saw what Gannaway wanted to provoke to her viewership: “A variety of lifestyles, moods, flow, emotions, compassion.”