Earthly Views
By: Susan Van Dongen , TIMEOFF

With camera in hand, Kathleen Connally walks no farther than 10 miles from home, capturing a landscape similar to the one preserved in paintings by N.C. and Andrew Wyeth.
   Unless you've been on a sojourn to another planet, you might have noticed that property values are a hot topic for conversation.
   Photographer Kathleen Connally also is interested in real estate. When she titled her latest exhibit The Value of the Land, she was making a sly statement about the worth of land, above and beyond its monetary benefits.
   "An open horizon is perhaps the most valuable real estate of all," she says. "I really believe that."
   Indeed, doctors and psychologists are beginning to understand that a swath of green, a big blue sky or a thicket of woods are not only valuable aesthetically to the human psyche, they're necessary for good physical and mental health.
   "I want to show how important the land is to people, especially when it's not built upon, when it's being used as farmland, open space, and is available to human beings and their sense of self," Ms. Connally says. "An open horizon really is important to mental health. You have to get out and see the sky, see the 'edges,' not be surrounded by buildings or parking lots. You have to have some place to think and let your mind open up."
   Ms. Connally nurtures her soul by walking around rural Durham Township, Pa., in upper Bucks County, usually with her son and always with her camera. Enamored with the character and beauty of her environs, she maintains an acclaimed photoblog of the area, "A Walk Through Durham Township, Pennsylvania," where she regularly posts images of the farms, fields, woods and waterways (www.durhamtownship.com).
   She'll show a number of her photographs — all taken in the last six months in Durham Township — at Gallery 14 in Hopewell July 14-Aug. 27, with an opening reception July 14 and a meet the artists reception July 16. Ms. Connally will share the gallery space with Jim Hilgendorf's Trucks and Truckers, wry images of trucks, truckers and the locations they stop at for rest and refueling. In the past two years, Mr. Hilgendorf has covered some 10,000 miles to make pictures, from Jessup, Md., to Ontario, Canada. Some of the photographs focus on the colorful personalities of the drivers, but some capture the aesthetics of the vehicles themselves.
   Ms. Connally suspects her love for the land goes back to her childhood in Chadds Ford, Pa., during the 1970s, before urban sprawl crept into the legendary Brandywine Valley. The region is home to the Wyeth family, as well as countless other painters and illustrators who were inspired by the pastoral beauty of the southern Chester County countryside. Raised within this thriving artists' community alongside working farms and undeveloped land, Ms. Connally's surroundings fostered a passion for photography and a quest to represent and preserve the rural character of Pennsylvania through her images. One of her goals as an artist is to photograph all of the Keystone State.
   "I was bombarded with the Wyeths all my life," Ms. Connally says. "I lived about a mile away from their homes, went to an elementary school decorated with Jamie Wyeth's paintings. They were a strong influence as far as worshiping the land, and being able to bring that sense of place to the canvas. All this really inspired me, early on."
   After living and working for the Franklin Mint in New York City, London and Seattle, Ms. Connally settled in Durham Township in 1999, and recognized that she had landed in an area similar in rural character and topography to her hometown of Chadds Ford. She says she also loves being in the city — especially London — but a part of her was always longing for greenery, so she was happy to put down roots in Bucks County.
   The images in the Gallery 14 exhibit show the land in and around Durham Township as it exists now — undisturbed, undeveloped, used by farmers and enjoyed by others as open space.
   "Almost everything I shoot is within 10 miles of where I live," Ms. Connally says. "Occasionally I'll go outside the area to take pictures. But I'm a mom so I'm at home a lot of the time, and that's what's available to me. But that's also what I love. There's no shortage of subject matter for me within that 10-mile radius.
   "My camera (a Canon 5D) goes everywhere with me," she continues. "If I run down to the corner store for a gallon of milk, I take it with me. Things pop up that way. I see things all the time and I never want to be in the situation where I say 'I wish I had my camera with me.'"
   She picks a few of her photographic influences from a long list, naming pioneers such as Alfred Steiglitz and Carleton Watkins, known for his large format landscapes of the 19th century American West.
   "I also admire the work of cinematographers, Arthur C. Miller in particular," Ms. Connally says. "One of his great contributions was John Ford's 'How Green Was My Valley.' I've always watched movies pretty religiously and every single frame of that film is a work of compositional art."
   Ms. Connally has exhibited her work widely. Her photo "Warm Day in January" recently won the People's Choice Award at the 2006 Phillips' Mill Photographic Exhibition in New Hope, Pa. She also had a solo exhibit at the Indian Rock Inn in Upper Black Eddy, Pa., and a one-woman show at the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry in Harrisburg.
   But she's really had a lot of attention and praise for her photoblog, receiving nominations and top awards for the relatively new form of media. Camera Arts magazine, Shutterbug Magazine and the Baltimore Sun have all praised her blog, as well.
   Although she experiments with Photoshop, most of the shots are reproduced purely as Ms. Connally sees them — from deep blue skies to soft amber shades of early morning in Durham Township.
   "What I see is what I try to get the photograph to look like," she says.
   The photographer also enjoys employing odd angles and perspectives, for example, laying down on the ground and shooting up at the sky. That's how she created the exuberant "Jenn Jumping."
   "I wanted that to be the signature image in the Gallery 14 show," she says. "I'm making a little statement with that. The expression on her face shows the joy the open landscape brings."

The Value of the Land, photography by Kathleen Connally, and Trucks and Truckers, photography by Jim Hilgendorf, are on view at Gallery 14, 14 Mercer St., Hopewell, July 14-Aug. 27. Opening reception: July 14, 6-9 p.m. Meet the artists: July 16, 1-3 p.m. Gallery hours: Sat.-Sun. noon-5 p.m. or by appointment. On the Web: photosgallery14.com. Kathleen Connally on the Web: www.durhamtownship.com. Jim Hilgendorf on the Web: www.jimhilgendorf.com

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