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Artist profile: Ken Osthimer finds new path with mono lens photos

Photographer Ken Osthimer is one of the featured artists in the “Flora & Fauna” exhibit opening Nov. 6 at Allied Arts Gallery.
Photographer Ken Osthimer is one of the featured artists in the “Flora & Fauna” exhibit opening Nov. 6 at Allied Arts Gallery. Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

Fine-art photographer Ken Osthimer is one of five Whatcom County artists featured in the Allied Arts Juried Art Series, this one with the theme “Flora and Fauna,” opening at 6 p.m. Friday, Nov. 6, at the gallery, 1418 Cornwall Ave., during the Downtown Art Walk.

Other artists featured in the show are Kevin Ledford, V. Mazzola, Melissa Stahlberg and Laurel Baldwin.

For more about Osthimer, go to platinumprintphotography.com.

Question: What brought you to Bellingham?

Answer: I was born in San Pedro, California, in 1945. When I was 5, my family moved to Las Vegas to run a family-owned motel. So I grew up in Las Vegas and graduated from high school there.

This is a 19th-century process that yields really beautiful prints with a long tonal range, incredible detail and a truly lovely patina.

Ken Osthimer, fine-art photographer on platinum printing

After a stint in the Air Force, I moved to the Pacific Northwest in 1968. Sometime in the mid-1980s, after I graduated from Western Washington University, I went back to the Southwest for a while. I came back to Bellingham in 1987 and I have lived and worked here ever since.

Q: When did you become interested in photography?

A: I began photography on a lark when I was a student at WWU in 1975; it was a class I could drop and still keep my credits up to full time for the GI Bill. I learned what the “numbers” on a camera were about and that lifted the mystery.

Later, after two quarters on the Western Front newspaper at Western, I switched my major from journalism to art and became serious about photography.

Q: Who were some of your mentors?

A: I am deeply indebted to Robert Embrey, my professor at WWU, who pushed me hard to do good work and really think about what it was I was doing.

I was also influenced and encouraged by Ralph Wahl, a well-known Bellingham photographer. Other influences include Edward Weston, Paul Caponigro and Harry Callahan. In 1980 I was able to attend a master’s workshop with Oliver Gigliani.

Q: What’s your process for your art?

A: I am a black-and-white photographer and use large-format cameras. I have been using the process of platinum printing since 1995. This is a 19th-century process that yields really beautiful prints with a long tonal range, incredible detail and a truly lovely patina. Everything is done by hand, from mixing the chemistry for each print to hand-coating the paper.

As a fine-art photographer, I “photograph at will” whatever excites me; I don’t work in a project-oriented manner. There is no “story.” The work is connected through me — whether it’s a landscape, still life or figure study.

I have stayed true to this path and continue to resist the trend to “tell a story” with my work. I try to convey this when I teach or mentor; a single well-done photograph should be able to stand alone and convey what you feel about the subject.

Q: Why do you enjoy photography?

A: I have been photographing for nearly 40 years. My biggest joys have come from the times when someone tells me they really like what I have done.

It has been my honor to be able to teach platinum printing at the university when they offer the alternative photography class. I enjoy learning and teaching the “hands-on” process of making a well-crafted fine print in the traditional manner. I also love making some of the cameras that I use to make my photographs.

Q: What are you exhibiting in the Allied Arts exhibit?

A: The photographs in the show are chosen from my most recent work. Landscapes, still life, figure studies and portraits.

Some of them represent a new direction I’ve taken — using “mono lenses” of the type that were first used in the early 1800s. These have an interesting effect of being in focus in the center and then blurring out toward the edges.

I have also been experimenting with soft-focus lenses for portraits. All in all, the show will be a good representation of my work.

Reach Margaret Bikman at 360-715-2273 or margaret.bikman@bellinghamherald.com. Read her columns at bellinghamherald.com/behind-the-scenes.

2015 Juried Artist Series: “Flora & Fauna”

When: Opening reception 6-9 p.m. Nov. 6, with an exhibit walk-through with the artists at 7 p.m. The show runs through Nov. 28, and then travels to Hotel Bellwether for a monthlong installation in the lobby, hallways, and the Lighthouse Bar & Grill.

Where: Allied Arts Gallery, 1418 Cornwall Ave.

Cost: Free

Details: 360-676-8548, alliedarts.org

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