Photographers talk about “capturing light,” the way the legendary Ansel Adams did in his celebrated photos of the Sierra Nevada mountains.
Fairfield photographer Dennis Ariza gets it.
“To me, capturing light means capturing everything,” said Ariza, an award-winning photographer who, as president of the Fairfield-Suisun City Visual Arts Association, organized the group’s most recent show, “Choices,” at the Solano Town Center Gallery.
The Fairfield mall show — which includes not only a dozen or so of Ariza’s wildlife and landscape photos but also works in many other mediums by other artists — continues until Aug. 5. A gallery reception will be held from 4 to 6 p.m. Saturday, when the FSVAA members will become poets during the reception, reading the poems they have written about the artwork in the show. (The gallery is on the second floor, next to the AT&T store.)
To illustrate his idea that photography is all about light, or gradations of light, Ariza, 69 and a graduate of Vacaville High School, cites his photo of Pigeon Point Light Station in the historic park north of Santa Cruz.
He’s snapped photos of the lighthouse in bright sunlight and also in October, as a Pacific storm began to advance shoreward. The monument that was so familiar to him under clear, sunny skies began to appear new and different as gray, moisture-laden clouds rolled overhead and a beam of light, breaking through the clouds, shone down on the lighthouse.
“I use the image on my business card,” Ariza said during a telephone interview Tuesday, suggesting, like Adams perhaps, his ability to transform an object or geographic reality into a sublime emotional experience.
Raised in Vacaville, he began his road to capturing light in a Will C. Wood High School biology class. His instructor promised to teach the students how to take photographs through a microscope — during a time when photographers were still using film, processing images in chemical solutions and printing photos using enlargers — but Ariza recalled spending “the entire semester in the darkroom.”
“I didn’t learn much biology,” he quipped. “The teacher had all this darkroom equipment. He let me borrow an enlarger.” And during those months, he said, he used “these cardboard cameras” to take images of landscapes and people in downtown Vacaville. No surprise, he spent his summer vacation in the darkroom.
“I ended up doing some yearbook work, too,” in high school, said Ariza, adding, “I got an A in biology; but, once the teacher told us about the photography, I never attended biology class. I was in the darkroom the entire time.”
Since that time and during the major and ongoing arc of his photography avocation, which included 36 years working for the Fairfield-Suisun Sewer District, Ariza, now retired, has been trying to communicate a desire for “people to see what is around us.”
“Not everyone spends time outside like I do,” he said. “I’ve traveled the West Coast and into Nevada. A lot of people don’t know what’s in the eastern Sierra … Bodie, Death Valley, so I took photos. I try to share that with my family and friends.”
Of course, technology has transformed photography in the last generation, “going from film to digital,” Ariza said. “You used to have to wait five days (if you sent roll film out to be processed and printed). Now you can see it on the (smartphone or laptop) screen when you take it. I carry two cameras. I take my laptop with me and download the images. It’s instant.”
Professional photographers also speak of composition as a way of seeing and arranging visual elements within their camera frame, but Ariza, an alumnus of the New York Institute of Photography and Solano Community College, defines it as “finding a featured spot in an image.”
“You can do a large landscape but that landscape has a certain point that you’re attracted to,” he said. “For example, Yosemite Falls in the distance … I give the viewer a point of view, some key item. There’s got to be a key item to grab your attention.”
His penchant for photography took a serious turn when he opened a studio, he said.
“I did weddings and portraits … and I hated it,” recalled Ariza, who is the FSVAA Gallery show’s “spotlight” artist during the exhibit. “A customer might say, ‘I want this picture retaken because I don’t like my hair.’ I’ve always had an interest in the outdoors, in wildlife and landscape photography. I don’t have to worry about anyone’s hair being out of place.”
Over the years, Ariza’s photos have earned numerous awards and appeared in periodicals and online, in Outdoor Life magazine and at www.PetaPixel.com. A member of the Vacaville Art League, Yolo Arts, he joined the FSVAA in 2013 and has shown his artwork in several different shows over the years and participated in many of the group’s events, among them Art on the Vine, The Crush, and other fine art and wine festivals.
His photos have earned first-place awards at the Dixon May Fair, the Solano County Fair and Yolo County Fair. Ariza has donated a photo called “The Cross,” taken in Anza-Boreggo Desert State Park, to the KVIE-TV Ch. 6 auction.
IF YOU GO
What: “Choices,” FSVAA art show
Through Aug. 5
Where: Solano Town Center Gallery,
Solano Town Center,
1508-B Travis Blvd., Fairfield
Note: Reception from 4 to 6 p.m. Saturday, with appetizers, beverages, and BackRoad Vines wine