The creative work of Xenia photographer Doug McLarty is currently gracing the walls of the Governor’s Residence in Columbus. A reception in his honor was hosted by Ohio’s First Lady Karen W. Kasich on Thursday afternoon.
“It’s really exciting that Mrs. Kasich actually did the choosing,” said an appreciative McLarty, who submitted some of his photos after hearing about the “Spotlight” program sponsored by the Office of the First Lady in partnership with the Ohio Arts Council. The idea is to elevate the work of Ohio artists by offering them the opportunity to have their work displayed in the Governor’s home. McLarty’s exhibit is entitled “Nature by Design.”
In addition to featured artists like McLarty, other Ohio artists have also loaned artwork to the mansion and the Governor’s office. Tours of the residence, led by trained volunteers, are available on Tuesdays.
“I think artists are true risk takers,” said Mrs. Kasich, who also said she had the the opportunity to see the wealth of artistic talent in Ohio while traveling the state as First Lady and decided to launch the “Spotlight” program two years ago to support that artistic passion. “What they create comes from the heart and they share it knowing that people will critique — sometimes criticize — it; that takes courage.”
It was McLarty’s dramatic “scanography” designs that caught Mrs. Kasich’s eye. His process involves scouting items from nature — feathers, leaves, vines — then photographing them on a high-resolution flatbed scanner. By positioning the natural objects in imaginative ways, he fashions unique and surprising designs.
“It creates this effect where the object seems to take on a new dimension,” explains McLarty, 70. A marketing and public relations specialist by profession, he spent much of his career in the Air Force and retired from Wright-Patt as the director of public affairs at the Aeronautical Systems Division. When it comes to photography, he said he is mostly self-taught.
After taking traditional photographs for decades, McLarty decided he wanted to attempt something different.
“I’d done the whole gamut of photography over the years,” he explained. “I had a darkroom where I processed and printed both black-and-white and color photography, I’d done a lot of portraiture and travel photography when I was in the Air Force.”
His Air Force career provided the opportunity for him to travel throughout the world: in Germany, France, Italy, Austria, Switzerland.
“I loved the beauty of it all, a whole mountain scene when the light is perfect,” he explained. “That kind of scene can be so calming and beautiful and begs for a picture.”
But one day, in the midst of capturing one of those gorgeous mountain views in Utah, McLarty suddenly realized he’d been making that sort of picture for years and was ready to try something new.
“It was a big moment for me,” said McLarty who then returned to Ohio and began talking to various folks about what he might do next. When someone mentioned an article about people who were producing pictures with a scanner, McLarty decided to give it a try. He’s been specializing in scanography ever since.
The basic process involves placing objects on a scanner, then photographing them. In McLarty’s case, those objects are typically plants and vegetables.
“I try to look for shape, texture, color,” he explained, adding that those characteristics work best with Scanography. “I am always looking for something unusual, some familiar object — leaf, stone, shell, etc. — that somehow looks a little odd. If I can’t find just what I am looking for I try to create it from my imagination.”
He might disassemble a flower, for example, then build it again with his own design spin. While that creative process takes time and luck, McLarty said every once in awhile he’s rewarded with something beautiful and unexpected.
In place of a traditional camera, he uses a high-resolution flatbed scanner.
“What happens is that the scanner produces a picture with a very limited depth of field — one-half to one inch — so the objects that are resting right on the glass of the scanner such as the petals of a flower are razor-sharp,” McLarty explains. “But as soon as you go a half-inch away from the glass, the light falls away rapidly and creates this effect where the object seems to take on a new dimension.”
The result is an unusual looking final photo.
“A regular camera produces a two- dimensional image, this seems to produce a feeling that it’s more than two dimensions, not quite three,” McLarty said. “You can almost see around the backside of the object so it gives the viewer an opportunity to see nature displayed in a new photographic dimension.”
Mrs. Kasich calls McLarty’s art “unique and captivating.”
“I’ve never seen anything quite like it,” she said. ” I’m excited to have others visit the Governor’s Residence so that they can experience the energy and beauty of his work.”
McLarty believes few of us take the time to study a stone we’ve picked up from the river or to examine the veining of a leaf.
“When we do, it’s so graphic and beautiful and interesting, it’s hard to resist,” he said. “I find that my treasures are hidden in plain sight. It just takes some retraining in what to search for.”
Many others find McLarty’s work hard to resist as well. His photos have been displayed and featured at a number of art galleries and museums and are owned by private collectors, corporations, professional organizations and health care institutions. If you stayed at the Las Vegas MGM Grand between 2011-2013, you saw McLarty’s botanical prints in your guest room — six of his photos were reproduced 1,400 times when the hotel was being renovated.
Looking for subject matter
McLarty said texture is an essential element in appreciating nature.
“While experiencing a flower petal by touch is naturally the best experience, there is also something called optical or visual texture that I explore in my work,” he explained. “Scanography allows me to translate how the texture might feel without actually touching it.”
McLarty, who is profiled in the January issue of Ohio Magazine, spends winters in Naples, Fla., with his wife, Linda and says Florida offers lots of possibilities. He scours the beach for shells, driftwood, feathers and off the beach finds plants, leaves, vines, wildflowers.
“I’m doing a lot of work with Dioscorea leaves, an invasive species in Florida,”McLarty said.”They start out as a beautiful heart-shaped eight- inch leaf, when they die the veins in the leaf twist leaf up a phenomenal graphic presentation.”
In the west and on visits to the east coast, he’s on the lookout for colored stones, pieces of interesting shaped wood and native wild grasses and plants. He said Ohio is wonderful for wild flowers, thistle, leaves.
Many of McLarty’s images aim at being fun, humorous. In “Toucan Island,” for example, he’s combined the claws of a blue crab with a leaf to produce a photo that looks like a group of toucan birds standing on an island.
“Once people really look at it, they begin to smile and you can see the light go on,” he said.
His hope is to keep his photographs simple and understated.
“I approach my contemporary still-life image designs as opportunities to create “sticky” images — photos that evoke new revelations about nature, and memories that remain in a viewer’s subconscious long after they view my images.”
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