Brighton resident Larry Merrill’s latest exhibit at the George Eastman House on trees is meant to evoke feeling

From the Democrat and Chronicle:

With a successful series of photographs from New York City making up the bulk of his work in recent years, Brighton resident Larry Merrill wanted something more local to shoot.

So he started taking his camera with him when he’d walk his dog, thinking that he’d photograph the canine as it strolled and sniffed its way through the park. But the subject of his project changed quickly.

“Inevitably, a dog leads you to look at trees,” says Merrill, who muses about the animal’s relegation from project star to forced onlooker. “After a while, I started to respond to them and started photographing them, and the dog would have to wait beside me.”

Between his trips to Mendon Ponds Park, Highland Park, Isaac Gordon Nature Park, as well as a few quick walks around his neighborhood, Merrill has assembled a sizable collection of tree photographs over the past three years, and a selection is now on display at the George Eastman House.

It’s the second time that Merrill’s work has been exhibited in the museum.

“The photos are very strong, the color palette is great, and it’s lovely to look at trees in the middle of a Rochester winter and remember that there is life after March,” says Alison Nordstrom, curator of photographs and director of exhibitions for the Eastman House.

And Nordstrom is quick to point out that the museum doesn’t make any extra effort to show local work. Photographs are selected on quality, and the fact that Merrill happens to be a nearby resident is just an “added bonus,” she said.

“We’re an international museum. We’re not a museum of local photographers,” said Nordstrom. “But this is still the center of the photography universe. There is no question there are more photographers in Rochester than in cities of the same size.”

Merrill, 63, who is married to Brighton Town Clerk Susan Kramarsky, has been taking photographs since he started college and realized that “I didn’t like schoolwork,” he says.

It began as a hobby, but progressed into serious work. Merrill has spent time working on photography projects in Bhutan, Senegal, Haiti and Peru.

He also spent 20 years running the art school at the Memorial Art Gallery and a few more teaching at Nazareth College.

His current exhibit differs from his previous Eastman House exhibit — which featured photographs from New York City — in that the photos are more “lyrical,” Merrill says.

With the New York City shots, “each one has an implied narrative. You can sort of construct a story around it,” he says.

In viewing the two portfolios side by side, the distinction becomes clear. A photograph from Merrill’s New York City portfolio shows a group of tourists gazing up at a nearby monument, and it’s easy for a viewer to create a back story for them: where they came from, what they were looking at, and so on.

But the coiling tree trunk seen in his current exhibit doesn’t have a story behind it — at least, not one that’s implied by the photograph. The shot is just meant to evoke feeling.

Merrill says that it’s flattering to be exhibited at the Eastman House, but it’s not the reason that he continues to take photos. That attitude is something that’s developed over time.

“When I was young and angry at museums, an older artist explained to me: It’s not so much important that they show your work, it’s that they show you things you can learn from, that you wouldn’t otherwise ordinarily see,” said Merrill.

“You do it to do it,” he said. “If they’re exhibited, so much the better.”

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