Walter Chappell: Into The Light
August 20th – September 25th, 2021
Chappell’s photographs are maps to inaccessible places within the being of man.
– Dr. Shems Friedland
The poet Charles Olson said, “Art is the only true twin life has.” Walter’s art and life were indistinguishable and he lived the one as he practiced the other. And vice versa.
– Robert Creeley
Walter Chappell’s (1925 – 2000) provocative photographs of the human body, landscapes, and his Metaflora photographs of the auras of plants, are imbued with light from within that radiates and pulses with spiritual energy.
We opened our gallery in 1980 in the living room of a small house in the Historic Guadalupe Barrio in Santa Fe. The 1000 square foot house had a main bedroom that served as our darkroom, and a living room, which was the gallery. The Guadalupe Barrio was a wonderful mixture of old Santa Fe and young Santa Fe – with many artists finding the neighborhood welcoming them. Paul Caponigro lived on the corner; a few years later, Walter Chappell moved next door. Getting to know both of them was a gift and life changing. There was never a time that we spent with Walter that we didn’t learn something significant about life, nor was there a time spent with Paul that we didn’t learn about seeing. And, through both of them, we gained insights into their teacher, Minor White. These three artists shaped much of our attitudes toward photography both with our own work, the focus of the gallery, and collecting. Minor White’s philosophy has remained a guiding mantra for us.
Minor White, along with his circle of influential photographers, including Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Weston, and Ansel Adams, were instrumental in Chappell’s artistic development. Minor learned Stieglitz’s idea of “Equivalents” from the master himself. It was crucial to his own philosophies about imagery and what constitutes subject matter. His statement that “I don’t photograph things for what they are, but for what else they are” articulates his approach. His photographic works, teachings, and writings opened up a new understanding of photography as an “interpretive medium” – one capable of expressing one’s innermost thoughts and feelings rather than a medium for record making.
Walter Chappell moved to San Francisco in 1947 and resumed his friendship with Minor White, whom he had met some years earlier in Portland, Oregon. His main pursuits at the time were music, painting, and writing. In 1952 he attended The Frank Lloyd Wright Taliesin Fellowship in Arizona. Following his residence at Taliesin, recuperating from several years of illness due to tuberculosis, Chappell moved to Rochester, New York in 1957, to begin a serious study of photography with Minor. Chappell adapted Minor’s teachings and shared philosophies about the mind, other levels of consciousness, and especially man’s relation to the natural world.
Both Minor and Walter photographed using wavelengths of light that are not visible to the human eye. Minor working with infrared film and Walter producing imagery with electricity to make his unique and highly regarded “Metaflora” photographs.
One of our greatest experiences as gallerists was sequencing Walter’s photographs for an exhibition of his work. One of the definitions of great art is that it can both transcend time and subject matter. This was true for Walter’s work. We were amazed on that afternoon that photographs as varied as nudes, water studies, rock abstractions, and Metaflora’s hung seamlessly irrespective of dates or subjects. His vision, like his life, is both unique and transcendent. We were fortunate to have counted Walter as a friend and colleague.
David’s last conversation with Walter was from Walter’s hospital bed after having suffered a stroke. Asking how he was and if he needed anything, he began to describe in his words what an amazing journey he was experiencing. For in the past few days, he went from limited movement from the effects of the stroke to his body slowly coming back to life, moving a finger or toe. Only Walter could describe the experience of a stroke as a metaphysical wonder and a mind-expanding experience. His words were beautiful, as was his soul. In deep gratitude!
For this exhibition, we have assembled a retrospective selection of Walter Chappell’s photographs, including rare early vintage prints. In 1961 Chappell’s house was destroyed by fire, and nearly all of his work, including photographic prints and negatives, were lost.
Walter Chappell stands out as one of the 20th century’s important photographers. From his innovative and groundbreaking works dealing with the human form in the ‘50s through the spiritually charged Metaflora images, Walter was always pushing the boundaries of photographic “seeing.”