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Eugene Weekly : Culture : 10.21.04

Visual Art:

Photography of Gary Tepfer

Sees the soul of the city.


Autumn Dreaming

Dancers, Shakespeare and Mendelssohn


Indigo Lake

Plan a last fall fling in the Oregon Cascades Recreation Area.


Where's the Impact?

Warren Miller's newest film is tried and true.


Photography of Gary Tepfer

Sees the soul of the city.


St. Petersburg: The Essence," now showing at the White Lotus Gallery, is Gary Tepfer's first exhibition of urban photography. It focuses on buildings, landscapes and interiors. As much as his previous images from the American West and North Asia, these works showcase Tepfer's technical excellence.

Window, Birch Tree, Gravestone, photograph by Gary Tepfer. White Lotus Gallery, 2004.

Conceived by Peter the Great as a window into Europe and meant to reflect the tsars' authority and might, St. Petersburg was built over the marshland of the Neva Delta between 1703 and 1917 by some of the most outstanding architects from Switzerland, Italy, France, Britain, Germany and Russia. It displays some of the finest 18th and 19th century European architecture: Baroque, neo-Classical, French Empire, Art Nouveau … palaces, cathedrals, churches, bridges, triumphal arches, ceremonial columns.

Tepfer's exhibit title reflects the widely shared view that the "essence" of St. Petersburg is its architecture. You will find no trace of Leningrad among Tepfer's images, only pre-1917 St. Petersburg. This show is strictly about the city of stone and brick and plaster painted in soft watercolor tones, not merely an homage to glorious architecture but also an acknowledgement of how the pre-revolutionary city has weathered.

In Tepfer's images, age has softened it's former splendor into a kinder gentility. Time has muted the arrogance of the city's gilded youth. Eroding stone, crumbling plaster, faded and peeling paint provide gentle, painterly texture. Conversely, time has enriched the austere. The concrete wall of a bunker on the fortress island of Kronstadt becomes a natural abstract fresco painted with lime, rust and lichen.

Tepfer seldom provides a view of a building in its entirety — Chesma Church, showing one of the few neo-Gothic buildings in the city, is a notable exception. Instead he focuses on a part (a section of façade, a dome) or a motif (a door, a vase, a statue), bringing detailed texture, form and color to the fore.

The vast majority of the pictures share a similar compositional structure: a frontal view with a centered object of focus. The square format reinforces the biaxial symmetry of the image. This static symmetry imparts a sense of formality and monumentality even to the small detail. The intimacy in the detail is balanced by a decorum of the subject-matter. The point of view is detached, and the absence of people contributes a lonely mood.

The straight-on frontal view often results in a flattened perspective. In Window, Birch Tree, Gravestone, one of the few images in which the focus is not centrally placed, depth was deliberately collapsed with the use of a telephoto lens, creating a flat painterly composition.

In most of the urban landscapes, strong horizontal lines bisect the entire image, keeping one's gaze poised over the surface where often the reflection of trees shimmers in rainwater pooled over the ice on the ground. Exceptions are Canal, Kronstadt, where the focus point is off-center. Converging diagonals and the Kazan Church colonnade, where the eye is drawn in by diagonals and curves, convey a dynamic sense of direction and depth.

Another recurrent compositional device is the use of doors, arches and gateways to frame his subjects, often further entrances themselves. Even then, despite the parallax effect and diminishing sizes, the perception of depth is flattened because background and foreground are both sharply in focus. This compression of depth works best when the subject-matter is abstract: the kaleidoscopic effect of the Trinity Cathedral dome in the Alexander Nevsky Monastery complex, the minimalist abstraction of ship parts at Kronstadt, the intricate motif of a carved door.

Tepfer beautifully captures the cool diffuse Baltic light, often warmed by the ochres and golds of the architecture. Between May 1995 and September 2002, Tepfer made six trips to the Russian city, returning at different times of year to get different qualities of light: "I strategize where to be for a certain time and timing is everything."

All pictures were shot on Ektachrome 100 ASA film and without flash, requiring long exposures. Taken with a Hasselblad medium-format camera and printed on Ilfochrome archival paper, the photographs are crisp and sharp. The colors, richly saturated and exquisitely nuanced, are a visual delight in themselves.

Tepfer is among the few color photographers who do their own darkroom work. This allows him to control the photographic process in all its stages.

The project was first conceived as a book to be titled A Foreigner's View of St. Petersburg. Unfortunately, the Russian state publisher went out of business. The initial impetus for the project, however, still informs the exhibit.

Gven the documentary nature of the photographs and the largely unfamiliar terrain, the exhibit would have benefited greatly from accompanying descriptive text.   

Meanwhile, the white overmat surrounding the photographs creates the feel of margins on a book page.

This is documentary photography at its best, and we may hope Tepfer finds a publisher able to reproduce these images with their original clarity and vividness of color.    


Autumn Dreaming

Dancers, Shakespeare and Mendelssohn


As midsummer fades into memory, and the realities of the political season bombard us every hour on the hour, Toni Pimble, artistic director of the Eugene Ballet Company, reminds us that art makes fools of the powerful, and in the theater all can still end happily.

Eugene Ballet Company dancer in Midsummer Night's Dream.

The company reprises Pimble's 1985 Midsummer Night's Dream at 8 pm Oct. 23 and 2 pm Oct. 24 in the Hult Center Silva Hall. Audiences will also be treated to the high-energy dancing of Pimble's 1999 "Slipstream" and the premiere of "Incidents and Accidents," created by EBC dancer Melissa Nolen.

Like Pimble's Romeo and Juliet, Midsummer is as true to Shakespeare's language as it is to the classical dance lexicon. As the dancers perform the roles of fairies, "mechanicals" and mortal lovers with the nonverbal language of mime and dance, they communicate visually both the poetry and the rough-hewn peasant vocabulary of Shakespeare's play. Pimble knows precisely what she's doing and has given it considerable thought.

Shakespeare's "ability to bring to the stage the crude behavior of the rustics and place them side by side with the exquisite delicacy of the fairies is both a challenge and a delight to the choreographer," Pimble commented in the company newsletter.

Pimble meets Shakespeare's challenge not only with the skill of an experienced dance maker but also with Felix Mendelssohn's familiar music. (The wedding march comes from the incidental music created for a mid-19th century production of the play, when the composer was only 16.) Pimble has added music by Rossini as well as a segment by Renaissance composer Bottesini to expand the action. Peter Dean Beck designed the set, and deservedly well-known designer David Heuvel the charming costumes.

Midsummer is a fine showcase for the company's principal dancers, calling as it does for fine-tuned technique as well as comic timing. Jennifer Martin dances Titiana, the queen of the fairies, on Saturday night, partnered by the phenomenal Korean dancer Hyuk Ku Kwon as the jealous Oberon, the fairy king. On Sunday, they dance the roles of confused and quarreling lovers Helena and Demetrius.

Managing Director Riley Grannan, whose performance as Bottom in the 1985 premiere was memorable to say the least, said he's "ecstatic" about the quality of the company's new principals. Jon Drake dances the role of Demetrius Saturday night and Oberon Sunday afternoon, while Aline Schurger will be Helena on Saturday and Titania at the matinee.

According to Grannan, Drake's technical facility is huge. Drake trained at the École de Danse in Hattiesburg, Miss., the John Cranko School in Stuttgart, Germany, and the Vienna State Opera Ballet School in Austria. He has danced in Midsummer before, as well as Cinderella, Coppelia and Swan Lake, which are all in EBC's repertoire.

Grannan said Schürger has a formidable ability, a "steel-trap technique" as well as a lyrical quality. Born in Germany, Schürger received her training at the opera in Nuremberg, Munich and Prague. Winner of three gold medals at international ballet competitions, she has danced as a principal with Opus M Company in Munich and also the Atlantic Southeast Ballet. She has toured China.

The program begins with the two contemporary works. Nolen's brand new "Incidents and Accidents" is set to the music of Johannes Brahms. Nolen has choreographed for Ballet Idaho's school, where she impressed Pimble with her thoughtful use of the talents and experience of the dancers. "Slipstream," Pimble's sleek, nonstop ballet to the music of contemporary composer Michael Lyman, completes a truly mixed bill that shows what this company is all about.



Indigo Lake

Plan a last fall fling in the Oregon Cascades Recreation Area.


The 157,000-acre Oregon Cascades Recreation Area includes portions of the Willamette, Umpqua and Deschutes National Forests southeast of Eugene. It's a roadless wilderness (wilderness with a small "w") stuck between the congressionally designated Thielsen and Diamond Peak Wildernesses (wilderness with a large "W"). Unlike big W wilderness, the congressional mandate for the OCRA is to provide an array of different types of recreation, not necessarily to maintain the primitive feel of the backcountry.

The crown jewel of the OCRA is Indigo Lake, one of the most beautiful of the thousands of alpine tarns that dot the crest of the Cascade Range. There are still plenty of warm days left in 2004. The mosquitoes have vanished, the big summer crowds have departed, the trails are dry, and huckleberries and other shrubs have turned the mountains a hundred fiery hues. Right now is one of the best times to enjoy the high Cascades, and Indigo Lake is the perfect destination for an overnight camping trip or a day hike.

Directions: Take I-5 south from Eugene for approximately three miles. Take the Oakridge/Klamath Falls exit (Exit 188A). Stay to the left onto Hwy. 58. Take 58 for approximately 37 miles. Just past Dink's Market on the east side of Oakridge, take a right onto Kitson Springs Road. In .4 miles, take another right onto Forest Service Road 21 (sign for Diamond Drive). Stay on 21 for approximately 31 miles, and then take a left on the paved FS 2154 road. Follow the 2154 road for 9.2 miles to Timpanogas Lake. All of the intersections have signs for Timpanogas or Diamond Drive, except for a fork in the road after 6.9 miles. Stay right at this junction.

When you pull into the Timpanogas Lake Campground, stay to the right and hit the trailhead at the southeast end of the parking lot (there are trails to June Lake and Chuckle Springs on the west side).

The hike to Indigo is easy, just a two-mile one-way trip. The first part of the hike makes some gentle switchbacks uphill before leveling out near a trail junction, where you'll stay straight past several small meadows, splashed with crimson and gold during the autumn. If you reach Indigo Lake and still want to do some more hiking, the trail extends all the way around the lakeshore, making for a five-mile round trip back to your vehicle.

If you've got lots of energy you'll want to appreciate the lake's brilliant azure color properly — from the top of Sawtooth Mountain, the 1,000-foot wall that rises directly out of the lake's east shore. Back track to a trail junction about 200 feet from the lakeshore. Turn right and trudge up some steep switchbacks with occasional views back downhill. In 1.7 miles you'll come to a junction. Taking the trail to the right for a mile and a half will take you to the very top of the 7,301-foot mountain (watch your footing, it's a sheer drop-off in places).

If you're super-energetic, you can continue straight at the intersection 1.7 miles from Indigo Lake and make for Cowhorn Mountain. After descending and then climbing some more, you can complete a 10-mile loop back to Timpanogas on the Windy Pass Trail.

All is not quiet in this alpine paradise. The 1984 Oregon Wilderness Act which created the OCRA and other nearby engine-free wildernesses allows off-road vehicle use on the trails to Indigo Lake and Sawtooth Mountain, and a number of otherwise peaceful fall days are ruined by the obnoxious growl of dirt bikes and four wheelers. If you're lucky enough to have some peace and quiet, do yourself and other hikers a favor and make a call to your elected officials and ask them to turn the OCRA into a real wilderness.           


Where's the Impact?

Warren Miller's newest film is tried and true.


Every year for the last five decades, the new Warren Miller film marks the semi-official beginning of the pre-season. It's tradition. It gets us checking the snow reports and web-cams and dreaming of deep, fluffy powder days. We go out and buy gear. We fondle our season pass. We wait impatiently for the snow to fly.

It's tradition to drink beer, get rowdy and go see the new film with a huge group of buddies you haven't talked to since the parking lot tailgate party that closed out the season last year (another tradition). And these days, tradition is the only thing that saves Warren Miller.

This year's film, Impact is better than last year's film. It's good. Not great. Fun. Not heart-pounding. The soundtrack has everything from Coldplay to Billy Idol and it's damn good. The film itself focuses less on the athletes chumming around and more on what they can do on the slopes. It keeps you entertained, if not riveted, for about an hour. Unfortunately, it's 90 minutes long and the last 30 minutes features ski superstar Glen Plake in a weenie bikini water skiing (YUCK!) and a lot of other yawn-worthy water footage.

One very cool thing about Impact is that Miller chose to shoot about half the footage at ski areas in the U.S. including Snowmass (Colorado), Park City (Utah), Big Sky (Montana) and Steamboat Springs (Colorado). It's a welcome reminder that you don't have to be on a heli-adventure in the peaks of Alaska to find epic lines. After watching film after film created by the younger generation of extreme filmmakers with way too much bratty bro bra, the mature, professional attitude of the athletes in Impact was a breath of fresh air. They keep the focus on the turns not the toasts.

But it's becoming painfully obvious that Warren Miller and his crew haven't spent much time on the hill lately. In one of his narrations he goes on and on about how skiers and snowboarders are getting along great these days, how we're all just out there for the love of the mountains and the snow. Um, conflict between user groups was so '90s.

His paternalistic attitude toward the women in the film detracts as well. For example, he includes a spoof on Charlie's Angels. If the women were actually treated like the incredible athletes they are (we're talking Olympic gold medalists here), it would be funny. But throughout Impact Miller throws in comments when talking about the women in the film such as "Where she leads the men want to follow." They're annoying, not funny, and underscore that this film is put together by someone from an entirely different generation than most of the people watching it. Nonetheless, Miller gives women the opportunity to represent by including amazing female athletes in his films, something today's young directors still frequently fail to do.

And the most memorable and funny part of the film come when Miller takes a crew of skiers and snowboarders to Bulgaria where they hook up with Kalina Nikolova Simeonova, a Bulgarian native turned Vail ski instructor. She narrates this section with a thoughtfulness and intelligence that is rare in extreme sports films.

Freeskiers are almost completely left out of Impact, another glaring sign that Miller is totally out of touch. You could attribute their absence to the fact that Impact focuses more on big mountain backcountry than crazy park stunts. But he teases us with a few lame rail slides and nothing more.

The only stomach-churning moment in the film comes when skiers and snowboarders launch a sickeningly huge step-up gap jump. As younger companies including TGR and Oregon-based moviemakers Rage Films and Ambush TV push ski and snowboard films to the limits, Warren Miller continues to play it safe with the tried and true: big slopes, big names and sweet lines.

He has the money to take his crews all over the world and produce films with cinematic quality that rival the best in Hollywood. See Impact because it's tradition, because the peaks of the Cascades are dusted with snow and because you need a fix — not because you're looking for a film to get your adrenaline pumping.    Impact plays Oct. 28 at the McDonald.