Picture perfect: Local woman featured in traveling Smithsonian

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Rachel Fowler thinks in snapshots, sees in color and shade, and observes with abstract eyes.

Rachel Fowler is an artist in Columbiana, and her latest photography essay, &8220;Fences Throughout Our Lives, From Birth to Grave&8221; is featured in an exhibition called &8220;Between Fences.&8221; The exhibition is part of the Traveling Smithsonian&8217;s Museum on Main Street program and sponsored by the Alabama Humanities Foundation.

Fowler began taking pictures as an outwardly expression of her mind. She explained, &8220;I think visually rather than with words. It&8217;s how I interpret my senses and feelings.&8221;

A former University of Montevallo professor in the College of Education, she first sought advice on her work from colleague Scott Stephens, professor of art who specializes in printmaking and photography. At the time, Fowler was doing her third photo essay on her father&8217;s hands, aged with years of labor as a surgeon and a love for woodworking.

Since then, Fowler has photographed several essays on hands, many of those belonging to friends and family living in Shelby County. She said, &8220;I do a lot of hands and don&8217;t usually puts faces in the photo, because people can identify with hands. So much is told through them.&8221;

&8220;Fences Throughout Our Lives, From Birth to Grave&8221; was inspired from the same philosophy. Fowler shows in her work that whether a person grew up behind a white picket fence or surrounded by acres of barbed wire, fences give shape to our lives and history.

Fowler&8217;s photo essay in &8220;Between Fences&8221; traces the roles of fences and boundaries from birth to death, or as her photographs portray, from the safety of a crib&8217;s slats to the four dirt walls of a grave. In between are over 20 photos, characterized by active verbs such as invite, play, peek, plan and plant.

Fowler first learned about &8220;Between Fences&8221; when Elaine Hughes spoke in her arts and humanities for teachers class. She&8217;d recently taken a picture of a fence, and an exhibition on fences posed the perfect venue for a photo essay. She said, &8220;I see beauty in the insignificant. I&8217;ll be in a room with another person, and we&8217;ll both be taking pictures, and people are always surprised at what I photographed.&8221;

She drew her inspiration for the pieces from everyday life. &8220;After I started photographing fences,&8221; she said, &8220;I would ride down a road and see one, and a story would come up that related to a fence from my life.&8221; Many of her photos, then, are captured candidly as they happen.

&8220;Fences Throughout Our Lives, From Birth to Grave&8221; has the opportunity to travel to six small towns in Alabama for six weeks at a time, if a town accepts her photo essay. The exhibition&8217;s first stop is Decatur, and it will later move on to Demopolis, Greenville, Centre, Headland and West Blocton.

Recently in Decatur, Fowler joined the exhibition and spoke about her work. &8220;It&8217;s a joy to share what I see,&8221; she said, &8220;When I share my work, I realize so many people see the same way I do.&8221;