Icy Extremes: Artist Scotty Craighead unveils a world hidden to the naked eye

By on November 15, 2017

Scotty Craighead doesn’t know what he’s going to see when he looks through his camera and its macro-lens and snaps the shutter. Craighead specializes in macro photography, where he takes extreme close-up pictures of a subject, in his case ice.

“It’s like looking through a microscope,” Craighead said. “It’s like unveiling a new world when you look at the photos with all the details and the specks of dust and the bugs and whatever is in there.”

Craighead’s extreme close-ups of ice along the Snake River unveil a world hidden to the naked eye. He shares that world in his new exhibition “Ice Chronicles: Moments of Flux in the Snake River Cryosphere,” in the Theater Gallery at the Center for the Arts.

He’ll share his process during an artist talk from noon to 1 p.m. Thursday and the gallery hosts an official opening for the show from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Friday. It hangs through Jan. 8.

Craighead started photographing ice several years ago. He was working primarily on photo collages at the time, when one of the close-up images he took along the river didn’t fit as part of collages he was working on, but it captivated him.

The ice created interesting images, and the light played off it in a striking and unusual way.

“And the composition was something that only nature can make,” Craighead said. “There was so much variety. I realized I could go back to the same place day and again and not find the same thing, or discover a new ice formation. It was intriguing.”

On the coldest days, when the temperature dips below zero and the light is perfect, Craighead explores the river edges with his camera and a macro lens. He wears waders so he can he freely move along, searching the river banks to find the right angle and the perfect light.

Macro photography allows him to get close to a subject without having to crop, and therefore sacrifice quality, he said.

“I like the micro-macro relationship,” he said. “I like the elements in the ice that look like something you might see in space. By going down in scale, you kind of remove scale in some ways. I like the idea that the viewer might not know its ice, but are drawn in by the composition, form, shading and light.”

Craighead also is drawn to ice because it is always changing. The more he photographs, the more he recognizes similar forms and patterns, but he is always discovering new compositions. He also experiments with different macro techniques.

When he first started photographing the ice, he mostly held his camera, made an image and moved on. Now he combines multiple exposures for a greater depth of field, and uses lights and flashes. The new techniques challenge him as an artist but also keep his work evolving.

Craighead grew up in Kelly in a family full of biologists and conservationists. His family often went camping and Craighead developed a curiosity about the natural world at a young age. Being outside on frigid mornings to photograph ice is relaxing and meditative for him, he said.

He started taking photographs as a kid as well. He photographed wildlife, landscapes and his friends skiing. While in school at Colorado College, where he was working on his art degree, Craighead incorporated photos into his printmaking.

It wasn’t until a few years ago, though, that Craighead focused on photography as not just part of his work, but as standalone pieces.

While Craighead photographs small details, he likes to print his work in large scale. He loves looking at big pieces of art that people can enter and immerse themselves into, he said. He hopes the 18 large photographs that will hang in the gallery will transform the space.

The images are all black and white.

“It’s really sophisticated and beautiful,” said Carrie Richer, creative initiatives coordinator at the Center for the Arts.

It was a great to chance to showcase a local artist who is always reinventing himself, she said.

Craighead is rooted deeply in the area, and his work is based on quiet observation of nature, something people in the valley will respond to, she said.

The show is abstract and contemporary, Richer said, and celebrates the arrival of winter. PJH

Scotty Craighead, “Ice Chronicles: Moments of flux in the Snake River Cryosphere,” noon to 1 p.m. artist talk, Thursday, 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. opening reception Friday, show hangs through Jan. 8, Center Theater Gallery at the Center for the Arts.

About Kelsey Dayton

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