catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 2, Num 3 :: 2003.01.31 — 2003.02.13


Church gallery challenges members

How can a camera depict the essence of an entire culture? What collection of images can represent the infinite uniqueness of a people and their society? This past Saturday evening, at the opening reception for his Images of Thailand collection, photographer Charles R. Snyder sought to do exactly that.

JourneyWorks Gallery is located in Three Rivers, Michigan within the walls of St. John's Church. Begun as a way to intersect sacred and secular culture, the gallery attempts to challenge the definitions of both. The artist's reception is underway on the evening of St. John's live music coffeehouse, Spirit Rhythms. The night's menu offers a jazz quartet, complete with cup of coffee and choice of tempting delectables from the local coffee house, coupled with a brief getaway to Bangkok. A far cry from the heat of Thailand, the fervent drawl of the saxophone leads viewers out of their seats and into the pages of Snyder's photographic essay depicting the simple complexities of Thai life.

Mug in hand, it is my pleasure to observe the observations, eavesdrop on the comments and critique, peer over the shoulders of onlookers. A 70's-ish military vet reminisces to a comrade about his experience, "When I was in the service…," gruffly beginning the trek back in time on a three-wheeled Tok Tok through the canvas of busy streets, hotels and meat markets. For a moment I ride along with him to that bar he and his buddies went to one night. "Every woman is a looker…just like these two," he says to his companion, motioning to the framed shot of two Thai women in full-color dress entering a city tavern on New Year's Eve. "Just beautiful," he muses, forgetful of his company.

Childish giggles steal my thoughts from the New Year's countdown and I notice a brother and sister, several feet down the hallway, obviously entertained by the photo in front of them. I know instantly which shot has captured their attention. Just above the eye level of their youth, a Thai woman paints a collage of deliberate iridescent strokes onto the arms, shoulders and breasts of an exotic dancer in the heart of the city. The children's giddy and embarrassed whispers reveal their opinion that this picture should not be allowed. They hurry off laughing in search of a parent who can be made privy to their decision.

"I just look at her eyes," a voice from behind me states quietly. A young blond woman meets my gaze, her shoulder almost touching mine, as if to ask if I had also seen something more than just glow-in-the-dark paint. On cue, I refocus on the dancer's eyes, trying to see what mysteries could be revealed on command. When I glance back, the young woman behind me is gone, replaced with a hallway full of conversation.

Dimming each bank of track lighting, the music and voices gone home, I take some time in silence to examine the recently scrutinized collection, hanging in solidarity from the wall. As I walk past each image, I stop at one. Unlike the other photos, snapshots of culture in bright reds, blues and yellows, the picture in front of me consists only of grays. Gray under the filtered afternoon sun, a bench awaits someone to sit and rest. It is a scene that could have existed in any place, any town, any mystical foreign land or even behind the abandoned grain elevator in downtown Three Rivers. It waits for someone to define its location. Waits for a face to tell its story—each value of gray asking me to envision its tale.

A photographic essay, indeed—a framework woven into the imagination and perspective of each viewer as gaps are filled in, opinions are cast, memories relived and sharpened. But on this evening of sacred and secular, I revel in shades of gray; my mind traveling to a warm shaded bench tucked in a corner of Thailand, waiting for me to rest.

And with that thought, coat buttoned to my chin, the door of the church locks behind me. I carry Bangkok in my pocket, heading out into the Michigan snow.

Charles R. Snyder is a freelance photographer based in Northern Indiana. His collection Images of Thailand will be on display at the JourneyWorks Gallery in St. John's through February, including the February 22 Spirit Rhythms coffeehouse. St. John's is located in Three Rivers, Michigan. Please call 269.278.7245 for location, gallery hours and upcoming event information


Brianne Donaldson is the curator of JourneyWorks Art Gallery. Comments and questions welcome as well as artist inquiries (269.278.5047 or

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