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Through Engineer’s Eyes -- Spring Art Exhibition Features Alumni Photographers’ Look at America’s Beauty

February 25, 2013

By Dale Long, Director of Media Relations

Darrell Staggs never thought of himself as an artist, but always liked the idea of photography.

In the later stages of his career as an engineer with Eli Lilly and Company, and after raising his family, Staggs started taking photographs while traveling. He paid close attention to the textures and perspective in natural scenery, especially rock formations found in regions of America’s southwest.

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  Showcasing Textures: Alumni photographer Darrell Staggs captures the wind- and water-carved stone in the Weathering Pit Ridge, located near Lake Powell, Utah. Late time of day was critical for Staggs to get the correct lighting and contrasts to highlight the textures, along with highlighting the vivid colors.

Staggs, a 1978 chemical engineering alumnus, gets his artistic inspiration from Henry David Thoreau’s statement: “It’s not what you look at, but what you see.”

Nineteen of Staggs’ dazzling photographs are featured in Rose-Hulman’s spring exhibition on the second floor of Moench Hall through May 27. The exhibit also includes photographs by Wabash Valley artists, other photographers and Rose-Hulman alumni on the first floor of Moench Hall, and throughout nearby Myers Hall.

“I have learned that it takes more than just holding down the (camera) button, and I still have a lot to learn,” says Staggs about his photographic skills. “My photos used to look like they were taken by an engineer, which they were. They always had to be symmetrical and focused.”

Then, he learned more about composition, and a whole new artistic world opened through his camera lens.

Three of Staggs’ photographs showcase the beauty of Pool Canyon in Lake Powell, Utah. The canyon has a pool of water that is sheltered from any wind, making it a perfect mirror for the canyon walls lit by the late afternoon sun. The images can be viewed normally or upside down.

When viewed in normal orientation, the reflection is interesting, but lacks a visual challenge. So, Staggs has turned some of the images upside down, which becomes obvious when you notice the dirt and rocks and grass in the “sky.” This flipping technique creates a new visual illusion.

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Following The Shadow: This view by Darrell Staggs creates the illusion of a hiker walking along the edge of a cliff wall in Pool Canyon, near Lake Powell, Utah. However, a sharp eye quickly sorts out the picture, though, by looking at the water’s edge and stones. Flip the picture over and you get another perspective.

In fact, one part of Staggs’ exhibit features two photographs that depict the same image of a hiker who appears to be walking at the base of a canyon wall, with his “reflection” under him. Both images look “right,” and you have to look closely to find out the original from the flipped image.

“This is perhaps my favorite image and view of all taken on the trip. Even though I know the image well, and have looked at it hundreds of times, it remains an elusive illusion,” states Staggs, an associate engineering advisor at Eli Lilly’s Pharma Engineering Tech Center.

Staggs’ Pool Canyon photographs required careful use of a polarizing filter to help control reflections, while also helping to enhance other aspects of the scene. A polarizer filter is one “effect” that cannot be duplicated or added through photo-editing software; it must be in place when the photo is taken.

“I don't use Photoshop, only cropping and an occasional click of the ‘auto-contrast’ button in Picasa,” says Staggs about his photograph techniques. “There are some really cool possibilities using High Dynamic Range techniques that I would like to learn, but that is cheating.”

Also on the second floor of Moench Hall, alumnus Isaac Sachs has lent his images to a special “Living Branches” collection that showcase the natural and human communities along the Peruvian Amazon River Basin.  The collection was organized by graduate student Rose Ann Haft.

The camera seems to be never far from Sachs’ reach and he finds objects to photograph around every corner of his world. Photography has been a hobby for nearly a decade and he’s largely self-taught. The 2008 electrical engineering graduate is primarily interested in exploring, as a theme, landscapes and how they are altered or arranged by humans.

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  Interest in Photography: Isaac Sachs, a 2008 electrical engineering graduate, has photographs in the special “Living Branches” collection that showcase the natural and human communities along the Peruvian Amazon River Basin.

Sachs, a software engineer at eBay, prefers large-format film photography because of its contemplative nature, which allows him to carefully consider the elements that go into each picture.

Five other photographers are part of the “Living Branches” collection, whose sale proceeds will support sustainability projects in the Amazon new forest.

Also on display in the spring exhibition are photographs by Spencer Young, a retired geologic engineer who captured images of rock and mineral formations through varying seasons and light at Parke County’s Turkey Run State Park. These photos can be found throughout the first floor of Moench Hall.

Then, in Myers Hall, Alexandra McNichols Torroledo provides a revealing look at the plight of indigenous groups in her native Colombia through photographs on exhibit throughout the first floor of Myers Hall.

A reception to recognize some of the artists involved with the spring exhibition is being planned on March 28, from 4:30-7 p.m., on the second floor of Moench Hall.

All photographs are available for public viewing from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays. For more information, contact Coordinator of Art Programs and Art Curator Steve Letsinger at 812-877-8452 or