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November 17 • 04:31 PM
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Photographer Alex Harsley Revisits the Quiet Beauty of Rural Andes in a Special Retrospective "Return To Andes: Thirty Years Ago"


06/22/2012 - It is early morning. A lone figure can be spotted at the top of Palmer Hill, camera in hand, quietly intent on capturing the valley below enshrouded in early morning mist. He studies the play of light, the peaceful undulation of the hills, the farms that soon will be waking to the call of birds.

It is a scene that is both simple and moving in its beauty. And, it is one that photographer, Alex Harsley has made his own in a series of images, taken over 30 years, that invite contemplation and quiet reflection. His upcoming photography exhibit, Return to Andes: Thirty Years Ago, will open June 30, and run through Aug. 5 at the new boutique shop and gallery, 768 Main Street, in the village of Margaretville.

An opening reception will be held from 6-8 p.m. Saturday, June 30. Over 40 images in black-and-white and color invite the viewer to revisit the landscapes that are so much a part of the inherent beauty of this area –and to revisit before time marks them with its inevitable changes. Here, in the eyes of a sensitive and knowing photographer, is a way of life that in retrospect seems much simpler and quieter. It is the simplicity of the wash hanging on a line, a garden left untended, pears picked randomly and ripening on a wooden table, a stream cutting through the countryside.

Harsley, who is the owner of the Fourth Street Photo Gallery in Manhattan and the founder of the non-profit organization, Minority Photographers, Inc., first ventured forth into the Catskills in the early 60s and 70s. At that time, he explored the area around Hunter Mountain, taking groups of young photographers on field trips to visually document its natural beauty.

In the early 80s, his trips to Andes were a mission with a very different purpose – to help his friends "grow" a commercial photography business on Main Street. Up long before his friends, he would spend early morning hours and evenings on quiet back roads. The work that evolved from these personal excursions became a part of a larger collection that Harsley began exhibiting at his lower East-side gallery and at one-man shows in Soho. Inevitably, viewers gravitated to the vistas of the hills and valleys surrounding Andes, drawn to a way of life that is ever changing.

And so, it seemed only natural that an exhibit of these works should be mounted in the Andes area itself. 768 Main Street, with its charming mix of antiques and primitives, fine art and crafts, home-made baked goods and coffees, is a perfect setting. Harsley has gone with the feeling of the space in mounting the images on string with clothes pegs – much as freshly washed sheets dry on a clothes line in the sun. But, these are fine photography prints that reflect all of the nuances of technique that have made Harsley's work sought out by gallery owners and art collectors.

Along with the Andes collection, Harsley, who has spent years documenting urban street life in, will be exhibiting a selection of images from the same time period that provide a direct contrast to his rural landscapes. Pulsing with energy, these images document a city that is a vast contrast of entities. Here are searing street images, along with history-making events that shaped the 80s and beyond.

768 Main is open Thursday, Sunday and Monday 10-5 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 10-6 p.m. For more info, visit www.768main.com. More Harsley images can be viewed at www.fithartcollective.com.

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