Members' Online Gallery's Portfolio Competition August 2010

Emerging Artist

Marti Belcher of Vienna, Virginia
Burma Monks
To view a gallery of the Exhibit.

Buddhism is practiced by 89% of the country's population. It is the most religious Buddhist country in the world in terms of proportion of monks in the population and proportion of income spent on religion. Adherents are most likely found among the dominant ethnic Burmans but also several other groups including the Chinese, who are well integrated into Burmese society, practice Buddhism. Monks, collectively known as the Sangha, are venerated members of Burmese society. The importance of Buddhism in the history and culture of Burma is evident from a landscape dominated by pagodas, which is why the country is often called "the land of pagodas". The Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon is steeped in myth and legend, and represents the faith of the people who have worshipped there for generations. Every village in Burma has a pagoda and a monastery, the traditional places for worship and education.

This portfolio is about monastic life in Burma. The story begins with a venerated aging monk in a monastery in Yangon but once he was a seven year-old boy. It is about ordinary life in the monastery. The most important duty of all Burmese parents to make sure their sons are admitted to the Buddhist Sangha by performing a shinbyu ceremony once they have reached the age of seven or older. All Buddhists are required to keep the basic Five Precepts and novices are expected to keep the Ten Precepts. Parents would expect them to stay at the monastery immersed in the teachings of the Buddha as members of the Sangha for a few weeks or longer. They will have another opportunity to join the Sangha at the age of 20, taking the ordination ceremony, to become a full fledged monk, keeping the 220 precepts of the full monastic rule, and perhaps remain a monk for life.

Mid-Career Artist

Louis Smith of Houston, Texas
To view a gallery of the Exhibit.

My creative process grows out of a long and comfortable relationship with ambiguity and is the reverse of my scientific experience, where resolution of ambiguity is the goal. I have always been intrigued by the magic of light in glass. Light can dance with glass in unexpected ways, to form dream-like images from which I can go in many directions. The effervescent images resonate but vanish
quickly in a labyrinth of possibilities, leaving me wondering about what I thought I saw. To expand and sustain these brief entries into my imagination, I transform the play of light with glass into an image in the darkroom. In this body of work, images come directly from glass objects imaged on a flat bed scanner, sometimes combined with background images that I create in Adobe Photoshop. Images are then printed as negatives, from which I make silver gelatin contact prints.
My photographic images, like dreams, have no fixed conceptual boundaries. The combination of light, glass, and design creates unanticipated images from which the viewer can extract meaning – without a prior description of what that meaning might be. Multiple layers of dreams, illusions, fantasies, aspirations, and perception mingle and fuse into deep connections beyond language. The simultaneous interpretations are numberless; all are true; none are mutually exclusive.
The joy of experimentation is the unexpected, in both science and art. The serendipitous discovery of something not previously known in art brings forth forgotten associations, dreams I had before I were born, and the unforeseen discoveries to coalesce within the timeless, dimensionless ambiguity of imagination. With an open, alert mind and without expectations, I can find pleasure in that for which I am not searching.