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Works by Norwegian photographer on display at Hagerstown museum

May 17, 2007|by ARNOLD S. PLATOU

An international friendship kindled 75 years ago is being warmly renewed now through July as the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts showcases the works of an acclaimed Norwegian photographer.

The exhibit, sponsored by the Royal Norwegian Embassy, features 40 of Asle Svarverud's large-format photos of Nordic mountains, fjords, forests and lakes.

As much as it celebrates the landscape, the exhibit celebrates the bond between Norway and the museum, opened in late 1931 through the backing of American artist William Singer Jr. and his wife, Anna, who lived in Norway for many years.

The exhibit "is a great honor," Rune Resaland, deputy Norwegian ambassador to the U.S., told a crowd gathered at the museum April 27 for the exhibition's opening.

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The Singers "left significant footprints in Norway" as artists and as benefactors, Resaland said. "For example, a few years before the German occupation of Norway, Mr. Singer provided a significant donation which allowed Norway to build its first hospital in that area" along the country's western coast.

The embassy chose the works of photographer Svarverud to help the museum celebrate its 75th year, said Trude Paulsson, cultural affairs officer.

Svarverud "is working in the tradition of the great American photographer Ansel Adams," Paulsson said. "I almost look at his work as paintings."

Svarverud, 56, who attended the exhibition opening, said he is intrigued by landscapes, especially of Norway's Lofoten Islands to which he is drawn again and again at different times of the year.

To capture his images, he uses a tripod and an old-fashioned camera, with a 8-inch-by-10-inch negative, with bellows and the hood he ducks under to focus. The large negative gives his photos immense detail, which Svarverud said fascinates him.

"I like details. I like texture ... of snow and water." And, he said, he particularly likes shooting in black-and-white. "Maybe it's the graphics part of it. It's very interesting. Precision and exposure, and you have the creative side when you make the prints."

Svarverud, who develops his photos himself, said he shoots what he sees, "but I try to put my own interpretation on it."

He compared his approach to photography to that of a concert maestro.

"To conduct a piece of music, you have to have the lightest part to the darkest part," he said. "So you have a score to work with in the darkroom. The negative is like all the notes, so you can play on these from shadow to highlight, and you have details in it.

"So you have to load up your film with precision and work with passion."

The exhibition, which features some Svarverud works normally on display at the Norwegian embassy in Washington as well as others flown here from Norway, will be on display through July 29.

Museum Curator Ann Wagner said the museum's time-honored relationship with Norway is inspiring.

"It's really a beautiful connection," she said. "I think it's really wonderful."

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