Monterey County Herald
Posted on Fri, Jun. 17, 2005
Meredith Mullins brings Paris to the Peninsula with an evocative exhibition at the Pacific Grove Art Center
By LISA CRAWFORD WATSON
Light filtered through trees rising like pillars from the duff, dappling the dark trunks and creating a kaleidoscopic effect of color and shape among the leaves. The effect was graphically appealing, but it wasn't enough. And so, she waited. Unescorted, a toddler appeared on the scene, bundled in a hooded blue coat and tiny boots, and marching along with a bucket. She pressed the shutter.
Meredith Mullins lives life for the moment. In between each, she waits for the next, focusing her mind, her eye, her camera. It's not the waiting she minds; in fact, she has elevated patience to an art. It's missing the moment that she can't abide. And so, she doesn't. Not ever. Not in Paris. Not when the whole place is just one long series of moments.
"I am in love with Paris," Mullins said. "No matter how many times I visit, it still takes my breath away. Sometimes I see things that are graphically beautiful, but the image needs some activity, some humanity. A decisive moment, as Cartier-Bresson used to say. "Then, I wait. I don't mind; I have no sense of urgency. It's very freeing. Zen and the art of waiting. And, when the 'moment' actually does come, it's very satisfying."
Two weeks after her most recent return from Paris, Mullins created "Paris Sojourn," an expansive exhibit of her work, which opened at the Pacific Grove Art Center toward the end of May.
"Meredith's exhibit is the most fascinating exhibit I've seen at the P.G. Art Center," said the center's Office Manager Joan Jeffers McCleary. "The entire installation is so impressive. The show is in our Gill Gallery, and it captures the feel of Paris beautifully."
Presented as a multimedia installation of more than 60 images, the experience is heightened by stories Mullins authored and juxtaposed with her photographs, accompanied by audio vignettes of interviews and music to "surround the senses and encourage connection." "This exhibit," she said, "is a collection of moments from travels to Paris between 1990 and 2005. I call my visits 'sojourns' -- to stay -- because I feel so at home, if only for a brief time. My life there involves the complex daily agenda of losing all track of time and wandering the streets, with an occasional museum or bistro thrown in. It's about making connections with people, with places and with things."
The "Paris Sojourn" series includes both silver gelatin and archival giclée prints, many of which have been enhanced with a process of hand-applied color, this subtle application of oils or pastels intended to create a kind of impressionistic style and give viewers the chance to "feel the color more than see it."
"My favorite part; well, one of them," she said, "is the hand coloring. Impressionism is, to me, the most powerful painting style. So, when I give myself the opportunity to 'paint' a photograph and use the same elements of painting that the impressionists use, I feel very much at home. I also feel a real, creative force take over when I'm coloring. There is no real 'thinking' or 'planning.' I reach for the colors instinctively."
Art has always been an instinctual process for Mullins, whose first camera arrived on Christmas morning, when she was in the second grade. She liked the feel of it in her hands and the vantage it gave her on her environment. She quickly developed her own style, turning the camera on the diagonal and converting images to art on the black and white film of the day. "To this day," she said, "I shoot 35 millimeter film because it allows me to shoot by instinct. Quickly. As much as I want, going for that 'moment.'"
A native of Baltimore, Mullins entered the University of North Carolina to study journalism and did so for two years before she was, admittedly, seduced by the creative, less-structured aspects of film and television. "I did most of my work in film," she said. "I loved visual images, loved sound, loved telling stories. But I also took photography, which they taught in the physics department. The textbook had no photographs in it, only charts about the science of photography. So, I learned the basic science, but I quickly shifted focus to the artistic side. "Still, to this day, I don't focus on equipment or technical aspects. I am an image maker first and foremost. I am much more interested in the visual impact of a photograph."
Upon graduation from college, Mullins imagined she would go into film production, starting with documentaries. Yet, after taking a year off to travel the world, she decided to move to California and settle on the Monterey Peninsula, where she had visited relatives during childhood. "I came out to California with my college roommate, headed for Santa Barbara," she said, "but we stopped on the Peninsula to visit family. The next thing, we both had waitressing jobs, she at Em Le's and me at Scandia in Carmel. "I took photography classes at (Monterey Peninsula College) and later taught photography at MPC and Hartnell, where I made a point of showing my old textbook to my students and explaining that science is not what photography is all about. It is an art." Mullins put her journalism experience to use in becoming an editor for McGraw-Hill, a position that quickly morphed into marketing and communication and resulted in a 28-year career in publishing. She retired a little more than three months ago and departed, soon after, for Paris, where she will return in the fall.
"I fall into the rhythm of Paris," she said, "wandering the streets and taking pictures of things that move me, make me laugh or surprise me. What I love about being a photographer is that it heightens the senses. I am always looking, seeing more than most folks, who are hurrying by. It also builds a bridge for that connection with people. Many of the relationships I have built in Paris started with a photograph."