August 23, 2017

Photography Exhibit Highlights Work of Revered Teacher Mary Ruth Moore


Photo Credit: Barbette Houser

UGA students Kiara Halls and Shayna Slaughter view Moore's "Birth of the Virgin." To the right is "Mr. Henry's Hands."

The bottles sit on a table in a quiet corner, cloudy with age and dusty from disuse. Light streams through a nearby window. Briefly, the bottles are illuminated. The sun moves and the moment vanishes, but it is not lost. Mary Ruth Moore has born witness with her large view camera. In "Cornered," the light will continue to caress the bottles, define their forms and brush their mottled glass surfaces. 

A viewer, like me, will stop in front of that photograph, arrested by the image’s simplicity and quietness. It will feel like a window to other things or worlds.

“Works by Mary Ruth Moore,” currently on view at the Lamar Dodd School of Art, is full of such images and moments. Moore has taught at UGA for over 40 years.

Moore’s photographs aren’t dated, and that seems appropriate. These images transcend time.

Ernesto Gomez, one of three curators of the exhibit, is a former student of Moore’s and now a friend. “Her ability to see the world in a slowed down, beautiful manner really spoke to me as an artist, and our mutual love of history, in particular the American Civil War, really sealed our bond of friendship,” Gomez stated.

Several works in the show bring photographs of that era to mind, in part because of the processes Moore prefers. Emily Gomez, another former student and curator, says, “Her prints are not only captivating in content, but also in technique.”

There are no digital images here. Instead, the artist uses pinhole cameras and paper negatives created with an antique studio camera, relying on prolonged exposures.

Bess Durham is an art teacher at Athens Academy and also one of Moore’s three children. “Growing up, we were trained to pay attention to the light. And every time she photographed us she would say, ‘Okay, this is a five-minute exposure, so don't blink or move, and try not to breathe.’ And my sister, Laura Lee, would mutter, ‘Mother, why can't you use a normal camera like everyone else?’”


Photo Credit: Barbette Houser

Mary Ruth Moore visits with students and colleagues at the reception.

Double exposures underscore the vintage processes and their ethereality. "Spitfire" was created by layering a pinhole image of an old balsa plane with one of a march scene from St. Mary’s, Georgia. The resulting image looks like a toy plane suspended in space and time, like a child’s memory of imaginary warfare.

The exhibit will remain on view through Thursday, Aug. 31. At an opening reception on Saturday, former students and colleagues flocked around Moore to offer their congratulations. Dr. Robert Nix, another beloved photography teacher, was among them. Nix got Moore started with a camera back in 1970. 

Michael Marshall, Associate Director of Curriculum and Professor of Photography at LDSOA, spoke about Moore’s teaching style that night, saying that “The attention she brings to the atmosphere and quality of light she also brings to her students.” 

Ben Reynolds, Senior Lecturer in Photography at Dodd and the show's third curator, has a similar view. “She’s one of those people who really listens and is able to offer her undivided attention, and as a result, gives wise and insightful feedback. This advice transcends photography. Photography just happens to be the vehicle of delivery.”


Photo Credit: Barbette Houser

Mo Costello, Photography Fellow at UGA, with Athens Academy art teacher Bess Durham.

The Mary Ruth Moore Reciprocity Fund was created to honor and continue Moore’s legacy as a teacher.

The fund was initiated by Brook Reynolds and other students to express their gratitude to Moore and will offer financial assistance to an undergraduate or graduate photography student at LDSOA, creating the opportunity for them to explore work outside of the classroom. 

In "Mr. Henry’s Hands," hands that have experienced a lifetime of hard work gently cradle five smooth, delicate eggs. The contrasting textures are visual poetry and it is a loving metaphor for a lifetime of teaching, of nurturing the new and the possibility within.

“Works by Mary Ruth Moore” was created to bring attention to the fund. Ben Reynolds says, “We could have put Mary Ruth’s work up with duct tape and her genius would still come through. Instead, Ernesto and Emily Gomez created a display as beautiful as the work itself.”

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Photo Credit: Barbette Houser

Annalies Mondi and Stacy Koffman in front of Moore's "Cornered."