Reflective photography with Horatio Law

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Artist Horatio Hung-Yan Law Photo Gabriel Lucich

By Gabriel Lucich

Managing Editor

How much do we really pay attention to on our walks around campus or through the various towns in the Portland area? What do we miss because we’re looking at our phones or talking to a friend while on these jaunts about town? In the Alexander Gallery’s latest exhibition, “Every Tree-Top Deserves a Cloud,” photographer Horatio Law shows us many of the things we may have overlooked.

For the past four years he has been making photographic prints of the images that are captured on his daily walks through downtown Portland. Reflected images from shop windows are a recurring theme. 

“I can see the reflection behind me, and I can see through the glass to what’s inside the window,” he said. “Things on the surface of the glass. There’s all this space being compressed onto one surface. For me it’s a magical surface that transcends time and space. I imagine I can see back and forth in time and go from one space to another space.” 

He also attempts, and frequently succeeds, in finding beauty in the grittiness of the inner city, which he frequently describes as a war.

“This whole war is what I’m talking about,” he said. “Finding beauty in the ugliness of city life, I touch on a lot about homelessness, about disappearing, about finding a home or making a nest.” 

Law referred to the picture of an unaccompanied blue sleeping bag at the base of a  recently repainted downtown wall. “It’s like a child’s way to reason seeing difficult things. I guess I was a particularly funny child.”

It’s important to note that the majority of Law’s photography is based on something most of us carry around daily, and take for granted as an artistic device:, his iPhone. 

“I’m holding this up because it is what I use for all my pictures. It’s amazing what an iPhone or other cell phone can do these days.”

He also treats the subject matter with different filters depending on how it looks to him personally. 

“Everything is initially taken as a color image, and I select certain images that are more suitable as black and white as you know,” he said. “Sometimes the color image doesn’t work at all, but when you try it in black and white, it really works. The black and white accentuated the design, the texture and the shape itself, and in color, the color became a distraction.”

Sometimes this is the purpose of an artist’s work, to get us to notice the things we neglect, the overlooked dust-bunnies in the corners of our cities and towns. They help us remember some of the more important things that slip from view when we aren’t paying attention.

Originally from Hong Kong, Law immigrated to the States with his family in 1972. They landed in New York City, where his parents opened a branch of the piano sales and studio business that they had begun in Hong Kong. He and his family immediately felt at home in the hustle and bustle of the Big Apple.  

“I’m very comfortable in the city environment, you can tell by looking at the images,” said Law. “I went straight from one city into another giant city, so there was no culture shock going from Hong Kong to NYC.”. 

Initially studying biology at Johns Hopkins University with the dream of getting into medical school, his love of art finally got the best of him. He enrolled at New York’s School of  Visual Arts to continue his education.

“I was working in cancer research full-time, and started doing my time in art school, and it took a long time to finish, and then a long time to decide to get my Master of Fine Art,” Law said. “In the city, everyone around me was working on being a photographer or artist, and had a very good understanding of how the art world is in that environment.”.

After earning his BFA, Law spent about a year in Florence, Italy, working as a print-maker and studying at the International School of Graphic Art. 

“Being an artist in Europe is very different from being an artist in the States,” he said. “People will ask you, ‘What do you do for a living,’ and if you’re an artist people appreciate that, it’s just a regular thing to say. The people there just appreciate art and you don’t have to justify the fact that you’re an artist.”

After his time in Florence, he returned to NYC and worked for the family business. The final decision to pursue his MFA took about 10 years. 

A friend whomthat he’d met in Florence and eventually convinced him to apply for six different graduate school programs. Washington University in St. Louis gave him the opportunity he was looking for. Finishing his master’s program in 1993, he then moved to Oregon for a residency at the Oregon School of Arts and Crafts in Southwest Portland. 

“We (artist residents) had the free-run of campus,” he said. “We got to live there, run around campus, and use the facilities for a whole semester. So I moved out here, and wasn’t going back to St. Louis after that.”

Photography as an art form is recent in Law’s development as an artist, though it was an early interest during his childhood in Hong Kong, when he saved his money and purchased his first camera.

“Horatio Hung-Yan Law; Every Tree-top Deserves a Cloud,” runs through March 15 in the Alexander Gallery at the Neimeyer Center on the Oregon City Campus.

Gabriel Lucich