Work by Kathryn Kolb
Work by Kathryn Kolb

By Patrick Dennis

I am an artist and I’ve been thinking…

There’s an undeniable and distinct shift in the way we all behave as a society. Maybe it’s because we’ve all been coerced into becoming do-it-yourselfers. At the grocery store we do our own check out. At the bank we process our own drive-thru transactions. Home Depot and Lowes are constantly pushing ‘how-to’ courses on us to become more self-reliant and handy. About the only thing we can’t do ourselves anymore is fix a car because they’ve become computers on wheels.

Not everyone is inclined or able to become an independent, self-taught specialist and that’s particularly noticeable in the arts. Even with the advent of smart phones and digital camera, there is a wide gulf between ‘selfies’ and artistic photos. Just ask a professional photographer, which is exactly what I did recently. Ellen Stein called. She’s the woman who worked her magic to bring “The Marilyn Project” to MODA. Her intuition includes reading my mind and somehow she knew I would come out to an event mid-week. I’m afraid to ever say no to her. I’m pretty sure she knows everyone in the arts community and has the most excruciatingly good taste of anyone I’ve ever known or she’s the most critical person in the world. It could go either way but she’s still irresistible.

At an event hosted by Thomas Deans Fine Art celebrating photography in Atlanta, I listened to Kathryn Kolb provide an expert’s approach to establishing a photographic composition and it was more than a little enlightening. It was intimidating in an exciting way. Seeing through the eye of an artist humbled me and gave me new appreciation for true artistic expertise. With a strong yet delicate use of perspective and balance both with subject and color, her photos allow the viewer to literally travel the scene as ones eye moves in a deliberate circular pattern intended by the artist.

In “Sapalo Sunrise no. 1,” the artist gives us the point of view from lying prone on the beach, using mid-range focus to draw the eye forward to discover a dreamlike horizon. Points of light entice the eye to travel forward, creating a restful yet hypnotic experience. “Color Sweetgum” masterfully illuminates the color of leaves that appear to have been arranged in a manner suggesting placement in thin air.

Kolb’s explanations were thorough and easy to follow although interspersed with technical jargon that flew over my head. I have huge admiration of her as an artist. Her professional training combined with personal vision and autodidactic exploration have served her well. It’s much easier for me to understand the role of the ‘selfie’ photo now. Those stay in my iPhone.

As a painter, my mind forms compositions that are slightly ambiguous but become realized with a brush. I enjoy the luxury of changing my mind to add color, change perspectives or starting over. I could never do that with a camera without years of training. Even then I’m sure that I could not achieve the same skill set employed by professional photographers such as Kolb who give us reason to celebrate photography.

Patrick Dennis is an artist, gallery owner and President of the Atlanta Foundation for Public Spaces. Contact him at

Collin Kelley

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.