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The magic is in the details

"The title of Tod Kowalski's photography exhibit at Bainbridge Arts and Crafts, Out of Context, might apply to the artist as well.Kowalski could be familiar from several contexts having nothing to do with art. Thousands of children have learned to swim in Kowalski's park and recreation classes; he was, for a decade, the personable man behind the fish counter at Town and Country Thriftway grocery store.The Bainbridge Arts and Crafts exhibit reveals Kowalski's private side.I never exhibited until my wife, Leona, gave me a good push, Kowaski said. Now I'd like to show more.In 16x20-inch color photographs, Kowalski focuses in tightly on architectural and automobile details. Kowlaski gives just enough information so that one can infer the context. The jet plane hood ornament Kowalski captures is clearly on a vintage car. The battered balestrade and broken walls are features of no contemporary building.There is a sort of nostalgia that inhabits these photographs, confirmed by Kowalski: Old cars, like an old building, show a fine level of detail and craftsmanship that don't exist in today's modern cars. Chrome has been replaced by plastic; hood ornaments are all but gone.Kowaski's work, however, is as much about form as it is about subject matter. He frames reflections off chrome, the shadow that defines the sand dune. There are a few prints that step over the line into abstraction. One may not have to know that the dash of red across a dark background is the reflection of a stoplight in a mud puddle to find it formally compelling. It may be mildy ironic that the most conventional photograph Kowalki exhibits, his desert landscape print, was a finalist for a prize. Kowalski came to BAC director Janice Shaw's attention when she saw the desert image in Photographers Forum: Best of Photography Annual 1997.He took the photographs in the BAC show with a Canon Elan II camera, but his first camera was a Brownie his mother bought him when he was age 9.Kowalski grew up in the context of a house full of art. His mother, Bainbridge painter and collagist Barbara Kowlaski, taught art at the University of Denver.We were always making things - painting, drawing, Kowlaski said. When I saw store-bought things, like Halloween masks, I'd always think, 'Why don't people make those things for themselves?' Kowalski's brother also became a photographer. The siblings received the gift of seeing the world through the lens of art-making and Kowalski passes that gift to the next generation.I took my niece on a photographic expedition to Seattle, Kowlaski said. I gave her a lot of film and said, 'Shoot as much as you want and I'll develop it for you.' I found that she was shooting the same kinds of things I do. Kowalski woud like to live full-time in the context of art.I'd like to exhibit more, he said. My dream would be to photograph full-time.Well, I guess that's every artist's dream.* * * * *Bainbridge Arts and Crafts opens Balancing Act with ceramics by Kim Murton ceramics and paintings by Alison O'Donoghue: Out of Context with sculpture by Jeffry Brown and photographs by Tod Kowalski, 2 p.m. March 3 through April 1. Call 842-3132. "

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