“The Old Forest” at Jay Etkin Gallery 

Photographer Peter Ceren has been walking the trails of Overton Park's old growth forest since the 1970s. Over the past year, he's walked it with an old, flawed, soft-focus lens, making the most of its shortcomings and pushing nature photography into deep abstraction.

"There's this one particular leaf I've photographed because it worked well compositionally with some trees behind it," says Ceren, who worked for years as a commercial photographer, snapping everything from brain surgery to cosmetics, before the emergence of digital photography made him feel like a stranger in a strange land. "I kept going back because I saw that leaf changing as insects started eating it, and it got torn by the wind, became increasingly ragged, and changed colors. It looks beat, but it's still hanging on, and there's still a little bit of green left, and it's still working for the tree. Getting older, I really identify with stuff like that."

click to enlarge A Peter Ceren photograph
  • A Peter Ceren photograph

In recent years, Ceren has written novels and dabbled in video, but he hasn't exhibited in more than a decade, and he didn't have a gallery show in mind when he started shooting "The Old Forest" series. He thought he was just spending some time with a lens given to him by his friend and fellow artist Perry Walker, who died unexpectedly six months ago. "I wanted to see what it could do," says Ceren, admitting that his expectations for a lens he describes as "old," "simple," and "not very well made" were initially low. Surprised by the results, Ceren started sharing the images on Facebook, where they found an appreciative audience, including gallery owner Jay Etkin.

"I started this for nobody but me," Ceren says. "It was just for the moment, and for therapy, and a kind of spiritual exercise. I'm finding myself feeling like I did in 1967, when I first picked up a camera."

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