All of us who have read the Cincinnati Enquirer down the years know Michael Keating’s photographs. They are both smart and subjective, they are on the note, they tell us more than print sometimes can. But we don’t know them as they can be seen at the Kennedy Heights Arts Center in Cincinnati: Shadow and Light, the five-decade retrospective of the former photo- journalist’s work, on view through November 15.
Color subtleties are lost in newsprint; but Keating is a master colorist.
The surprise of the show is the marvelous color prints, beginning immediately in the first of the intimate rooms that make up the Center’s suite of galleries. Over its fireplace is a large print, perhaps three feet by four feet, easily mistaken at first glance for a painting. In the dark upper left quarter a small sailboat is picked out by yellow early morning light, reflected below as a golden streak against dark waters, while the right side is dominated by what seems to be the commanding shadow of the propelling end of a stern-wheeler, its spokes in circular rhythm around the hub. “River Sunrise, Covington Kentucky” sets the tone for a room of river-themed works.
The small gallery off this one lends itself to intimate presentations and is used here in a photographic tribute to the late Clyde N. Day, whose Clyde N. Day Foundation provides help to people in need. In addition to many moving photographs an assemblage of old snapshots, a diary and personal mementos has been thoughtfully gathered on an old-fashioned dresser to round out the sense of the man.
Color continues in the next gallery, dominated by a striking portrait of Carolyn Henry Glaspy, mother of troubled football star Chris Henry who died accidentally in 2009. Ms. Glaspy sits on the floor, beside an open door, her son’s football jersey framed in the room beyond. Sunlight coming through window blind slats adds a sense of order to the composition.
In the next room the dominate picture is of the cupola of the Capitol, seen from below, the statue beneath it a shadow somehow dwarfed.
Size adds to the presence of both these works, but the smaller prints including the black and whites more than hold their own. Two pictures, one b&w and the other color, catch the grief of a fireman and of a policeman at the death of a comrade. In another, policemen laughing together are emotional miles away from the sorrowful people they guard. Works like these are the human record produced by attentive photo-journalism.
The final room is dedicated to sports, particularly to the drama that underlies sports competitions and keeps our interest taut. Again, color is imaginatively used but black and whites are also strong.
The image that sums up Keating’s remarkable career hangs in the hallway, a large color print of his many press credentials in a mixed jumble of identification: Cincinnati Reds for decades, the White House Press Pool, the Bengals and more. Keating’s professional life gave him access to photographic opportunities he met with both heart and skill.
A handsome book, also titled Cincinnati: Shadow and Light, has been published in conjunction with the exhibition. It includes additional photographs and adds narrative to the pictures themselves, available in the Center’s shop ($40). Proceeds from the book go to the Clyde N. Day Foundation.
The Kennedy Heights Arts Center, 6546 Montgomery Road, is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday. Cincinnati: Shadow and Light is sponsored by the Gannet Foundation and FotoFocus and is part of FotoFocus Biennial 2014.