Artists would call it inspiration, others a spur-of-the-moment, but Al Kohut’s decision to stop outside an Sidney store front with a “big ‘for lease’ sign” last month has opened a new gallery this month.
“I peaked in the window and I thought that would make a perfect gallery for photographers,” he said. Weeks later, Kohut has opened the new photographers GALLERY in the 2400-block of Beacon Avenue in what used to be a men’s clothing store and an art gallery some 15 years ago.
Kohut’s peak inside immediately revealed the advantages of the space. “This particular space is narrow,” he said.
“It’s like a shoe box, and it has three bays. So it lends itself to three featured artists. And because it is not a huge wide space, everything is visible from a reasonable distance.”
At the same time, each of the bays offers a level of seclusion that allows visitors to experience the art, he added.
“Most galleries are really intimidating. You can’t relax. There is a little bit more focus here.”
What also drew Kohut to Sidney was the community’s status as an artistic hub. “There are just a lot of opportunities here for artists,” he said.
Kohut enters the gallery business without any prior experience in running a gallery, and by his own admission, with no grand design. “There is no plan,” he said, jokingly.
But he has 50 years of photography under his belt. “I wasn’t a professional photographer by no means, ” he said. “I was an amateur and then I started to sell my works and I became more professional. But that wasn’t my profession. I was a hydro-geologist and geologists take a lot of photos.”
Kohut also has a deep knowledge and awareness of photography as an art form, and one of the goals of his gallery is to raise the profile of photography as an art form.
“I think there needs to be more education,” he said. “Photography can change the world.”
The nearby world of Vancouver Island is the focus of the first three photographers — Karoline Cullen, Helen B. Watt and Peter L. Ramos — showing at the gallery from now until Jan. 12. Cullen is showing Orcas swimming close to shore off Galiano Island, Watt presents her photos of the Inside Passage, as well as both coasts of Vancouver Island, while Ramos’ work highlights the western coast.
The spring of 2020 promises to be a visual feast for music fans when the gallery will present selections from the work of US-born Gerry Dieter.
He died in Victoria in 2005 after an iconic career during which he shot the bed-in by then-Beatle John Lennon and his new wife Yoko Ono in Montreal in 1969. Dieter’s pictures, famously, did not get a public showing until shortly before his death.
The gallery will also show photos by Douglas Gilbert, who accompanied Bob Dylan during his heydays as a New York folk hero before his decision to plug-in. LOOK Magazine rejected Gilbert’s work because Dylan looked “too scruffy” for its readership.
“These are two examples where two photographers were un-appreciated at the time,” said Kohut, who sees himself as a facilitator between artists and audience, as someone who can inspire others to advance their own craft.
This point rings through in his comments when asked about the economics of starting and running a gallery for photographers in an age where anyone can take a picture practically anywhere.
“Good question,” he replied. “What are they? That is not the purpose at this point. Whatever happens is going to happen.”
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