Stuart Pearl, now 70 years old, took his first pictures with a box camera when he was about seven.
A new exhibition of the Cleveland native's work over the last five decades — "Stories in Light: Stuart Pearl, a Retrospective”
— opens at the AAWR this month on Jan. 21.
“We selected this title for his show because it encompassed what makes his photographs memorable, both the stories or narration he is capturing, and also the beautiful light,” said Mindy Tousley, AAWR Executive Director. “Light is the thing that is the essential ingredient in any photograph, and to capture beautiful light in a documentary photograph is a skill and an art, and this is very evident in Stuart’s work. I am particularly drawn to the light in his urban landscapes, which typify the way we think of Cleveland (Sunrise Norfolk, collection of AAWR). His portraiture includes both those journalistic works he did while working as a reporter for a student newspaper, and early and later street scenes of people, as well as portraits of his father at work. He has great skill in teasing us with an image that alludes to a story, but leaving us with a sense of mystery.”
Pearl is a second generation Cleveland artist — his father, Moses Pearl, was a noted painter and teacher.
“My early home in Mayfield Heights had every square inch of wall space covered with my father’s paintings, prints and sketches," Pearl said. "As a young boy I saw views of Cleveland under construction, buildings being demolished, or people going about their lives. Dad would go out and paint at least once a week and sometimes I would accompany him. As he stood sketching at his easel, I learned about the architecture in Little Italy, saw trains in the Collinwood rail yards and marveled at the huge factories in the Flats.”
Spending a year as a grad student in photojournalism at Kent State, Pearl learned to harness his skills, hunting down pivotal moments in the history of the city like the Innerbelt Bridge demolition or seizing candid portrayals of Cleveland’s urban landscape and its inhabitants. Through his lens, the artist anticipates and discerns metropole moments that tell stories and elicit emotional resonance within the viewer, whether capturing city dwellers in their morning transit or framing the striking architecture of the Terminal Viaduct’s arches at the perfect time of day. His abstract studies point out how capturing the drama of natural light and orchestrating powerful compositions can empower an image with ethereal narratives which inspire the viewer.
Pearl’s passion for telling visual stories of the region encompasses what AAWR calls, “…a compelling desire to capture the texture of life in Northeast Ohio.”
After working at Kent State's school paper, he took a job in Ohio Bell’s graphics department in 1974 and shot on the weekends photographing weddings, bar mitzvahs, and social events while continuing to experiment with fine art work.
“Having done work in photojournalism has helped a great deal over the decades. When shooting events, I tend to look for the who, what, when, where, why and how of the visual narrative that I want to create,” said Pearl. “Where is the center of action? What is the main point of interest? I also try to capture the essence of a composition in a unique and memorable way…publications run on deadline and working for campus newspapers taught me to work fast. This has helped me to quickly identify and capture special fleeting moments.”
Cleveland has been a central theme in his work and for his family life. Pearl and his wife believe in volunteerism and he has done work with the Cleveland Metroparks, WVIZ Ideastream, The Artists Archives, and Holden Forests & Gardens over the years.
Nature is especially important to him: “We have a wonderful park system, incredible museums and a skyline that’s always in transition. I feel a compulsion to document this evolution.”
At 70, he remains active in his work.
“There will always be a new construction project to document in Cleveland, a nature book to help the Metroparks produce, or a PR event to cover for Ideastream or AAWR,” said Pearl. “I’m a volunteer for these organizations and it gives me a great deal of pleasure to contribute my work. My ultimate goal is to document the region in a unique way, using abstract interpretation of pattern, light and form to create memorable images. Hopefully some of my photographs will become part of Cleveland’s historical record.”
“Stories in Light: Stuart Pearl, a Retrospective” will be on view through March 12.