Colors of Life: Bethel Park Photographer Showcases Art at Gallery 1 | New

The framed and metallic prints gathering dust on the floor of Gregory Schmidt’s Bethel Park home have finally found a stage.

“This is going to be my first…public exhibition,” the tall, lanky photographer said over a cup of coffee outside a local store on a recent weekday morning. “I’ve been building a collection of prints for years. I was just looking for a place, an opportunity.”

Schmidt found an opportunity, at St. Clair’s Hospital Gallery 1, where his collection, Colors of Life, will be on display July 1 through August 31. The solo exhibition transports the public to other dreamy worlds, brings them closer to local nature and, above all, shares Schmidt’s view of this beautiful sphere with strangers.

“When I start inspiring people to consider (photography) as an art, I find that very fulfilling,” he said.

Schmidt fell in love with the art form of photography when he picked up his first camera decades ago. He enrolled at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, where he learned photography theory and developed black-and-white films in a darkroom. A semester into the program, his then-wife became pregnant and Schmidt left school to work and raise a family.

“It was all very expensive, so I put my camera away. I hung it up for 30 years,” he said.

Schmidt has moved to the East Coast and is back home. The years passed; decades separate him from his camera. And then the whispers of a new technology – digital photography – reached his ears.

“I kept reading about this digital, DSLR quality. I finally decided, hey, go for it. So I bought a beginner’s camera with a kit lens,” Schmidt said. “I started taking pictures.”

Schmidt strolled, camera in tow, around the neighborhood with his Great Dane, Jade, snapping pictures of flowers.

“Everything would be on automatic settings. I didn’t even know how to use the damn thing,” he laughed. “I once took pictures of bees on some kind of flower and posted it on Facebook. Someone said it looked like National Geographic.”

Schmidt was humbled and encouraged. He began uploading his work to National Geographic’s Your Shot, a now defunct website where amateur and professional photographers shared their images and commented on each other’s photographs.

“I had two, actually, that got, I’ll call it an editor’s note,” he said. “But National Geographic changed their format. It’s all on Instagram, you know, it’s all on Instagram. I don’t like Instagram very much.”

What he does well is capture beauty. Schmidt’s work includes panoramic landscapes of Iceland (photos from his Kiss the Sky series, featuring the moody Westfjords under puffy clouds, will be on display at Gallery 1); superb portraits of plants and animals; and dizzying summaries of nature, shot in Arizona.

“Lower Antelope Canyon is basically an underground tunnel dug into the water,” Schmidt said, hands sketching the scene in the air. “It’s all in the red rock. You get all these kinds of mixed sediments, colors in the rocks, that create this really amazing abstract imagery.”

Also incredible are Schmidt’s still lifes, inspired by Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon album cover.

“The front is a color-breaking prism of light. I thought, ‘Oh, I wonder what would happen if I put a laser through a prism.’ I just started having fun doing long exposures with the pyramid,” Schmidt said. “I was excited by how they turned out.”

The resulting images are a feast for the eyes. Schmidt paints wine glasses and roses with lasers to create brilliant images more like digital renderings than photographs. Schmidt balances vibrant imagery with bursts of pop art absurdity: his series, I Love Eggs, is surprising and fun.

With his landscapes and nature photographs, laser paintings and surrealist works showcase Schmidt’s range, both artistically and emotionally.

“I do photography initially for my enjoyment,” Schmidt said, “but I really want to share those insights with people.”

People can enjoy Schmidt’s visions – still life portraits and laser paintings, large renditions of Icelandic landscapes, ladybugs relaxing on blades of grass and Arizona’s red and red rocks – during the regular hours of operation at Gallery 1, inside the St. Clair Hospital Professional Building.

“It’s a great place,” said Melissa Marion, director of development and government relations for St. Clair Hospital. “Gallery 1…is easy to get to. We’ve had watercolours, we’ve had canvases, lots of photographs. I think people really appreciate it.”

Marion noted that visitors can park for free — for up to an hour — in the St. Clair Hospital visitor garage, and there is no charge to enter the gallery.

“Art is therapy, whether it’s therapy for the artist or for those looking at the objects in Gallery 1,” Marion said. “It provides an outlet or can make someone smile.”

“It’s also a great way to raise extra funds,” Marion said.

Money for the foundation (Schmidt, a cancer survivor, requested that funds raised from his art sales be donated to the oncology unit) and the artists who dedicate their hearts and souls to the works exhibited in Gallery 1. Schmidt is eager to hang his framed and metal prints on the gallery walls and share his inspiration and visions with the greater Pittsburgh area.

“Music is a big part of what inspires me. More than music, more than movies…life. You try to capture something special in everything you see,” Schmidt reflected. “I’ve always wanted to show (my photos). I’m super excited.”