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/ Exhibitions / Revelation: Michael O’Neill

Revelation: Michael O’Neill

December 1, 2023 – May 4, 2024(This exhibition has passed.)

Mayer Gallery

More commonly associated with the literary arts, particularly notable writers like Isabel Allende, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Toni Morrison, and Salman Rushdie, Magical Realism reveals the hidden undercurrents of magic and fantasy in the worlds we create and occupy. Distinct from, but related to Surrealism, Magical Realism was first applied to the visual arts in the 1920s – usually to painters like Maxfield Parrish, Giorgio de Chirico, and René Magritte who created haunting, mysterious, dream-like canvases, and commercial prints. Photographer Michael O’Neill’s infrared landscapes are part of a strong tradition of magical realism in the visual arts. Using the tools and technology of photography, the artist captures the enigmatic and often unnoticed wonders of the “real” world with his various lenses. He explores the meaning and impact of color using a converted camera that is sensitive to ultraviolet, visible, and infrared light. 

The photographic tradition of magical realism includes such notable photographer as Susan Kae Grant, Carolyn DeMeritt, Elijah Gowin, Jennifer Schlesinger, Keith Carter, Debbie Fleming Caffery, Antone Dolezal, and Heather Evans Smith, to name just a few currently working in this rich tradition. In a world of increasingly fragile landscapes, threatened by climate change and overpopulation, it’s important to look closely at what might not be immediately apparent, to spend time in nature noticing the intricacies of hidden worlds that may soon disappear entirely. Interestingly, O’Neill’s background in creating theatrical backdrops reinforces our understanding of nature as a cultural constructed system. Image makers are now using increasingly sophisticated human and artificial intelligence technology in their representations of the more-than-human world.

Human understanding of nature or the natural world, often, incorrectly thought of as sperate from although tangential to the human species, is informed by the way one perceives and interacts with their environment. His use of other-worldly colors and subversion of typical museum-style framing of his photographs, O’Neill reminds the viewer that they aren’t looking through a window or portal into a “real” landscape; rather, they are looking at one artist’s creative interpretation of what was before his camera and then manipulated by technology to produce a final image. O’Neill uses photography to call attention to the beauty and the threats to our fragile environment – threats that may begin at the microscopic level but have lasting impacts on what the world will look like in the future. 

Revelation supports the mission of the Turchin Center to showcase creative responses to local, regional, and global climate change. All of O’Neill’s ethereal landscapes were made in the South. The land bears the ongoing scarification of a deeply troubled history at the same time the photographs reveal the beauty of what yet may be lost if we do not find a more equitable way to care for the lands of which we are the current stewards.

Revelation is sponsored, in part, through the generosity of Martix Frame USA of Charlotte, North Carolina.

Revelation: Michael O’Neill

Michael O’Neill, Untitled, 2023

Artist statement

“My perspective on photography, its roles, and responsibilities, has changed quite a bit since I began working with the lens. I started my journey as a commercial photographer, using the camera to try to represent the reality of objects and people for marketing purposes. What interests me now is my ability to make things happen through the introduction of a camera, as well as the ability to reveal what would normally be left unseen. These images are my biggest departure from traditional representation, using technology to capture energy that is outside our perception, revealing the magic that is all around us.”

Michael O’Neill

About the artist

Michael O’Neill

Michael O’Neill is the new Director of Development and an instructor of photography at the Light Factory Photo Arts Center in Charlotte, North Carolina. He has an MFA in photography from New Mexico State University in Las Cruces and a BA in Psychology from Wake Forest University in Winston Salem, NC. He teaches photography and visual literacy at Queens University in Charlotte where he designed the new darkrooms at the Sarah Belk Gambrell Center for the Arts and Civic Engagement; he has over 15 years of experience teaching photography.  O’Neill is a board member of the OBRA Collective; he has exhibited his artwork across the country and has work in the permanent collections at the Betchler Museum of Modern Art, the Palace of the Governors in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and Queens University in Charlotte.  His photographs have been published in the Pinhole Journal, Len’s Journal, and the Poetics of Light by Eric Renner and Nancy Spencer.

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