Just as Buck Owens asks if you've walked the streets of Bakersfield, photographer Berklee Comstock wonders if you've noticed what you encounter along the way.
For his show "Streets of Bakersfield," opening Thursday at the Access Center Gallery, Comstock presents two perceptions of Bakersfield: "small moments" that make the city beautiful and direct documentation of what is actually found in the streets of Bakersfield. Comstock said the idea for the project came about when he started working on the photos of found objects.
He wrote in an email, "... After collecting a few photos, I started to see a pattern in the photos. They were all from straight up, all on flat ground (parking lots, gutters, streets, etc.), as they were found and without my shadow or feet in the photos. But most of all they were hard to look at together. They told a story about these streets and this city. Things that weren't talked about, but were there."
Comstock said as he found more objects — a condom box, a doll part, used sexual toy, etc. — his view of Bakersfield darkened.
"I didn't like it here. Bakersfield has this perception of being a beautiful small town where there was nature everywhere and people were happy, but the longer I looked, the longer I found these objects. The dirty nasty things I associated with Bakersfield."
It was a fateful conversation with his mother that helped him perceive of their artistic value.
"I remember having a conversation with my mom that went, 'I don't like being here. There is nothing good for me here.' She said, 'It's not that there isn't anything good. It's just that you aren't looking for it.'
"And she was right. I had shut myself off to the beauty of this city. And that is where the other half of the photos come from."
Alongside the found object photos are those featuring a 1-foot-tall model who served as Comstock's muse in images capturing nature and city scenes. He said using a doll instead of an actual person allowed him to pare down what he was looking at, avoiding seeing the beer cans floating down the river or layers of paint on an overpass that covered decades of graffiti.
"In this way I took my mom's advice and put it to practice. I forced myself to see the good even when the bad felt so overwhelming. And that just wouldn't be possible with an actual person. Those 'small moments' would be lost because you couldn't focus down enough to see them."
Although he worried that the two seemingly disparate photo series might not work together, he decided they needed to be presented as one show.
"Regardless if I pushed it one way or another, the show needed the ugly and the beautiful. Without one, the other didn't have the same impact. The stark contrast between the two was what gave it meaning."
In addition to Comstock's show, work by painter Ryan Holdcraft will also be on display.
The reception runs from 5 to 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the gallery, 1330 Truxtun Ave, Suite B. Admission is free and refreshments will be served. For more information, call 324-9000 or visit www.kernarts.org.