Two ways of looking at the Outer Banks

Jan. 31, 2013 @ 04:13 PM

“The Yin and Yang of the Outer Banks,” Through This Lens gallery, through Mar. 2. Through This Lens is at 303 E. Chapel Hill St., Durham. Gallery hours are 10:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and Saturdays until 4 p.m., and by appointment. For information, call 919-687-0250.

The Outer Banks of North Carolina are very special to those of us who love the coast, especially its most rugged parts. Those islands protect the mainland of North Carolina from the Atlantic Ocean, and despite long rides to get to them, the summer population swells to six and a half times the permanent locals. It is just not in the nature of things to keep our beautiful areas free from tourists; tourism is essential for the economy and so hotels, restaurants and attractions like miniature golf, go-carts and souvenir shops abound.
Husband and wife Arnold Zann and Margo Taussig Pinkerton are lifetime professional and fine-art photographers; they have traveled the world and now live in North Carolina. At every opportunity they go to the coast to photograph the changes that are always there. Pinkerton’s view is about nature’s beauty, bathed in light and subtle colors. Zann is interested in the bold, garish colors of things used to lure customers. He shoots in harsh or flat light to emphasize the bizarre, off-beat nature of those attractions. And everywhere, especially now, there are scenes of devastation caused by savage storms and, with the wreckage, the underbelly of commercialization is revealed. The cheap construction of the amusements, especially, lies quiet, ugly and useless. Destruction of the natural and the man-made is everywhere and with it comes strange juxtapositions that smack of the surreal.
As they prepared for this show, the first in the Triangle, the husband and wife scanned dozens of images of their work, looking for just the right ones to tell the story of two sides of this wonderful place, the “Yin” and “Yang” of the Outer Banks. Forlorn Jurassic figures reign over an abandoned kingdom while the beach, the water and the sky continue on. Take this pairing, for example: Pinkerton’s photograph shows a broken beach fence which seems to dance into collapse like a game of pick-up sticks, and Zann’s scene depicts a mattress with a pitchfork stuck to its middle which settled upside down on a ruined pavement where a building once stood.
Zann’s photographs lean toward the remnants of garish amusement parks and miniature golf courses with their grotesque sculpture of lime green dinosaurs, pink elephants, and bug-eyed monsters from out of space. In one, a green and white dinosaur looms over fake rocks; that photograph hangs next to one where the base of one pole of a pier is surrounded by moving water stretching into a foaming reddish brown.
Nature in all its beauty manages to hold its own next to what was once a garish sculpture under the lights of a popular entertainment place. The decayed carcasses of these fake animals are a lesson about bad management by city fathers in love with the quick dollar.
In another pair we see the poles of a pier sitting in misty, swirling water saturated in intense blue; its photographic partner is a storefront, painted with fish on the glass and a large white arrow on the ground pointing to the left. Beach stores are a synonym for cheap goods, ugly storefronts, and managers who seem to have no relationship with the natural world of beauty that surrounds them.
On the exhibition’s opening night Director Roylee Duvall invited visitors to choose their favorite image and the winning choices included most of the amusement monsters, but the beautiful seascapes also received their share of votes. The exhibition includes wonderful partners like the stone alligator matched to a night scene of a sea whipped into frightening swells by Hurricane Sandy; a cement tiger on top of a marker for a putt-putt hole paired with the glow of a quiet waterway and a setting moon; and a curved shell on a blurry beach next to an abandoned track carousel for miniature cars.
The artists have impressive resumes. Pinkerton’s photographs have appeared in numbers of magazines including National Geographic Traveler. Zann worked for Time and Life. Besides maintaining a full schedule as professional photographers, they give workshops all over the world including such places as Santa Fe, Cuba and the Galapagos and, of course, the Triangle. According to Duvall, their workshops are all about encouraging their students to improve their photographic skills.
The images in the show which are the freakiest and the most memorable are the two that pair dismembered manikin legs with a long shot of a ranger station. Pinkerton’s tranquil view of the station with golden light pinpointing each window seems impossible when its side-by-side neighbor is this close-up of manikin legs hanging to the side of a white clapboard house, just below a window. The legs were someone’s idea of a joke; in the hands of the photographer the joke is on us and the laughter is hollow.
The exhibition, curated by the artists, was arranged on the walls of Through This Lens by Duvall and his assistant Jill Javier. Duvall told me that placement of each object was Javier’s responsibility and he was very pleased with how it looked in the gallery’s very limited space.
Blue Greenberg’s column appears each week in Entertainment and More. She can be reached at or by writing her in c/o The Herald-Sun, P.O. Box 2092, Durham, NC 27702.