Craftsman Turns to Photography for New Expression

by Scott Campbell
For most of his adult life, Richard Souders’ forte was centered in the crafts realm. After earning a degree in art education from Kutztown State College in 1968, the New Cumberland native returned to his home area and taught briefly in the Elizabethtown School District before moving on to Harrisburg.

“I was a pottery instructor at John Harris High School and later conducted a fibers class at the Riverside Arts Magnet Program,” he recalls.

He also taught fibers at the Governor’s School for the Arts. However, when Souders retired in 1999, he took his creative impulses in a new direction.

Visiting his studio at The Millworks, one quickly notices the dearth of crafts pieces within its walls.

Instead, the space, which he shares with wife, Marsha, accommodates numerous photographs. It is Souders’ new medium of choice. And he relishes it.

“I wanted to get involved with something that was a little cleaner than clay,” he quips. “So, I started working in photography.”

Souders displays three samples of his work, each one representing an approach to the medium that he employs.

The first is “straight” photography. “I look for people in their environment,” explains Souders, “frequently in an urban atmosphere. But it’s more than simply images of people. Equally important is the composition. I search for an interplay in values, contrasting dark areas with lighter ones, as well as giving heed to textures. All of it works together in the completed photograph.”

In the other two processes, the artist gives free rein to his compositional strengths. One involves selecting disparate photos, cropping desired segments and combining them into a collage that acquires abstract qualities. The pieces are affixed to a heavy matte board with polymer medium. Again, the motif is often the urban landscape, and the detail and complexity of these images seem to reflect the noise and congestion common to cities.

One sample was created with photos taken while The Millworks was under construction.

“It was ideal for my objectives,” says Souders. “Pipes, wiring, cables and ducts were exposed, along with structural components in the ceilings and walls.”

Like many contemporary photographers, Souders is not averse to using software programs, which represent the third leg of his endeavors.

“My main program is Corel,” he says. “I use PaintShop as an editing tool. Various plug-ins and filters allow me to play with images and develop the looks that I want.”

Souders produces his photographs on a Canon Pro 100 printer. Its 13-by-19-inch format affords him the requisite size range.

“I use various Canon papers, mainly the lustre finish,” he says. “Of course, when the images are under glass in a frame, the kind of surface finish really doesn’t matter.”

Although no longer actively producing pottery, Souders retains his appreciation for the medium.

“Marsha and I enjoy traveling, and when we do, we often plan our trips in order to collect ceramic pieces,” he says. “For that purpose, we’ve been to Santa Fe, the Hudson Valley, and New England. Occasionally, pottery is sold in roadside stands, like produce. If the proprietor is absent, a box is available for the patron to deposit a check.”

As a member of The Millworks Artists Group, Souders’ work is featured for a month each year. The most recent exhibition was July 2015. Harrisburg’s Yellow Brick Café also housed a display of his work in August.