Yellowstone’s textured geothermal deposits, flowing streams, green and beige grasses and vividly colored swaths of ground surrounding Wyoming’s Geyser and Black Sand Basins in nearby Yellowstone National Park dominated artist Bob Tetro’s first solo exhibition across the country in Alexandria, Va.
The 10 photographs by Tetro, a 69-year-old Washington, D.C., native – whose career took him all over the world in the U.S. Foreign Agricultural Service - drew more than 2,500 viewers in the first week of the show in Alexandria’s Torpedo Factory Art League Gallery. “Yellowstone Abstracted” featured 10 large-scale (29-by-45 inch) photographs of the rough, mottled, stream-dappled ground surrounding YNP’s renowned thermal highlights.
According to Art League Gallery Director Rose O’Donnell, who lived in Kalispell for several years, previously volunteered at the Washington, D.C., Smithsonian Institution’s Traveling Exhibits, and directed the Sierra College Gallery in Sacramento, Calif., one of the 2,500 visitors who saw Tetro’s art wrote in her gallery’s guestbook: “We are going to YNP in two weeks. Now we will look at it with a different point of view.”
Helen M. wrote, “Have to say I never looked at Yellowstone with this eye after many visits there. Makes me want to return soon.”
O’Donnell said the Art League Gallery attracts about 5,000 visitors per month and the entire Torpedo Factory (a former World War II factory converted into art spaces) gets about 20,000 visitors per month.
The guests’ comments and the downward-oriented photos might spur a viewer to ask, “Why did Tetro point the camera down instead of up?”
“The pictures in my head were stereotypical vistas,” he said regarding his 2011 visit to Yellowstone National Park. Abandoning any inkling of copying the innumerable views done by most photographers, Tetro focused his camera on how the geysers and hot springs changed the earth underneath his feet.
“I was walking around shooting into the dirt … . I had no idea I would be so drawn to this when I finished my trip,” Mr. Tetro said, forming his hands around an imaginary camera and directing his gaze at the floor of the gallery.
“I overnighted at a Wyoming hotel and realized the Art League Gallery was issuing a call for entries for solo shows [more than] one year in advance, so I literally sent the [images] from the hotel before I even left,” he said.
Tetro said he had first been awed by the Tetons during the early ’70s just after he had turned down a position with the Foreign Agricultural Service (but was offered a similar position later) and decided to hitchhike across the U.S. He said he thumbed his way to Southern California via Wyoming. He said he also saw beautiful parts of New Mexico as he traversed the land.
Why would anyone decide to hitchhike all that way instead of accepting a prestigious position that promised international travel, job security and intrigue, professional advancement and fabulous benefits?
“I felt that before I could represent the U.S. effectively, I had to see it. I had grown up in Italy, Argentina and Washington, D.C.,” he said.
“My father was in the FAS,” he added, adding that his father eventually became the head of the service from 1961-62.
His father’s two tours to Rome gave his son the opportunity to both learn Italian and work on a dairy farm south of the Eternal City. A polyglot, Bob said he speaks Spanish and Swedish in addition to Italian.
Belying his illustrious career in the FAS and his mastery of three foreign languages, Mr. Tetro, with smooth gray hair, glasses, gray mustache and beard, wore sneakers, shorts, wool socks, a blue T-shirt, and a vest covered with mesh pockets.
“The FAS is like a three-legged bar stool,” he said. “The first leg involves the diplomats who deal with grain, the second is agricultural. For instance, if a farmer grows rice in the U.S., he wants to know what is happening with rice crops around the world. And the third leg is encouraging U.S. exports of Twinkies, wheat, rice, wine [and other food items],” he said. He added that the FAS is involved in executing Farm Bill programs.
Other people in Tetro’s family also play roles in the art community. A brother, Jim Tetro, has for 30 years has supported himself as an architectural photographer in the Washington, D.C., area. Two architectural photography books by publisher James M. Goode featuring his photos include the 500-page “Capital Losses: A Cultural History of Washington’s Destroyed Buildings” and the similarly thick “Best Addresses: A Century of Distinguished Washington Apartment Houses.”
Bob Tetro has published “New Mexico and Arizona Cathedrals” via www.Blurb.com, a self-publishing website.
Bob Tetro said he took classes in photography after work at the Corcoran in 1973-74, but that his flair for texture, color schemes and composition “is all instinct. There is no formula.”
Adding that this show is his first foray into omnipresent texture in his art, he said, “This is my first experiment in texture.” The show started on June 6 and runs until July 1. Originally, an opening reception was scheduled for June 13, but bad weather forced its cancelation.
Included on the guest list for the reception, now rescheduled for June 30, are Wyoming Sens. Mike Enzi and John Barasso.
To see other examples of Bob Tetro’s work, check out www.theartleague.org, www.photojourneysabroad.com and www.Blurb.com.