USC Upstate Chancellor's Photos Featured in Exhibit

April 6, 2012 at 1:41 pm

By Dan Armonaitis

Published: Thursday, April 5, 2012 at 3:15 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, April 6, 2012 at 12:27 a.m.

Last week, Jinwen Zeng was walking through the Humanities and Performing Arts Center at the University of South Carolina Upstate when she noticed a few photographic images of places that seemed familiar to her.

Zeng stopped to examine the photos and discovered not only were they taken in her native China but that they were shot by the university’s chancellor, Dr. Tom Moore.

The USC Upstate international student was so impressed by what she saw that she immediately sent an email to Moore, thanking him for using China as the subject of many of his photos and complimenting him as a “skillful” photographer.

On Thursday, Zeng was among those gathered at the opening reception for the photography exhibit, which features 18 works by Moore. The collection, also containing images of Colorado and Montana, will remain on display through April 27.

“Even though the pictures are just a very small piece of China, they reminded me of my country. They made me feel connected to home,” said Zeng, who uses the Americanized name of Wendy.

Zeng and Moore met face-to-face for the first time at Thursday’s reception.

“It thrilled me to get such a nice email from her,” Moore said. “That’s all I want out of this exhibit — for people to find something that will make them smile.”

Moore, who took over as USC Upstate’s chancellor in August, was surprised when it was suggested that his works be the subject of a photography exhibit.

Moore, a scientist by education and intellect, takes pride in his photos and even has a few displayed in his private office, but he is fully aware of his amateur status with the camera. For him, photography is “pure hobby.”

“This is the one thing about my whole first year here so far that has really confused me,” Moore said in a tone reflecting genuine modesty.

“I’ve attended a significant number of gallery show and exhibit openings, but I’ve always been on the ‘I’m here to listen and learn from the artist and look at this stuff and see what I think’ side. I never imagined myself on the other side of such an event.”

USC Upstate staff photographer Les Duggins offered Moore encouragement and helped him select the images to be used in the exhibit.

“Really, with photos, the two main things are your composition and your lighting, and (Moore) obviously has a natural talent for that,” Duggins said. “He just has an eye for it.”

On the walls inside the Humanities and Performing Arts Center are two colorful exhibits in one. On the left side is a collection of photos Moore took during visits to China in 2004 and 2010. On the right, pictures he took during a trip to Colorado and Montana in 2009.

“If you can’t take a good picture at Glacier National Park, throw your camera away. It’s really too easy,” Moore said while looking at one of the U.S. images.

It’s no coincidence that the exhibit is full of photos Moore took while traveling.

“I can drive people with me crazy because I’m always hanging around and wanting to take photographs,” Moore said. “They want to move on, and I’ll say, ‘no, wait a minute, wait a minute.’ … If I find an interesting place, I’ll want to spend some time and be able to really take pictures because I don’t know when I’ll be back.”

Moore first became interested in photography as a youth. He remembers being drawn to the pictures he saw in such magazines as “Life,” “Look” and “National Geographic.”

“Part of it was I would much rather, at that age, look at pictures than read,” Moore said with a laugh. “So, I liked magazines. I was attracted to magazines that were full of pictures and didn’t have quite so many words.”

Inspired by such images, Moore started taking his own photographs with a simple rangefinder camera. It wasn’t until he was married and in graduate school at the University of South Carolina during the late 1970s that he got his first “real camera,” an Olympus SLR.

“I think I used our income tax refund one year to buy that first single lens reflex camera,” he said.

Moore later used an all-manual Nikon F2 camera, which he said helped him learn a lot about photography. Visitors to the exhibit will see a display case that includes some of his early photo equipment, along with notebooks filled with slides containing photos taken with the F2 during his first trip to China in 1988.

Next, Moore switched to a Nikon 6006 that allowed him to alternate between manual and automatic focus. These days, he uses a Nikon D90 digital camera.

The photos in the exhibit were shot from various angles, making use of perspective in a way that is eye-pleasing.

“It’s almost a tacit analytical thing,” Moore said of his approach to photography. “I’m conscious of some of it, but I’m not aware of a lot of the things I’m doing. But I’ve taken enough pictures now that some of it’s just on autopilot.

“When I see something, I’ll say, ‘hmm, that’s interesting.’ And then I’ll frame it and zoom in and out and see what it looks like. Sometimes, I just turn and walk away because (the image I was looking for) wasn’t there. Other times, I’ll shoot it two or three different ways and see what happens.”

Moore said he rarely prints any of his digital images, making the exhibit at USC Upstate a treat for even his closest friends.

“I’ve had my joy by taking the picture and seeing it,” he said.

Moore’s appointment as USC Upstate chancellor is the high point of a 30-year career in higher education. He most recently served as vice president for academic affairs and dean of the faculty at Winthrop University from 2003-2011.

The photography exhibit coincides with a campus-wide celebration in preparation of the Investiture Ceremony for Moore, which will be held on April 13. Moore is the third chancellor in USC Upstate’s 44-year history.

Photography “is a real diversion from what I do on a daily basis and the quotidian tasks of the routine,” Moore said. “And it really helps me see things that I just otherwise wouldn’t see.”