Green art at the Green Bean

by Amy Kingsley

Brian Crean has a thing for sunlight. It’s evident in his seating choice – in this case adjacent to the Green Bean’s picture window on an evening in early fall when the front room fills with the horizontal light of descending sunbeams.

And it’s clear in the photography hanging on the wall behind him. Four framed photos depict the leaves of local flora in all their anatomical glory – cuticles, chloroplasts, mesophylls and epidermis all exposed courtesy of the clear light of the middle latitudes.

Crean captured the images with a digital camera during his walks around lakes Brandt and Townsend. When he first started exploring Guilford County’s parks on foot, he did so book in hand. Then he started taking photographs, and the picture-taking gradually overtook contemplation as motivation for his walks.

“I really like the fact that this is a body of work that is all taken locally,” he says.

Crean had been collecting photographs for several years when he approached his friend Tahe Zalal about organizing an exhibition of the work.

Zalal and Crean had put on another exhibit in a downtown clothing shop several years ago that raised money for an eye clinic in Afghanistan. The photographer hoped to do something similar with his collection of nature photographs. But first he had to find a worthy cause.

He settled on the Guilford County Open Space Committee, a division of the parks and recreation department that buys undeveloped land for preservation.

“I sent an e-mail to the Guilford County planner asking him if he knew of anyone who might need some support,” Crean says. “And he said, ‘Yeah. We do.'”

Zalal opened a MySpace account for the event, now dubbed Green Art for Guilford County, and began to organize the opening. Both Zalal and Crean wanted to orchestrate something more elaborate than a traditional art opening. They invited Andrew Dudek (who plays in a band with the author) to play some music, and the chair of the open space committee to discuss the goals of his group.

“I tend to know a lot of people,” Zalal says. “But if I don’t believe in a cause, I can’t promote it.”

In this case, both Crean and Zalal agree on the need to preserve land in a county rapidly surrendering its fringes to strip malls and residential development.

“When I’m driving down New Garden Road, I see all these newer communities where all these lovely patches of woods used to be,” Zalal says.

Awareness of conservation efforts has been increasing in Greensboro, particularly in light of Blue-Green Corporation’s controversial plans to build a golf course community on land earmarked for the Haw River State Park. Although Crean supports conservation initiatives, he says he doesn’t consider his photography political.

“I’m not a political activist directly,” he says. “Maybe I can’t change the way the commission votes, but maybe I can change the way some people see the land that’s around them.”

Crean developed his own eye for local beauty in part by turning off his intellectual and adventurous impulses.

“Usually when I start any creative process it is very intuitive,” he says. “I try to get my head out of the way of my creative energies.”

Crean’s photographs will be displayed at the Green Bean through Nov. 17. Photographs not auctioned during the opening reception will be available for purchase, with all proceeds benefiting the Guilford County Open Space Committee. The funds may be used to purchase land for the North Carolina Mountains to Sea Trail, which is designed to run through the Haw River State Park.

Curious photography fans of a less conservationist bent can survey the 17 pictures in the exhibit to get a taste of the beauty in their own back yard.

“I’ve always had a very adventurous part of my personality,” Crean says. “I always thought that meant going far away, but now it’s more about staying closer to home.”

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