Everybody’s Got a Little Light Under the Sun
Photographs by Armando “OUTthere” Diaz, through Sept. 27
Thursday, Aug. 29: Comey with Ty Raney and friends, 7 p.m.
Clerestory Fine Art, 40 Church St.
Clerestoryfineart.com. Check website for other events.
By GWEN OREL
When the artist walked in, applause broke out.
The opening of “Everybody’s Got a Little Light Under the Sun,” an exhibition of photographs by Montclair’s Armando “OUTthere” Diaz, had been set for 7 p.m. But things didn’t really start hopping until at least half an hour later.
And by then, the Clerestory Fine Art Gallery was packed.
Clerestory sits on the second floor of a Church Street building. On the street, by the stairs, Bruce Tyler and his band played to serenade the guests.
Upstairs, Janetza Maria Miranda was scheduled to sing.
Kathryn McGuire, the owner of Clerestory, shrieked when she saw a former colleague from the Metropolitan Museum of Art approach the gallery.
She opened Clerestory in May, coinciding with the Montclair Art Walk. This is the third show she’s opened in the 1,450-foot gallery space. Formerly she worked at the Montclair Art Museum, and also ran the Studio Montclair Incubator series.
Diaz, a local photographer, got his start in music and IT, she said.
“Most of the pieces on view tonight are Montclair, Newark, and Orange. We don’t have titles on purpose. So people come in and they say what’s going on. And then they look a little closer. Somebody earlier said, ‘There’s a woman who’s always at Toni’s Kitchen.’’ And Armando documents these people with such poise and royalty.”
In the catalog for the show, McGuire writes that in a photograph, Diaz can make someone at a barbecue look like a king. McGuire writes that when curating shows of paintings, she usually discerns a theme or a story, Diaz’ photography captures energy. “He is not documenting the people in these photographs, he is capturing an aura exchange immediate in the moment,” she writes.
He has groups of men that look as noble as if they are a group of ancient Spartans, she said.
“There’s a tenderness and a strength to it,” McGuire says. “And those were the ones that really got me looking and really thinking why, I didn’t understand why I was so drawn to this work. And so I’ve done a lot of just staring and analyzing and I was really looking at [Guggenheim Award-winning documentary photographer] Robert Frank’s [1958 book] “The Americans.” Because he documents people in a similar way to Armando, in that it’s such a broad spread of people.”
Frank was truly an outsider, a Swiss man traveling across America. But for McGuire, there is a coldness and an isolation in Frank’s work that she does not see in Diaz’s. She was going to give Diaz a copy of “The Americans” as a gift but then she paged through it and said to herself, “Robert Frank has nothing on Armando!”
THE FUTURE NOW
Diaz met McGuire on Instagram.
“One day she messaged me and said, ‘I’m opening up a gallery, are you interested in having a show?’”
He had always had a show as a goal but thought it would be 10 years or so in the future.
Turns out, the future was now.
Diaz is a full-time photographer, doing contract work, and also works as a designer. A Montclair resident since 1978, attending Nishuane and Edgemont schools before graduating Montclair High School in 1991.
For three years, he documented culture for the Montclair Center Business Improvement District. He’s also raised five children in the Montclair School System, and volunteers with S.O.F.I.A., a local organization that provides support for women and children in situations of domestic abuse.
He got the nickname “OUTthere” as a kid, when he was a fan of paranormal things.
“If you look at the crowd, it’s a very eclectic crowd, because of the way I’m in and out of a lot of different crowds, a piece of this, a piece of that,” he said.
The show includes 46 framed photographs, and 500 more in a slide show. All were selected from among 55,000 photos he took, Diaz notes with a laugh.
Some of the pictures were from his archives; some were taken especially for the show; and some he took last week. One of his favorites is one of a man holding a little boy holding a camera: his son and grandson.
One wall shows a woman with a flag bow in her hair in one picture, and the Puerto Rican Day Parade in another. In one picture, a little girl shoots a water pistol at her father, who leans back laughing.
When he was younger, Diaz said, taking pictures was a way to connect with people and still have a buffer, because he was shy and awkward. Given the many people hugging him and giving him high fives Thursday night, that seems hard to believe, but, Diaz said, six years ago he would have run out of the room.
McGuire opened Clerestory so there would be a place to show large and edgy work in town, as Jen Wroblewski did with her gallery Scopophilia, which opened in July 2018.
She wanted to bring artists who are catalog-worthy to Montclair, and help unsure collectors find work.
“I realize it takes time to develop a collector network, but that’s what I’m using the whole first year to do,” she said.
She’s establishing the prestige that validates the price point, which ranges between $5,000 and $25,000 for paintings. The photographs are only $650.
“Armando is community. That’s what the point is, to connect these creators with collectors,” McGuire said.
She wants people interested in art but unsure about it to feel comfortable. So she’s adding a historical component to what she does, and running “Collector 101” panels and talks.
“Everybody’s Got a Little Light Under the Sun,” the title of Diaz’s show, is how he feels about shooting both entertainers and “regular people.”
“I see special things in people everywhere I go. That’s what makes me stop,” he said. “My take on people is that everybody has something special, even their interactions. You do it all the time but don’t appreciate it until you look back and see that moment.”