A version of this column appears in Friday’s Weekend Life section of The Oklahoman.
The Oklahoman photographer gets abstract for exhibit ‘North of Reno’
After 40 years as a photojournalist, Doug Hoke, the newspaper’s director of photography, has been expanding his focus to take in fine art, too.
After four decades as a photographer, Doug Hoke is learning to look in a whole new way.
During the past year and a half, The Oklahoman’s director of photography has been expanding his focus to take in fine art as well as photojournalism.
“I’m amazed at the opportunities that have happened in the last 18 months, and I have to keep reminding myself that I have been doing this for 40 years. You know, I’ve been at the paper for 37,” Hoke said in an interview Tuesday at The Oklahoman offices.
“It always surprises me when these things come up. … I’ve been doing this for so long, but the selling of the prints and doing shows is so different than what I’ve done the rest of my career. The last 18 months has been such a neverending learning curve that I’m still looking at the top of the mountain to try to figure out what’s the next step.”
On Friday, Hoke, 57, will open his third and biggest gallery show to date at JRB Art at the Elms in the Paseo Arts District. Titled “North of Reno,” the exhibit of 18 abstract black-and-white photos of downtown buildings will open during the monthly First Friday Paseo Gallery Walk.
“When he’s doing photojournalism, he’s either telling the story or he’s helping to tell the story, so he shoots from that perspective. He’s shooting (this show) as an artist. There’s no moral. It’s his eye. It would be like he’s a performer working without a wire. He can do whatever he wants to do and whatever he sees. So, it’s his expression,” said Joy Reed Belt, owner of JRB Art at the Elms.
“You’ve walked by these buildings, but you haven’t seen what Doug sees.”
Through the lens
Although Hoke has crafted a long career shooting photos as a staffer for The Oklahoman and a freelancer for Sports Illustrated, Time, Business Week and other publications, it was a potter that inspired his long-dormant desire to become an art photographer.
Hoke is the nephew of the late, great potter Montee Hoke, who along with Bert Seabourn and Greg Burns exhibited in the first 18 consecutive Festivals of the Arts in downtown OKC. His uncle remains a celebrated figure in the local and regional art scene almost 24 years after his death, and Montee Hoke’s daughter, Cindy Hoke Blackburn, is a well-known fiber artist.
“She’s semi-retired, so I feel like it’s kind of up to me to keep the Hoke name out there in the art community,” Doug Hoke said. “It’s always something I had in the back of my mind, and the opportunity finally presented itself.
In fall 2012, the Edmond resident got the chance to place some of his photos in a small shop in the Paseo, and he just happened to receive an unexpected royalty check from Sports Illustrated that would offset the start<HH>up costs of printing, matting and framing his work.
Although the shop shuttered about four months later, that opportunity led to the chance to mount his first exhibit at PhotoArt in the Plaza District. “The Metro,” a sweeping sampling of Oklahoma County, from cows and cars to skyscrapers and birds, also showed last summer in the south lobby gallery of the Myriad Gardens’ Crystal Bridge.
A new focus
“North of Reno” is a new series Hoke started a few months ago after meeting with Belt, who surveyed his vast body of work and noted “you’re sort of all over the place.” She also noticed a resemblance between some of Hoke’s work and the abstract detail images of the late legendary photographer Brett Weston.
“He started showing me some of the architectural photographs, and they were just wonderful. In this series that we’re showing, he’s isolated the architectural elements that are kind of the DNA of a particular building,” she said. “A lot of what Brett isolated was nature. … He would take something like reeds and make it abstract, and Doug has done that with buildings.”
Along with taking her praise, Hoke said he also accepted a sort of assignment from Belt: go downtown and focus on shooting the buildings — and do it in black and white, the format Weston favored.
“It was a real challenge. I’ve not worked in black and white for 25 years, so it really inspired me to go and look differently, not at the color as much as the design and the shapes,” Hoke said.
From distinctive landmarks like Stage Center and the Ronald J. Norick Downtown Library to humbler sites like the McAlpine Center and even street lamps and electric poles, he captured the interplay of reflections and textures, shapes and patterns.
“Part of this whole thing is just being there at the right time, capturing the light and the shadows as they fall,” Hoke said. “I see through telephoto eyes.”
Printed at 12 inches by 18 inches, matted and framed, The images look quite different than his work for The Oklahoman, especially exhibited in the gallery alongside the work mixed-<DP>media sculptures of John Wolfe and abstract paintings of Beth Hammack, two well-known local artists.
“I’m almost giddy at this opportunity,” Hoke said. “It seems like it’s happening so fast, but then I have to remind myself that I have been doing this for 40 years. It’s all I can do to contain my enthusiasm.”
Doug Hoke’s ‘North of Reno’
•When: Friday through May 31.
•Where: JRB Art at the Elms, 2810 N Walker.
•Opening reception: 6 to 10 p.m. Friday during the monthly Paseo Gallery Walk.
•Information: 528-6336 or www.jrbartgallery.com.