There is one image in Rod Rolle’s current photography exhibition, Community, that single-handedly captures the show’s theme. A small girl clings solemnly to the back of her mother, who is hunched over in a Santa Maria strawberry field tending to a crop. The woman wears an intricate arrangement of bandanas beneath a baseball cap that shields her face from the beating sun and also, one suspects, from identification. While the mother is a study of concentration and purpose, the young passenger is curiosity personified.
Unlike many documentary photographers who operate covertly while out on assignment, Rolle gets personal with the communities in which he works. Social portraiture is a terrain Rolle knows well, and the Brooks Institute graduate is skilled in gently distilling character and personality from fleeting moments of emotional expression. Some of his subjects are totally oblivious to his presence, others are undeniably aware, but all are captured with candor and empathy.
In most works, there is a palpable sense of trust between the photographer and those upon whom he turns his camera. One of the strongest examples of this can be found in a simple portrayal of a family in South Carolina. Rolle’s subjects are at ease beneath the photographer’s gaze; they are themselves.
Rolle tends to find his subjects in the communities where he has either lived or worked, and so in his images we encounter people both at work and at play in their natural environments. A doctor peers into the eye of a patient. A majestically adorned woman takes time out from partying, sea shells dangling from her ears and a hibiscus flower tucked behind her ear. Rolle even presents a formal portrait of the entire town of Guadalupe, California. Throughout the show, Rolle’s deft use of color furthers the work’s inherent sense of vibrant celebration.
If photography as a genre is a mirror that reflects the society in which we live, it is through the work of artists such as Rolle that photography offers us more than just a community’s reflection-it offers us its heart and soul.