David Luttrell – Featured Artist

You’ve likely seen more of David Luttrell’s work than you realize.  For years David was one of the staff photographers for Knoxville’s late and lamented weekly alternative Metro Pulse and its successor the Knoxville Mercury.  He’s shot lots of commercial work and was a photographer for TVA in the 80’s.  So he’s seen a lot, and, if you’ve been around Knoxville for a while, you’ve probably seen some of what he’s seen, too.

This month you can see a choice selection of Luttrell’s work, old and new, hanging on Tomato Head walls; and while it’s a fascinating set of images, portraits and inventive collage-like work, the collection itself is a portrait of creativity and perspective that tells a fascinating story of the artist himself.

There’s a photo of our founder, Mahasti, that Luttrell took for the cover of “Yummm” a regular restaurant guide published by the Metro Pulse.  “A lot of these go back, but they range from stuff that I shot in the 70s and 80s and there are some from Big Ears when I was shooting for the Mercury.”

Luttrell’s portraiture always seems particularly thoughtful- the subjects are engaged, often intensely, with their own work or thoughts; some even seem surprised that he’s there, almost like they’ve just noticed the quiet guy in the corner who finally speaks up.

But David isn’t a particularly quiet guy – he laughs freely, he’s conversant and he’s interested.  Often at a shoot it seems he’s there not merely to capture but to participate.  Perhaps it’s that quality, seasoned with his intense curiosity that adds allure to his work.

There’s a portrait of Ashley Capps that David took with a 5×7 Viewfinder.  The camera itself is the very image of old-fashioned – think a large wooden tripod and a cloth draped over the photographers head.  And yet he says, “I will admit that I was very reluctant to even come to this conclusion but my favorite camera now is the one that also makes phone calls.”

The advantage, he explains, is that the phone is famously omnipresent: “There are billions and billions of images being produced by people all over the world.  A lot of them aren’t particularly good, but a lot of people get some wonderful things just because they were there with a camera.”

For David, that ease yields some powerful results because his curiosity leads him to look at lots of things.  There’s a fascinating photo of Eddie’s Auto Shop.  The establishment, made a little famous by way of Johnny Knoxville’s attentions, is closed but, David says, “When Eddie died they just locked the doors.  I pulled in there one day, and walked up and peered in through the door.  It was like a neutron bomb had gone off – everything was still in place but there were no people.  I put my i-phone right up against the window and took this pic.  It’s crazy. “

It’s a beautiful shot, and all the more alluring because of its simplicity.

There are also some beautifully complex images in David’s exhibit including some, he admits, “that I’ve taken without even using a camera.”  These pieces, created by way of a scanner, are thoughtful and some are haunting especially one called “Cat Bird”.  It’s a composition that the artist assembled and captured on a flatbed scanner using a bird that his cat brought into the house and a collection of old letter stamps that David’s wife owned.

“It’s interesting because different scanners, do different things, but some have depth of field without having an aperture.”  But all of them require David to create backwards as the final layer of the composition on the scanner is the furthest away from the lens in the resulting image.

David’s journey through technology is a story many of us share in different ways, but what makes his journey and this exhibit fascinating is the way that he’s embraced change in the world and his field and continued to express himself beautifully.

“As you get older things change.  The internet and things have changed the way things work.  It is what it is.  You can turn into a crotchety old man and go ‘harrumph, harrumph,’ or you can decide to roll with this and see where it takes you.  That’s what I’ve decided to do.”

David Luttrell’s work will be on view at the Downtown Tomato Head Restaurant on Market Square from May 6th thru June 2nd.  He will then be on view at the West Knoxville Gallery Tomato Head from June 4th thru July 8th.