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Volume 24, Number 5 — May 2017

Walls' art is on exhibit at Tennessee State Museum

Benjamin Walls'
Benjamin Walls' "Algorithm," Glacier National Park, Montana, 2014, is on exhibit at the Tennessee State Museum. (on loan from the private collection of Kenneth Vance)

By Leslie Grace | A! Magazine for the Arts | June 29, 2016

An exhibition of fine art nature photography by Tennessee native Benjamin Walls is on exhibit at the Tennessee State Museum. Entitled "Through Appalachian Eyes: The Fine Art Photography of Benjamin Walls," the exhibit features more than 50 nature images taken by Walls from Appalachia to Africa.

Walls is a self-taught fine art photographer who has been winning awards for his work since early in his career. Now 36 years old, Walls has shown his work at some of the world's most distinguished institutions, including the Smithsonian in Washington D.C. and London's Natural History Museum. Building upon his critical acclaim, he opened his signature gallery in his hometown of Bristol six years ago. There is no admission charge to the exhibit, which is on view in the museum's Changing Galleries.

At the age of 17, Walls took an 11-day-hike through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park that changed his life. His father dropped him off at the trailhead, and Walls trekked through some of the wildest and most beautiful sections of the Southern Appalachians. As he hiked, Walls took numerous photographs of the vistas that inspired him. He was fascinated by the diversity and beauty of life in the forests but when he returned home and developed his film, he was dissatisfied. Though his first efforts were disappointing, he pressed on. He returned to the wilderness again and again to practice, experiment and hone his skills. Using his native Appalachian environment, he began to refine his process until he produced images that translated his own experiences accurately for others.

What he accomplished in Appalachia inspired Walls to push geographic and artistic boundaries. His first international trip was a study-abroad experience in Australia, which gave him new ground to cover, both literally and artistically. During his semester at the University of the Southern Cross, Walls took every possible opportunity to hike and camp, capturing images that reflected his new passion for wilderness. He returned home with a drive to travel across the United States and the world, experiencing new environments and creating art that reflected his expanding creative abilities.

Walls' art has a rare depth and breadth, according to Museum Director Lois Riggins-Ezzell. Some of his images focus on the smallest details: like shimmering ripples on the surface of a Western river, or a stunning mosaic of autumn leaves from the Appalachian forest. Others show the grandeur of nature on a large scale: waves crashing against huge cliffs on the Australian coastline or the vast beauty and open horizon of the African Serengeti.

"Through Appalachian Eyes: The Fine Art Photography of Benjamin Walls" is on view through Oct. 2. The museum is open Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday, 1 to 5 p.m. It is closed on Mondays. Parking is available in paid lots and is free in state lots on weekends only.