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Bob Ray Creates Pop-up Galleries

Bob Ray's pop-up galleries aim to offer interaction and inspiration
Bob Ray PHOTO FRAMING: Bob Ray began offering one-night-only 'flash galleries' of his photography after finding that most exhibitions typically offer visitors few chances to meet the artists who made the work on display.

So far, Bob Ray has had a good run. He worked as a producer on The Dating Game at age 16. In the 1970s, he was the morning drive guy on KLIV and also the PA announcer for the NASL incarnation of the San Jose Earthquakes, back when some of the world's greatest-ever soccer players came to Spartan Stadium. Oh, and he ran an advertising agency for 36 years.

Now, as a photographer, he's about to conquer Los Altos. Which means everything is about to come full circle. In recent years, Ray, a Saratoga native, has toured the U.S. and Europe, teaching photography workshops and exhibiting his own shots in various "flash galleries," a concept he and his partner Jill Denton say they devised. These are one-night-only events to see and experience new imagery while meeting the artists in person. Ray and Denton hand-pick these affairs, staging them in storefronts, wineries, private estates and other similar venues across the United States and Europe, not only as a scheme to showcase their own work, but to give the venues a shout-out as well.

On Thursday, Dec. 12, their work arrives at 164 Main St., the Los Altos address of Slingshot Power, from 6-9pm. Ray says the flash galleries were born of frustration with regular gallery shows at which the artist is never available. He wants to be present and interact with the viewers of his work, and hopes to inspire them to go out and shoot their own images. That's the whole freakin' point.

"At this stage of my career, I'm giving back with my photography," Ray says, adding that his job, as he sees it, is to share his passion for the still image. That could be teaching workshops anywhere from Fremont to Florence, through books or even pro bono portraits of the special kids and families at The Ronald McDonald House in Portland. But the flash galleries, he says, are unique opportunities.

"The flash galleries are really designed to inspire people to take pictures," he explains. "Because of the fact that I firmly believe—the foundation of everything I do—is that cameras don't take pictures. People do. It's a matter of just being able to see and think like a camera, and the whole world opens up. So when you see the work I do, in the flash galleries, it's not out of the reach of everybody. ... [T]he encouragement is to get people to just look, and see, and always carry your camera."

But above all else, Ray says he and Denton came up with the concept because, normally, the photographer just isn't present throughout the length of his or her own show. Ray and Denton decided to organize one-off events instead. That way, the two of them can answer questions, philosophize, tell stories, narrate scenes or simply provide inspiration for any aspiring "artist with a camera." It's just about putting a camera in your hand and creating art. Anyone can do it.

"In a normal show, you have an artist reception, and the guy, or the girl, or the maker, or the creator, they're never around to talk to," Ray says. "You have the pieces and you look at them, but really it's the interaction. The opportunity to not only see the work, but talk to the people who created it, get inspired, and then go out and create work of your own. That's really what we want to do with these flash galleries."

And that nom de plume, "Artist With a Camera," is a phrase Ray claims he actually coined. After all, if people just learn to open their eyes and look beneath the surface of obviousness, especially when they travel, there's a whole other world lurking. Anyone can be an artist, when all is said and done. This is Ray's approach when he teaches the workshops.

"It's not some incredible artist's eye that only a few people in the world have," he says. "We're all artists. It's just a matter of bringing it out and encouraging it and showing people how to see the light in a different way than they're used to."