Chris Raab’s blue eyes see Ashtabula in fresh light.
The hues of dawn; the actinic rays of sunset; the ultraviolet pulsing on the Lift Bridge after dark.
“Organized Chaos.” That’s what Raab calls it, the title of his new book.
Raab, 36, says the hardcover, 100-page book documents a year of photography in Ashtabula County. Creating a book was not his intention, however, as he explored his maritime surroundings with a camera over the course of a year. Chaos took form on the wheel of empathy, his desire to do something for Painesville’s Project Hope, a shelter that assisted him in 2004.
“Seventy-five percent of the money from the sale of this book will go back to Project Hope,” Raab says.
Raab’s short narrative in the volume describes it as “a scattered collection of a little bit of everything,” from icicles to beach panoramas; from apple blossoms to a decaying railroad car. The subject matter is prosaic, the lighting and interpretation startling. Raab prefers to work in light’s classic magic hours. He often includes himself in the images. He drags the shutter on his Canon DSLR as he aims the lens toward light in motion.
“I think (the reason he does time exposures) is because I am catching a period of time rather than a moment,” Raab says.
Raab loves technology. QR codes appear on several of the photos in his book. Scan the code with a Smart Phone and a website pops up with either a time-lapse series or 360-degree view of the subject matter.
Although Raab used digital manipulation on some images, such as multiple poses of himself in one composite, he is bothered by artists who take it too far.
“Bending it out of shape,” Raab says in describing the breaking point for manipulation.
Raab’s images, although often abstract, leave little question as to the subject, yet retain an air of artistic mystery. They are chaotic, yet organized. Indeed, attempting to nail down Raab on any one aspect of his art or life is very much like trying to organize chaos. We go off the record throughout the interview as he muses about personal struggles and the pain that he subdues with poetry, painting, photography and video. He is an artist’s artist. Some artists create to feed the ego, Raab creates to sooth the soul. Art is done on his time, turf and terms.
“I shoot for me,” he says. “It’s how I deal with my problems.”
The problems, thus dealt with, are unimportant. Raab expresses dismay about a newspaper article where the writer chose to focus on his troubled past rather than the salve that soothes it. He possesses an empathy for other artists who shoot from the soul and a disdain for the narcissists whose sole motivation is bring attention to their perceived success.
“It’s all about the community where you do things,” says Raab, who lives in Ashtabula Harbor. “When you do things with passion, not expecting anything in return, everything else falls into place. I do my art with the intention that it needs to be done.”
And with honesty and a helping hand. “I believe in helping people,” he says. His Project Hope fundraiser is the incarnation of that value. While he could have done a book and kept the profits for himself to upgrade his camera or computer, add another lens, rent gallery or studio space, he prefers to invest in human potential and dignity.
“I am very much content with where I am at,” he says. “Money is great, we need it as artists to survive. But if more people gave back wherever they can, I think we would all be in a much better condition. Providing after-care and help (the work of Project Hope)are things near and dear to my heart, and to me are far more important than money.”
Without art I am like a pen with no ink. I am like a marker that never bleeds.
Raab came to Ashtabula Harbor, for no particular reason, 11 years ago. Concurrent with his arrival came a growing interest in art. Unfortunately, the community was am artistic brown field.
“When I came here 11 years ago, we had almost no art community,” Raab says. “Now, art has come more to the forefront. The city and county are seeing more potential in art. The efforts of a bunch of artists have helped us get organized.”
That “bunch of artists” gathered on Bridge Street last summer for a revival of TABS, The Arts on Bridge Street festival, which Raab resurrected from an earlier effort.
“We had 30 artists and 11 bands at the event,” Raab says. “It was really well received.”
Raab has set the dates for the 2017 TABS, Aug. 26 and 27, and hopes to have even greater participation from visual artists and musicians. For more information, email him.
“There are probably 50-plus artists in town that people don’t even know about,” he says.
The imprint of local is found throughout the Harbor. An artist wall in Briquettes Smokehouse exhibits the work of Raab and Bill McMinn. Harbor Perk is an art gallery on caffeine. Last summer, After School Discovery students transformed sidewalks into canvasses that received the chalk of childhood creativity. Up the hill and down Lake Avenue, murals done by Raab invigorate Smith Field.
Raab held a solo show at the Ashtabula Arts Center last year and did a Wes Paul guitar commission for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. While Raab has no reservations about putting his art in the public eye, he is not one to bask in the gaze. If given a choice between an art exhibit being viewed by patrons with money or starving artists committed to each other, Raab would choose the latter.
“I could care less if I sell,” he says. “I would rather have the attendance and support of other artists.”
Raab had a book signing for “Organized Chaos” Feb. 3 at Park Avenue Winery; books left from that event were sent to Project Hope in Painesville.