(Correction: There is no April 14 reception, as listed in the print version. The benefit reception is April 21, 5-9 p.m.)
Kathryn Wiley was sitting in a hotel room in Kazakhstan when she learned that the paperwork had been finished for the baby boy she and her husband were there to adopt. Finally they could take their son home. Elated, she stood up to call her mom in the States and realized she'd wet her pants. Later that day, she almost threw up while eating spaghetti. She decided to visit a pharmacy.
Wiley speaks Russian, and although it took a while to convey to the drugstore clerk that she wanted a pregnancy test and not a pelvic exam, the color-coded message on the plastic stick was clear: Wiley got two babies in one day.
That was two years ago. Now 3-year-old Abel and his younger brother, Cyrus born seven months after Abel was adopted toddle around their colorful Church Hill home. They are enthusiastic about fruit snacks, Sharpie pens and other discoveries still new to those for whom eye level is two feet off the ground. Abel has become particularly fascinated with his mother's digital camera.
Which brings us to Quirk Gallery. There, his work will be featured at a photography benefit this month called "Together We Play."
"This is not to showcase my artist savant son," says Wiley, a trained social documentary photographer. Instead, she says, she hopes to sell the prints to raise the $30,000 it will take to build a playground for the orphanage in Kazakhstan.
Wiley turned a pragmatic eye to editing thousands of Abel's digital images down to a collection of 95 surprisingly professional-quality shots. Kathryn's husband, Matthew, who runs a mill here in Richmond, will go to Kazakhstan in July to install the play structure. The whole family will return at the end of the year to pick up Abel and Cyrus' baby sister, whom they plan to adopt from the same orphanage.
Kathryn Wiley says they're donating the play structure out of gratitude and respect for Abel's roots, but something else may also emerge from the project. Abel knows he was adopted but, at 3, probably doesn't fully understand what that means. So while Kathryn and Matthew have been straightforward with him about his origin, the effects of those photos may make it clearer.
"As he processes it, I think that he'll have all the answers to the questions he has," Wiley says.
Style spoke with the photographer and curator about their different perspectives on some of the images.
Abel: Dog. I was at Belle Isle. And the dog came and licked my hand.
Kathryn: I think this dog picture is amazing, how he stopped the motion and has the energy from the dog's owner and the dog. He was sitting down, so you feel the tension of the dog coming at you.
Abel: That's at the James Center, where they have this whole bunch of trains.
Kathryn: I think he shot this down into a train set, and what I really loved about it was that it was like a little village. He extracted the scene from a miniature set in order to make it look realistic, like the tractors were life-sized.
Abel: That's unicycle. Belle Isle. And we said, "Come back around!"
Kathryn: We asked the guy to come around again to take his picture. The unicyclist has so much motion, it's almost as if you're experiencing the unicycle through the picture.
Abel: Baby Jesus. Baby Je-sus. That's baby Je-sus, but it's not light up.
Kathryn: It's supposed to be lit up but wasn't the night we wanted to take a picture of it. I like how he composed the baby Jesus, getting some of Mary and some of Joseph, but still focusing on baby Jesus.
Abel: I don't know.
Kathryn: These would be the ones that I would purchase in the show because they are abstract enough. Compositionally, I like the red door. The diptych together is a powerful image. S
"Together We Play" is on display at Quirk Gallery April 14-21, with a benefit reception April 21, 5-9 p.m. For more information call 644-5450.