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Bob Gates finds ordinary beauty

Bob Gates was working toward an English doctorate at the University of Iowa when he discovered his passion for photography.

"I fell in love with it. I came very close to throwing out the whole English Phd.," Gates said.

Practicality won out, and Gates finished the program and is an English professor at Syracuse University. But Gates' inner shutterbug could not be silenced, and an exhibit of some of his work opens this week at Maxwell Memorial Library in Camillus.

Gates said he did lose interest in photography for several years, until he went to buy a digital camera for his then-pregnant daughter six years ago. He bought her a camera, and one for himself. He has been shooting ever since, embracing color and digital photography, and his show at Maxwell highlights his unusual eye for beauty.

The show, titled "The Challenge of Beauty," reintroduces viewers to the world they are familiar with - but gives them a different perspective on the mundane and overlooked.

"Beauty hides in plain sight. then jumps out to surprise us or begs us to look," Gates said in his artist's statement. "If we simply agree to pay attention, it promises to live as long as we have eyes to see and ears to hear, and to lift us up when the gray forces of convention and conformity threaten to drag us down."

Gates said this attitude is the result of his practice of meditation and Zen Buddhism, focusing on the present.

A striking photograph of a swing set serves as a prime example of unseen beauty.

Gates said the blue and yellow playground piece stands at the East Syracuse Elementary School, and when people realize it's the swing set they drive by every day, they're astonished.

But seeing it new, and seeing it fresh, is what it's all about, Gates said.

Gates will teach an eight-week photography course this spring as part of SU's Lifelong Learning Institute for students ages 50 and older.

His photographs have garnered numerous awards and appeared internationally in magazines, including "National Geographic Traveler." The artist's reception was held Tuesday evening at the library. The exhibit will run to the end of January. For more information about Gates and to see his photos, visit Bobgatesphoto.com

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