The 1000 block of East Main Street in Butchertown will get another exciting new neighbor when First Light Gallery opens its doors on Friday. It’s one of a few photography-focused galleries in Louisville, and the first exhibition features Rupert Vandervell, a renowned international artist.
Gallery owner Andrew J. McCawley spoke with Insider about the new gallery, his live/work space in Butchertown, and his love of the medium.
McCawley’s interest in photography started with unsophisticated equipment.
“I was just messing around with disposable cameras because I liked Polaroid — the crappy feel of disposables,” he says.
After graduating from Male High School in 2000, he soon moved on to fancier cameras, attending the University of Kentucky, though it was a few years before he settled on fine art and photography as a major. After college, the Louisville native traveled and worked small jobs as a self-described starving artist.
That all changed a few years back, when McCawley decided it was time to make a real living with his camera.
“A few years ago, I decided to start my own business and use my camera. I pretty much took any job I could get freelancing, just making it work,” says McCawley. “Three years later, my business has grown and I’ve got pretty steady jobs coming in.”
He was successful enough that it was time to get his own studio, so the artist started putting out feelers for a space that would fit his needs.
“I talked to my cousin who happened to know Andy Blieden, who is the developer of the Butcherblock and a lot of Butchertown,” says McCawley.
It was Blieden’s idea for McCawley to combine his studio and living space.
“So after he showed me the space, it all clicked, it all came together. Living in the back, studio in the middle, and I had this front space,” he says.
The photographer could have used the front space to exhibit his own work, but that idea didn’t appeal to him.
“I have this space that I wasn’t sure exactly what to do with. I didn’t want to feature all my work — it seemed like too much space and it was more than I needed.”
It was then that McCawley began to envision First Light Gallery.
“So because of my passion for the medium … I was, like, why not a gallery? And that carves out a niche for myself and my business, and it creates a platform for artists who have trouble having shows and whatnot, and having their work shown,” he explains.
Part of that decision comes from McCawley’s belief that photography as a fine art is underrepresented in Louisville. He moved into the space with his family and adorable dog Marlo, and then started contacting artists.
“It was really well-received by everybody I reached out to, and I hope to be representing more artists as time passes,” says McCawley. “I’ve got a handful of local artists involved, I’ve got a few artists scattered around the United States, I have one international artist who happens to be the first featured exhibit.”
That first exhibit features a series of photographs by Vandervell called “Man on Earth.”
McCawley says he first came across the artist when he was looking at thousands and thousands of pictures online.
“It’s a way for me to waste a lot of time,” he jokes.
Vandervell’s work is visually stunning. The black-and-white compositions present single figures set against large urban backdrops. With an obsession with lines and geometric shapes, Vandervell’s street photography takes on a fantastic, almost surreal quality at first sight.
As the viewer’s mind unpacks the lines, shadows and curves, the images resolve into an everyday slice of the city. Here is a long staircase, there are the shadows cast by a bridge. The single figures look like strange survivors of a worldwide holocaust.
McCawley was drawn to Vandervell’s work.
“Right now it’s becoming more and more difficult to find yourself in a place of isolation unless you take a trip, take a drive outside the city,” he says. “And all his work shows kind of an isolated, or solitary figure, in what I’ve called kind of Escher-esque realities.”
He pauses and adds, “I’m super excited.”
It was unclear if he was speaking specifically of showing Vandervell’s work or the future of First Light Gallery, but either way, McCawley’s excitement is warranted.
First Light Gallery opens with “Man on Earth” on Friday, April 21, with a special reception from 4-9 p.m. Regular hours are Wednesday-Saturday, noon-5 p.m., the first Friday of the month from 4-9 p.m,. and by appointment. The gallery is located at 1009 E. Main St.