An eye for form
Diana Squillante has been behind the camera for most of her life. When she was 11 years old, her older brother, also a photographer, got Squillante her first camera and showed her how to use it. In her teens, she spent most of her free time hiking in the mountains of her native Hong Kong, enjoying the scenery and taking pictures. She also developed a lifelong enthusiasm for walking in the fresh air, and the leg muscles to go with it.
“It was dangerous, but it made me very strong,” said Squillante, laughing. She enjoyed hiking with tourists and sometimes camped out overnight in order to photograph the sunrise. Rumors flew—it wasn’t proper behavior for a girl—but Squillante ignored the gossip and pursued her interests anyway.
After earning a degree, she became a professional photographer, doing celebrity photo shoots and public relations for Hong Kong television stations such as RTV and RTHK. Squillante enjoyed the fast-paced work, but the conservative working culture frowned upon female professionals.
“It was a man’s world,” said Squillante, “and they didn’t like that I was their coworker, their equal. I was one of the first female photographers in Hong Kong, maybe the first.”
An avid traveler, Squillante has been visiting other countries since she was 17. In 1982, she came to Nevada and decided to live here; she moved permanently in 1985.
Since then, Squillante has opened her own gallery, established herself as a photographer, and continued working toward another degree. She purchased a digital camera in September 2003 and is taking classes at TMCC in digital photography. Her brother still supports her work; he recently sent her a Chinese-language manual for Photoshop 7.0.
As the exhibition’s title, Shape and Form, suggests, Squillante is fascinated by shapeas, both the organic forms found in nature and the precise geometry of architecture. Her favorite subjects range from the Truckee River to local casinos, but she is always ready to take a picture when something catches her eye, like the climbing rings on a jungle gym. Against a saturated, perfectly blue sky, the rings hang, suspended and out of context, looking a little like handcuffs. It takes a moment to figure out what they are. Keep looking, and you’ll see the vertical edge of a painted blue bar, virtually indistinguishable from the sky behind it. These playful, hidden-in-plain- view touches add depth and interest to the picture.
Color is also a defining aspect of Squillante’s work. Balancing warm and cool colors and positive and negative space is crucial for her art. One piece depicts a yellow bench in a cement courtyard. Thick, diagonal bars of sunlight and shade create contrasting effects, alternately rendering the bench a dazzling illuminated yellow and a cooler, muted red-orange.
The photographs look simple, but appearances are deceptive: Squillante plans her shots carefully, sometimes waiting for hours for the perfect combination of light and shadow. Squillante also digitally manipulates her photographs, adjusting the palette to create varied effects, and sometimes altering the subjects beyond recognition in the process.
Though the photographs are all pleasant to view, relatively few manage to truly surprise the viewer. Many of them are enjoyable but conventional scenes of familiar local buildings and landscapes. Likewise, the handful of casual portraits (Squillante generally prefers to keep people out of her photographs) are unremarkable, and don’t reveal much about their subjects. But, at its best, Squillante’s work uses unexpected colors, interesting angles, and studies of light and shadow to offer a new reading of commonplace sights.