Curious Constructions

Photography by Les Allen

August 19, 2017 - November 5, 2017

Curious Constructions

Dixon, Illinois photographer Les Allen constructs meticulous still-life scenes out of curious objects and uses these surreal creations to make his black and white silver gelatin photographs, 22 of which are on view in this exhibition. Although it is important for Allen “to invent and construct [his] own ephemeral worlds from scratch” as part of his creative process, the production of the actual photograph carries equal significance in his photography.

Despite many challenges, photographers who continue the tradition of film do so for the love of the medium, where they are part of the final product and the physical print itself remains a product of their hands. With Allen’s images, the subjects he photographs are also the product of his hands. As he collects and creates objects that spark his curiosity, he assembles them into one-of-kind arrangements, resembling a stage set or a diorama, and photographs them using dramatic lighting effects. Working in black and white focuses attention on the shapes and details in the scene and gives the images a nostalgic quality mirroring the nostalgia of traditional film photography.

Les Allen has been actively involved in photography for over 45 years. He studied at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, earning his BFA degree in painting and drawing in 1973 and in 1975 his MFA degree in filmmaking and photography. For 35 years he taught art full-time in public high school where he developed and greatly expanded the photography program in his district. Concurrently he taught for the Young Artists’ Studios at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and was instrumental in developing their outdoor art education program. Allen also taught at College of DuPage, Moraine Valley Community College, and at Governor’s State University. In 1986 he received the Kohl Foundation’s “International Award for Exemplary Teaching.” Now retired, Allen spends his time teaching classes for the Viva Arts program at The Next Picture Show in Dixon and is pursuing his life-long passion of film photography. For more information, visit his website at