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Artscene: Stilling a world in motion


Atherton man returns to photography after career in business

It’s been 42 years since Marc Silber first saw images he had captured on film come to life in the tiny darkroom at Peninsula School.
He was 12 years old, and “learning the darkroom was like being led on this mystical adventure,” he recalls. That adventure and his growing interest in taking pictures set the young Atherton boy on a path toward a world in which he could live and breathe photography.

Then came the fork in the road, and when he chose it, the dream of a life as an artist made way for a life in the business world.

During the past year, Mr. Silber resumed the journey he began all those decades ago at Peninsula, a progressive private school in Menlo Park. After a long career as a management consultant, he sold his San Jose business last fall and once again took up the camera full time.

And the journey, while far from complete, is leading him “home” this weekend: On Saturday, Mr. Silber will exhibit a range of his photographs at Peninsula School from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., and will be on hand to discuss his work. There is no admission charge.

Mr. Silber, who still lives in Atherton, will also present a free program at the Atherton Library at 7 p.m. Thursday, December 8, during which he will show some of his work and share tips on improving camera skills.


It wasn’t only the darkroom sessions at Peninsula that enchanted the 12-year-old Marc. He also got a chance to rub shoulders with an Olympian of the photographic world when Ansel Adams came to the school, bringing with him some of his work and insights and making a lasting impression on the boy.
After that encounter, “I read his books and emulated his work,” Mr. Silber says. That exploration led to the works of other photographers, and he soon discovered the work of another master whose work influenced him greatly: Henri Cartier-Bresson, known for his “street work” and considered a pioneer of photojournalism.

Whereas Ansel Adams is known for his willingness to wait -- sometimes for hours -- for the right moment to photograph one of his majestic outdoor subjects, “with Cartier-Bresson, everything is in the moment,” Mr. Silber says. “I’m somewhere in between.”

After high school, Mr. Silber studied photography at the San Francisco Art Institute. He also became a student of mountaineering, and a camera was always part of his gear during his excursions in the high country.

“I was finding my own voice in photography, and no school can teach you that,” he says.

As time went on, though, devotion to his art began to take a back seat to the demands of making a living -- an age-old story for countless creative souls. But the desire to make photographs never left him, he says.

Recently, Mr. Silber’s sons, Web site designers, put together a site for him, giving him a chance to post photographs he had taken since his years at Peninsula School. Going through all his old negatives “lit the fire again,” he says, adding that it was then that he decided to sell his business and return to his first love.

Resuming the journey

In resuming his pursuit of photography, Mr. Silber has left behind one of his earliest inspirations: the darkroom. Shooting now with a digital Nikon, he has no need for the chemicals, canisters and trays, but he says he still feels the thrill of seeing his images emerge, albeit on a computer screen.
His portfolio includes a number of images from his earlier days as a photographer, such as a series he shot while studying building crafts in Mexico his senior year in high school.

It is also rich in images from near and far -- from Big Sur to Paris, from which he returned several weeks ago. An exhibit of his work in the Phoenix Gallery in Nepenthe, Big Sur, has just been extended through the holidays, he says.

He is experimenting again with a style he explored in the past, in which motion combines with the immoveable, he says. For example, he recently made a photograph in Paris’ Jardin des Tuileries anchored by two trees and a park bench -- a space that invites you to sit, to think, to allow time to stand still for a while. But a whirling carousel occupying most of the photographic frame reminds the viewer that time never really stands still.

In the moment

Mr. Silber struggles with the quintessential question faced by all artists: How does one present the world with an idea, a musical statement, an image that is fresh and has something new to say?
For a photographer, the question is particularly relevant. “Our current culture is so loaded with pre-made images,” Mr. Silber notes. “We’re competing against this world of ready-make images.”

But as he attempts to meet the challenge, he says, he is reaping many rewards from taking up a camera once again.

“Photography gives me the chance to not just be an idle visitor -- a vacationer,” he says.

“It puts me in the moment, and lets me stop and look at the world -- not just see it rush by.”


Marc Silber will exhibit his work from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, November 19, at Peninsula School, 920 Peninsula Way in Menlo Park. The event is free. He also will present a free program on photography from 7 to 8:30 p.m. on December 8 at the Atherton Library, 2 Dinkelspiel Station Lane.


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