Dentist’s passion for photography leads to regular shows on his office walls and a silent auction at a local gallery

By Randi Bjornstad

His profession is dentistry, but Dr. Don Dexter has always been fascinated with art in general and photography in particular.

For the past 20 years, in fact, he has hosted art shows on the walls of his dental offices — mostly paintings or photography — and he figures he’s hung the work of about 190 local artists during that time.

Five years ago, though, Dexter started concentrating on photography, he said, “because I like it so much and because there seems to be a lot of galleries for other kinds of art but not with a photography focus.”

Now he’s taking his interest to another level, collaborating on a one-night pop-up gallery show with the Karin Clarke Gallery in downtown Eugene, from 6 p.m. to 8  p.m. on Nov. 19.

It’s not only a photo-only show, it’s also a silent auction of the works on the wall that will benefit several local nonprofit organizations. The photographs consist of 21 prints that measure 16 inches square, and they’ve been shot by 20 citizen photographers that include Eugene Mayor Kitty Piercy, plus one by Dexter himself.

Eugene dentist Don Dexter shows one of his photographs made taken with a quirky Holga camera (Photo by Randi Bjornstad)
Eugene dentist Don Dexter shows one of his photographs, taken with a quirky Holga camera
(Photo by Randi Bjornstad)

But what really sets this show apart is that each picture is taken with a Holga camera, a quirky, usually plastic, cheap, medium-format Chinese camera first manufactured in 1981 and exported internationally starting the following year.

Because of its rather imprecise construction specifications, it’s easy to advance the film more or less than a full frame, not wind it at all and end up with double exposures, or end up with images characterized by light leaking onto the film or distortions from the cheap plastic lens.

Many people considered the camera a toy, but because of its eccentricities and its sometimes surrealistic results, the Holga quickly became something of a cult camera. Production ended a year or more ago, but Holgas are still available in some camera stores and on the used-equipment market.

Dexter bought his first Holga 20 years ago or so from a well-known Eugene photographer, Ed Vliek, who worked at a local Dot Dotson’s photo shop and spent much of his own free time photographing the dunes on the Oregon coast.

Vliek died in 2009 of early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, a week before his 60th birthday.

“Ed had a Holga, and I was impressed with his work, so I bought one from him,” Dexter said. “Soon after I had someone in my (office) show who included a Holga picture — it was serendipity.”

The use of the simple little camera waned quickly when 120 film gave way to 35-millimeter film, but it lately has undergone one of its periodic resurgences, Dexter said.

“A patient recently called me from the San Francisco Airport to tell me there was a Holga show on display there,” he said. “The Holga pictures are easily recognizable — they have a pretty distinctive look.”

He’s probably only shot a dozen rolls or so of film using his own Holga, but he rounded up a half-dozen of the cameras, figuring he would pass them out in two batches, add a photo of his own and end up with a “baker’s dozen” show.

“But then everybody who knew about it started telling their friends — I easily could have had 40 people participating, but that seemed too much,” Dexter said.

He loaded up the cameras, handed them out and told the participants to shoot 12 images and then bring the cameras back to him for unloading, processing and printing, a process he repeated four times.

“The deal was that they would shoot, and I would process and print and choose the pictures for the show,” he said.

One person shot the whole roll with the lens cap on, another shot without advancing the film and one camera somehow became damaged to the point it couldn’t produce an image.

Dexter gave his photographers the choice of shooting color or black-and-white, and all but four chose black-and-white.

“Everybody asked me what to shoot, and I told them it was up to them — people, places or things,” he said. “I told them they were doing this for charity, not art, but I think they found a lot of art.”

Dexter said he’s not committing to do this kind of show again, but he hedges a bit.

“I assumed it would be a ‘one-off,’ but its purpose is to give back to the community and help worthwhile organizations,” he said. “People are saying this is a really good project, so right now I won’t say ‘yes,’ but I won’t say ‘no,’ either. There is so much need in this community.”

Eugene: From Holga With Love
What: A one-night, pop-up gallery of photographs taken by local citizens with rudimentary Holga cameras
When: 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 19
Where: Karin Clarke Gallery, 760 Willamette St. in downtown Eugene
Purpose: Silent auction to benefit five local charities — FOOD for Lane County, Luvable Dog Rescue, Oregon Supported Living Program, Lane Arts Council and Womenspace
Information: 541-684-7963, kclarkegallery@mindspring.com or karinclarkegallery.com/

Randi Bjornstad

Has more than 30 years' journalism experience after a previous stint as a land-use planner. Got first rejection slip at age 11, but the editor wrote an encouraging note. Lives in Eugene, Ore., with husband-and-photographer Paul Carter, adorable dog Tallulah and quirky cats Pearl, Audrey, Garbo, Harry and Ozma.

randi has 171 posts and counting.See all posts by randi

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