Neal Johnston and his wife, Pauline, arriving at the Creative Arts Center Gallery, for the opening of the month-long exhibit of his photography.

Neal Johnston and his wife, Pauline, arriving at the Creative Arts Center Gallery, for the opening of the month-long exhibit of his photography. (David Laurell)

The Burbank Creative Arts Center Gallery kicked off 2011 by presenting "Outdoor Nudes, Classic Landscapes, Old Wood — An Exhibition of Black and White Photography by Neal Johnston." The exhibition's opening-night reception saw local supporters of the arts and friends of the featured photographer enjoy the presentation of his dramatic images on Friday evening.

Born and raised in Los Angeles, Johnston was a young boy when he first became enamored with using a camera to create images.

"My passion for photography began when I was in the seventh grade in a photo club," Johnston said. "My first time in the darkroom, observing a print come up in the developer was magic. I knew at that moment my life work would be in photography."

Neal in fact followed through with his childhood dream and became a professional photographer who, throughout his 45-year career, worked for the city of Los Angeles, the Photography Center and the Los Angeles Zoo.

Following his recent retirement, Neal and his wife, Pauline, who always enjoyed traveling, began taking longer trips on the roads less traveled.

"I have always loved to travel the country," Neal said. "I have had a camper for more years than I care to remember. I have traveled across the country many times, mostly keeping to secondary roads, allowing the freedom to stop and do photos of much of America that has been forgotten in the wake of our progress. The many family homesteads, barns and cleared fields, all completed with back-breaking work in varying stages of decay, I feel compelled to document what remains."

Neal's dramatic images, rendered from his Zone VI 4x5 field camera, clearly intrigued those who attended Friday's reception including Burbank pottery artist Ellisa Weekley whose father was a photographer.

"His [Neal's] work really captures the essence and feeling of the scenes he captures," Weekley said.

Diane Alford, a longtime friend of Neal's, who along with her husband, Bennie, has joined the photographer on some of his travels, said she is constantly amazed at Neal's ability to see things that most would miss.

"His work points out the subtleties of what exists that I was never even aware of," Alford said.

Along with Neal's magnificent images that document a slice of Americana that largely goes unnoticed, his exhibit also presents textural offerings of aged wood that had been used in the construction of ships, wagon wheels, fences and door and window frames, and beautiful nudes that have been creatively incorporated into dramatic landscapes.

"A lot of people photograph nudes outdoors," Neal said. "They put them in a beautiful setting and do a close-up. My thought on this is if you are in a lively setting, use the figure in the environment — make her a part of the nature."

Others who enjoyed the opening-night reception of the exhibit that will run through Jan. 27 included Joseph and Leila Alcatraz, Ken Weekley, Ellen Close, Frank Schlegel, Terri Martin and Terre Hirsch..

The Creative Arts Center Gallery is in Izay Park, 1100 W. Clark Ave. Gallery hours are 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Friday and 9a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday. For more information, call (818) 238-5397.