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Capturing the world through one man's camera

By JUDITH LINDER-ASHAKIH • Updated Apr 11, 2018 at 9:29 AM

MILAN — One of the themes that flow in unexpected fits and starts through the world class photographs of Arthur Gnecco, local Milan resident, is laundry hanging on lines around the world. Yes, it pops up alongside and in front of some of the spectacular and most famous buildings he has documented during vacations in countries as varied as Cuba, Spain, Czechoslovakia, Italy, India and Colombia. His eye is on the humorous, the unlikely and unusual, such as urban decay, old doors or windows. His nature scenes are dazzling.

"I just do what I like, I don't have a style," Gnecco explains with a twinkle in his eye as he points out a very large photo entirely filled with sagging outdoor clotheslines. These stretch blocks into the distance, a scene crammed with row upon row of red trousers, blue, and purple shirts, white sheets that parade right past the edges of this photo from India. "How much laundry have you ever seen in one place?" he asks. All the grandeur expected of India shows up in his colorful views, from a reclining holy man, his face painted in primary orange and yellow to a local festival celebrated in raucous shades of clothing or flowers. The Taj Mahal, seen from the rear looks familiar but, he says, "You hardly ever see this view, with the trees and the many minarets."

His earliest photos are black and white. One was taken on July 28, 1945 of the remnants of a lost U.S. military bomber that smashed into the Empire State Building on a foggy morning. He was working for a photography business in a building high enough and close enough for him to take this photo of an historic event, though he was never a professional photographer.

Although his parents were born in Colombia, South America, they met in New York City where they married. "I was born and grew up in NYC,” Gnecco said. “I used to play under the George Washington Bridge as a kid. I graduated from the City College of New York as a chemical engineer."

His grandmother had brought her children to the USA after World War I. His father came later.

After CCNY he worked a short time with the New Jersey Turnpike as an electrical draftsman, developing a lighting system for the exchanges. Not a fulfilling job, he left for Colombia where he had many uncles. Since he had grown up speaking Spanish and English he found work for a pharmaceutical company, in a lab in which he helped develop vaccines for rabies and hoof and mouth disease. Later working with ESSO Oil Company gave him a connection through their partner, Foster Wheeler Corporation, which brought him back to the USA. He began control work for Plum Brook NASA with the General Regulator Corporation. "Any factory, business or chemical plant that works with machines has to have controls on certain temperatures, pressure, flow and levels of oil. I was doing government work with the wind tunnel at NASA."

Break to Milan, Ohio, where Gnecco, who had married in Colombia, settled his family. "After my wife died I decided to start travelling, oriented towards photography. At first it took me a while to get interested in nature. I liked the city hustle and bustle. I went to northern Wisconsin near the upper peninsula. It was there I came to love the expanse, the quietness, the wildlife, even the sheep in Wisconsin."

Now Gnecco's collection includes Ansel Adams-like quality landscapes of Bryce Canyon National Park. "As we walked up the hill that overlooks the canyon, a professional photographer beside me kept saying, 'Wait till we get to the tip, just wait.' It was one of the most stunning things I have ever seen," Gnecco said. His crisp clear pint exudes that beauty. His scene of horses grazing in a meadow in the park behind Milan's cemetery seems set in a mystical wonderland — such beauty found right in Milan, Ohio.

On the journey through his family history, Gnecco has amassed collections of photos to commemorate places such as Colombia, S.A. where through his mother, the family Otalora, he is connected to the first Otalora who came from the Basque area of Spain in the mid-1500s to work with the Viceroy of New Granada. He was co-founder of Villa de Leyva in 1572, a town designated a United Nations World Heritage Site. His father's Gnecco family were relatively late comers, settling in Santa Marta on the Atlantic coast of Colombia in the 1700s. In the late 1880s one of this family was in interim president of Colombia. Gnecco's next trip will be to his Otalora homeland in Spain.

Since Cuba was one of the stopping places for his grandmother on the way to the United States, Gnecco has been there twice, taking some striking photos in the same locations showing the city of Havana just after travel bans from the US were lifted, and again this past year. "Not very much progress noticeable" he observed.

He has created a book called “Voyage to Antiquity” filled with scenes of ancient sites and explanations of this trip from Rome to Pompeii, including a circuit of Sicily, then along the Dalmation coast, ending in Venice.

His incredible photos are on view and for sale at Cross Town Goods store next to the Invention Restaurant on Milan Square. These enlargements are ready for framing. Many have an acrylic glaze which replaces the need for glass and keeps the photos from damage by condensation.

Treat yourself to Gnecco's lively, humorous, colorful collection, a unique and personal view of the world on your next visit to Milan.

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