303 East Chapel Hill Street
Durham, NC 27701 • (919)687-0250

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Gallery open by appointment

"untitled" © 2020, 2021 Ryan Helsel "untitled" © 2020, 2021 Vann Powell



Through This Lens Presents Two-Person Exhibition – Piedmont Topographics: Ryan Helsel & Vann Powell – Opens March 19, 2021 – Downtown Durham, NC.



DURHAM, NC, MARCH 8, 2021 – Ryan Helsel and Vann Powell document the Research Triangle area of the North Carolina Piedmont in the midst of a development boom. Their photographs survey remnants of previous development and fresh scars of the new, the marks left by nature, humans, time and the hot Piedmont sun. An exhibition of their work, curated by Melissa Gwynn, features over 40 photographs and will be on display starting Friday, March 19 at Through This Lens in Downtown Durham.


The title of Ryan Helsel and Vann Powell’s exhibition of recent photography, Piedmont Topographics, takes its name and inspiration from the formative 1975 exhibition, New Topographics: Photographs of a Man-Altered Landscape, curated by William Jenkins for the George Eastman House in Rochester, New York.


As the title suggests, the 1975 exhibition offered up radically new ways of depicting the landscape––one increasingly altered by humans. No idealized panoramas of untouched natural beauty were found in New Topographics;instead, each of the artists presented unsentimental photographs that documented suburban housing tracts, austere industrial sites, and everyday scenery.


In their photographs of the Piedmont, Helsel and Powell present work in a similar vein, though with a slight twist. Both explore the urban and rural geography of the region they call home, documenting the ways in which time and nature can reassert a new mark on human-made structures and topographies. Old walls and fencing are subsumed by ubiquitous non-native foliage to form a new textural tapestry, while an antenna tower is captured from a vantage point that dwarfs its scale, lending it the appearance of an overrun trellis. Construction detritus and evidence of new development contrast with worn structures that have withstood the passage of time and reclamation by nature. Human activity, in the past or simply just outside the frame, is implied rather than captured, imparting a stillness to the images.


“It can be difficult not to interpret elements of disrepair captured in these photographs as a metaphor or to elsewhere infer explorations of contemporary social concerns, especially for viewers familiar with the region.”, said exhibition curator Melissa Gwynn. “Whether or not they set out to make commentary on issues such as gentrification, development, or the environment, in the spirit of New Topographics, Helsel and Powell simply document and reveal what is there for anyone to see.”

Piedmont Topographics: Ryan Helsel & Vann Powell opens Friday, March 19 with a reception from 5 – 7 PM. Masked attendees will be allowed to view the show with a limit of six people at a time. The exhibition will be viewable by appointment only outside of events – email to schedule an appointment.


Through This Lens, located at 303 E. Chapel Hill Street, is a photography gallery nestled in the heart of downtown Durham since 2004.





Ryan Helsel, a Midwest transplant to the area, has lived in the Triangle since 2005 and Durham since 2007. He is an artist, arts educator, and pessimistic daydreamer who currently works as the K-12 and Family Programs Educator at the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University.



Vann Powell, a native of North Carolina, graduated with a degree in Philosophy from Appalachian State University and spent the next 6 years working in Prague, Czech Republic and Seoul, South Korea. Over the past few years Vann has been based in Durham, NC where he works as a freelance photographer while finishing a certificate in documentary photography at Duke University’s Center for Documentary Studies.




Melissa Gwynn is a Minnesota native who works as the Exhibitions and Publications Manager in the Curatorial department of the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University. She earned a bachelor’s degree in art history at Bethel University, St. Paul, MN, and a master’s degree in art history at Hunter College in New York City.



Exhibition inquires should be directed to Ryan Helsel – or (919) 358-0518


Gallery inquiries should be directed to Roylee Duvall, owner of Through This Lens – or (919) 687-0250


Proper face protection must be worn during all visits

email is the best way to contact us:




Free and open to the public
Regular Hours: open by appointment until further notice

© 2021 Through This Lens, Inc
303 E. Chapel Hill Street
Durham, NC 27701
919.687.0250 -

this page updated March 13, 2021