I’ve often told people who ask that the city where I live, Bellingham, WA., is like a small European community. One reason is because the city has a rich arts lifestyle especially for its size. “Bellingham is ranked the second best arts community in the country, with the ranking being based on the number of active arts businesses per capita,” according to Downtown Bellingham, a non-profit organization of local businesses and civic-minded residents that works to promote the city’s lively and historic downtown.
During the 1980s, local galleries opened their doors four times a year for what was known as the Gallery Walk. In 2009, it became a monthly event that takes place on the First Friday evenings , even in winter. It has become a highly popular outing for locals as well as visitors who wander from shop to shop, gallery to gallery taking in a wide variety of art created by the many talented artists who live here.
Downtown businesses, in addition to the galleries, showcase the work of local artists with openings from 6 to 10 p.m. during Art Walk. I am often among those who enjoy the evening viewing the artwork. But at the May Art Walk to be this Friday, May 1, I’ll be showing some of my own portrait work in a group show at Dakota Art in its relatively new gallery space.
The show will focus on the art of portraiture and different styles of portraiture. Three other artists, besides myself, will also be featured. Everett Aison will show five framed triptych portraits of “New York Subway Faces” and a series of “63 people looking at Art” water-color drawings and digital prints. The portrait art of the young artist Katie Johnson, originally from Hillsboro, Ore, whose works are very stylized large-scale oil paintings of the faces of various Bellingham brewers. Also included is Tessa Asato who creates large-scale drawings that are heavily detail oriented and have strong concepts.
Five or six (space dependent) of my photographic portrait prints will be displayed. They represent a good variety of both my photographic media and my own portrait style. Some are portraits which I was hired to create for clients, others are ones that I initiated myself. Some clients own copies of the prints but most are from my personal collection and are the only existing print. Many have not been seen outside my studio doors. I am pleased to present them at Art Walk.
There’s a story behind each print, but I won’t be able to tell them that evening. I’ll share shortened versions here and with the images so that those of you who don’t live here can see them as well. As someone commented to me last week, you won’t get the full impact of the image without seeing it firsthand, just as with any piece of art. You can’t see here the finish used, the artwork done or the type of paper on which it was printed. I won’t get into a discussion about how I work other than to say that when photographing someone, whether for a personal portrait, a business or a high school senior, I do my best to reveal something about that subject, their personality or inner self. That comes with getting to know them quickly, making them comfortable enough to not be self-conscious in front of the camera and then capturing the moment on film or digital realisation.
“Fairy in the Forest,” was created during this young woman’s high school senior portrait session. Her mother asked me to photograph her daughter in her ballet clothes. After shooting some in the studio, I asked her to come outside with me to forest. She took off her ballet slippers and followed me out. I didn’t really have anything specific in mind at the time, I just like the idea of putting someone out of context. I placed her on the path amongst the towering trees and asked her to move into various ballet positions. Later, in looking at the raw proofs, this particular image reminded me of Shakespeare’s play “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” one of my favorites. I had the print pressed into a fine weave canvas after scanning the original negative and doing some digital artwork.
I asked Richard Knight, the father of my Pilates instructor, if I could photograph him for my “The Noble Knight” after hearing about his remarkable accomplishment of winning six gold medals in swimming at the Senior Olympics. (You can read about that in my blog post: A Knight in Shining Armor.) Richard, then 79, wasn’t too certain about my idea, but once we met at the session, we became instant buddies, in part, because we’re both swimmers although I can only dream about winning six gold medals. I had hoped to persuade him to shed his jacket so that his medals would gleam against his bare chest but when he wasn’t willing to do that, I just went with it. He was a good sport when I told him I wanted him to stand out on the rock surrounded by chilly water. But the look on his face and his stance caught at this instant, created for me a priceless image of a man at his the peak of accomplishment.
“Nikki, The Girl in White” was also done for a client’s high school senior. She was great fun to work with as I photographed her at a local boatyard. The rest of the images from this session are full of bright color from the boats, equipment and buildings. But towards the end, she slipped on a white t-shirt and I moved her away from the color to a spot nearer the water with only the sky behind her. The contrast between her shirt, the sky, her hair and skin tones was stunning. She was smiling in most of the images but then her expression changed and I had a moment that I thought said more about her than all the others. I gave the print a high gloss finish to make it pop even more and give a high-fashion flavor.
“Rachel in the Field” is a much softer image. The young woman pictured here is the beautiful daughter of my cousin. Rachel is a horsewoman so we had gone to the stables to photograph her with her horse. When we were wrapping up, I placed her for some final images in the adjacent pasture with the treeline silhouetted in the background. She sat on the ground for the first few then I asked her stand and instead of looking at me, gaze off towards the horizon. When she did, I captured it. I didn’t realize it at the time, but in editing her images later, I realized those last images bore direct references to artist Andrew Wyeth‘s indelible “Christina’s World.” I then applied digital artwork to create a feel I thought similar to that conveyed in Wyeth’s watercolor, although I didn’t want to duplicate his work,and that expressed the mood of my image.
“Madonna and Son”, the only print of which I don’t have a digital version to show here, also has considerable artwork, most of it done by hand on the print itself, in order to achieve the end result I had envisioned. This image feels very Italian to me, which is why I guess I gave it that title.It was done for a friend of mine in Los Angeles shortly after the birth of her second son. I arrived at her home for the session. Rarely, if ever, do I give my subjects props or clothing to wear but in this case, I loaned a silky white nylon robe to her. I can’t say that I had this image in mind when I shot it on film, but when I saw it in the camera’s viewfinder, I knew I had something special. She and her son were photographed in her hallway with the white light from the living room windows streaming in behind her. To this I added a feather screen on the print and then finished it with a lot of pencil work to give it the ‘etched’ look I was after. It is one of my own, as well as that of my many clients’ favorite portraits. I often have it hanging on the wall of my studio.
Lastly, but not least, is “The Pianist.” This portrait was created at the request of the Mount Baker Youth Symphony for a concert poster. This young man had won the orchestra’s concerto competition and was to be the soloist for the concert. When he arrived at my studio for the session, I took him into my home and had him sit at the piano. I asked him to play some of the music he would perform. When he did, it was as if he had left my room for his own personal world. Me too. When he stopped, I simply asked him to turn and look out the window but to leave one hand touching the piano’s keyboard. He clearly was still thinking about the music as he did so because you can see him so lost in reflective thought. The film image was made on watercolor paper as a delicate giclée print after I scanned the image and added my digital artwork to it.
I wish that all of you could come to the gallery next Friday and see these prints for yourselves. If you can’t, I hope that this offers some insight into my own portrait work and how I, as a photographic portrait artist, approach my work in creating my these images. You can always see more of my own portrait work on my studio website.
Read more about Bellingham’s Downtown Art Walk on Whatcom Talk.