Saturday, December 30, 2017

Penguin Dreams and Stranger Things

Penguin Dreams and Stranger Things ©2017 - The title for this piece came from a book by my favorite cartoonist, Berkeley Breathed, published in 1985. I fell in love with the character, Opus the penguin, when I first discovered his comic strip, "Bloom County". I photographed these  adorable, tuxedoed  Humboldt penguins at the Turtle Back Zoo in West Orange, NJ. The Humboldt is a South American penguin that breeds in coastal Chile and Peru. It gets it's name from the cold water current it swims in which itself is named after the explorer, Alexander von Humboldt. Although we tend to think of a penguin's striking coloring as elegant, it is actually a matter of camouflage; from above, it's black back blends into the murky depths of the ocean while from below, it's white belly is hidden against the bright surface. Considered marine birds, penguins live up to 80 percent of their lives in the oceans of the Southern Hemisphere. It is a common myth that they all live in Antarctica. In fact, the Galapagos penguin lives on tropical islands at the equator. However, in the case of my little colony of Humboldts, I've placed them on a tiny island in the Delaware Water Gap in New Jersey where they are joined by a young gentleman from my vintage photo collection who is dressed as elegantly as they are. I added a cold, full moon rising in the background behind the trees, some clouds and several crows gliding overhead. Assorted filters, texture and color created the mood and atmosphere I wanted to complete the piece.

Pale Rider

Pale Rider ©2017 - The title of this piece came from the 1985 western film, "Pale Rider", a reference to the rider of the pale horse in The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse who represents death. My little equestrian (from my vintage photo collection) received the title only for his overall pallor and not for a specific association with death (although I leave any final decision on that interpretation up to the viewer). The tree, with it's skeletal limbs and gathering crows, was captured in the area of Bernardsville, NJ.It fit nicely into the background image of a furrowed  ield of grasses in the area of McGuire Air Force Base just south of Trenton, NJ. The small road cutting through the center provided a  convenient bridle path for the pale rider and a hitch hiking crow trying to  move things along with his riding crop. Clouds, a rising crescent moon,  color, texture and filters were added to complete the mood and finish the  montage.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

The Circle Game

The Circle Game ©2017 - This piece was inspired by the vintage photo of two young girls with facial expressions that are hauntingly wistful. Dressed all in white and holding hands to form a circle, they brought to mind childhood summers of local fairs and carousels. Having no carousel images in my files, I began a search and found an unusually lovely one consisting of not horses, but an assortment of endangered species at The Turtle Back Zoo in West Orange, NJ (if you're in the area, it's located in the South Mountain Reservation and well worth a visit). Oddly enough, it included a magnificent dragon that was perfect for my composition. The background image is a montage of three different photos; two from the area around Trenton, NJ of gently, rolling hills and a sky from Watchung, NJ. I arranged the dragons descending from the clouds behind the girls and a number of crows from my travels circling around them. Selected filters, color and texture brought them all together for the final piece. The title for this one was in place before I even began and comes from the first verse of the song "The Circle Game" by the one and only Joni Mitchell, 1970:

Yesterday a child came out to wonder
Caught a dragonfly inside a jar
Fearful when the sky was full of thunder
And tearful at the falling of a star
And the seasons they go round and round
And the painted ponies go up and down
We're captive on the carousel of time
We can't return we can only look behind
From where we came
And go round and round and round
In the circle game 

When Dragons Fly

When Dragons Fly ©2017 - I started this piece with the stone pool from an abandoned property in Scotch Plains, NJ. The house had already been demolished but the pool intrigued me with it's curious door shaped opening on one side that didn't seem to lead anywhere. It was surrounded by brush and debris so I placed it on the side of a sloping, stone hill I captured at Leonard J. Buck Gardens in Far Hills NJ with lovely plants growing along the top. The tree behind it came from another area of the gardens, but I loved the dripping leaves so I added it to the background and some clusters of ferns to the foreground. The little fish peering out of the water actually resides in an aquarium at my local pet store. The lady in sapphire blue (from my vintage photo collection) seems to be enjoying an afternoon stroll with her crow sporting his own blue fedora. Lastly, I added the magical dragonflies which were living on the same property with the pool. The sun that day created such ethereal sparkles of light on their wings, reinforcing a supposed connection with nature's spirit and fairy realms. It's hard to believe after hatching from an egg, this enchanting insect lives most of it's life as a brown, rather nondescript nymph under water for several years. When ready to metamorphose into an adult, it climbs to the surface at night on an emerging plant. When it's system adapts to breathing air, the skin splits open and the adult dragonfly climbs out. It spends the remainder of the night drying out and plumping up it's wings before, at sunrise, taking flight as the beautiful, agile creature we know as the dragonfly! 

"I can still only see a dragonfly, it's wings as thin and light as silk and it's body the color of rainbow. But on the wings of this dragonfly I take off and fly, for my soul carries no weight. It is our bodies - these borrowed vehicles of flesh and bone - that weigh us down. Our spirits are eternally free and invincible."  - Daniela I. Norris, On Dragonfly Wings: A Skeptic's Journey to Mediumship

And the Band Played On

And the Band Played On 2017 - The inspiration for this piece came from the wonderfully creepy little monkey sitting atop the piano playing his cymbals. I photographed him courtesy of Gallery on Main, a lovely antique shop and art gallery in Somerville NJ. I envisioned the composition to be a musical ensemble odd enough that he would fit right in. His first band mate to be added was a goat I captured in the area of Sergentsville NJ. In reality, he was standing with his front feet on a wire fence, scratching his head on a tree limb above. However, in my reality, his front hooves were in just the right position for the piano keys. I was able to photograph the beautiful baby grand at Raritan Music Store in Raritan NJ given I have an especially close relationship with the owner. The amphibian guitar player lives at my house (although I use that term loosely as he's not actually alive but stuffed). He was holding a very unimpressive toy guitar that didn't blend well with the piano so I decided to replace it with a more appropriate acoustic instrument belonging to the human guitar player who also lives at my house. The young vocalist (from my vintage photo collection) leans dreamily on the piano while the crow perched behind lends some backup vocals to the mix. I placed them all on the background image (taken near Princeton NJ) of a tree in a field with long, spidery limbs and missing the top half of it's trunk. Maybe a lightening strike? Selected filters, tones, color and texture completed "And the Band Played On".

A Vigilant Eye

A Vigilant Eye ©2017 - The rolling field of grasses I used as the background in this montage was a lucky find I happened across in Far Hills, NJ. I love using different types of grasses in my pieces and this vacant property was filled with them. It's the future home of Mine Brook Farm, a housing complex being touted as producing a regenerative environment while positively impacting the local wildlife, watershed, soil and ecology. Hopefully, they can make that happen! The abandoned building I placed in the distance, with it's draping blanket of ivy, was captured in western Hunterdon Cty, NJ on a trip home from Easton, PA. The woman peering out the upstairs window is from a vintage family photo given to me by a good friend who thought it would fit nicely into one of my pieces (and I heartily agreed!). The young girl taking an evening stroll is from my own vintage photo collection, but I spotted the majestic red tail hawk accompanying her perched in a tree behind my house. I didn't notice at the time I took the photo because of all the tree branches in the foreground, but upon inspecting the image, I found he was clutching a mouse (apparently his lunch) between his talons. I toyed with the idea of leaving it in the composition, dangling across the young lady's arm but decided it might be a bit too much. So without his mouse, I placed him on her arm and added some clouds, texture, color and filters. As the moon rises in the background, the hawk keeps "a vigilant eye" on the path ahead just as the peculiar woman in the witches hat keeps "a vigilant eye" on the two of them. And perhaps they are all listening to a song being sung in the distance….

The Poet's Song - Alfred Lord Tennyson

The rain had fallen, the Poet arose,
He passed by the town, and out of the street,
A light wind blew from the gates of the sun,
And waves of shadow went over the wheat,
And he set him down in a lonely place,
And chanted a melody loud and sweet,
That made the wild swan pause in her cloud,
And the lark drop down at his feet.

The swallow stopt as he hunted the bee,
The snake slipt under a spray,
The hawk stood with the down on his beak
And stared, with his foot on the prey
And the nightingale thought, "I have sung many songs,
But never a one so gay,
For he sings of what the world will be
When the years have died away". 


Metamorphosis ©2017 - "A change of the form or nature of a thing or person into a completely different one, by natural or supernatural means" is the definition of metamorphosis that gave me the title for this piece. I started the background with the small out building I came across on an abandoned property in the Delaware Water Gap in northwestern NJ.  The area surrounding it was all rubble so I placed it in a field of tall grasses from Mine Brook Farm in Far Hills, NJ. The Red-fringed Emerald moth (nemoria bistriaria) I photographed as it was sleeping on my front door. Although that is it's species name, it's wings were a beautiful, pastel green; not emerald. Unlike their butterfly cousins, moths are mostly nocturnal creatures in spite of their fascination for flames and artificial lights. While there are a few theories for this mysterious behavior, none have been proven. Many Native Americans consider moths a symbol of transformation and healing while others associate them with death and bringing messages from the spirit world. I suppose the young man from my vintage photo collection could possibly be involved with both. I added the clock from the quaint town of Belvedere, NJ (timing is everything in the process of metamorphosis) and some evening clouds from just after sunset. Lastly, filters and color were selectively applied as well as texture from a daguerreotype that seemingly added tendrils of electricity to the sky.

Monday, November 28, 2016

A Dark Day in November

A Dark Day in November ©2016 - When I use texture in my work, the deterioration in old daguerreotypes is one of my favorites. Normally, I remove any figures in them digitally leaving only the texture for layering into my montages. When I came across this one, however, I was drawn to how the decay of the image had left the woman with such a desolate, haunting look and decided to leave it intact. In the aftermath of the presidential election, I pulled it from my files as the base image for a piece to express the swirling thoughts and feelings consuming me. I purposely left the darkness and long, horizontal slashes across her face and head giving the feel of an icy, blowing wind. I photographed and added the American flag and lilies along with bare trees and circling crows in the background. The book the woman is holding was a gift from my sister a number of years ago by the 19th century English poet, Emma Tatham titled "On the Ocean of Time: The Children of the Year". It's an illustrated calendar book with a poem for each month of the year and is open to the following page:


Ah, I am come! and ye greet me not.
Fear and aversion are ever my lot;
Ye shrink from the sound of my voice of storm,
And dread the approach of my shadowy form;
Ye know that my brow is heavy and dull,
And scarcely a blossom have I to cull;
Ye know that my forehead with mist is veiled,
And the blast, at my coming, hath moaned and wailed;
I have torn from the branches the leaves that stayed,
And bid the shivering chrysanthemum fade;
I have strewn the foam o'er the ocean wide,
And the bee hath gone to her nest to hide.

I fear for our deeply divided country but I have to believe we will get through this.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

The Picnic

The Picnic ©2016 - "I'll affect you slowly as if you were having a picnic in a dream. There will be no ants. It won't rain." -Richard Brautigan, Loading Mercury With a Pitchfork 1976.

I began working on this piece at the end of December 2015, put it away in May 2016 and finally deemed it finished in September 2016. I'm not sure why that happens sometimes when other pieces come together a lot more quickly. After considerable trial and error, I decided to take a break and not so much as take a peek at it for several months. When I looked at it again, with a few minor tweaks, everything fell easily into place and it finally felt right. So, back to the beginning. This montage is a combination of images dating from 2010 to 2015. The background started with a grassy field and a small abandoned building I captured in Sussex County just outside of Lafayette, NJ. The trees in the rear, filled with a large flock of blackbirds, were shot from my front yard as the birds were gathering to fly south for the winter. The lovely lady hosting the picnic is friend and model Maryanne Christiano Mistretta from a photo session we did together in 2010. For the "picnic blanket", I set up and photographed a still life consisting of a vintage table cover laden with fruits and nuts. The guests include a dragonfly, a honeybee and a chipmunk from my backyard along with several crows and a vulture from my travels. Various tones, textures and filters were added for mood and blending to complete "The Picnic".

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Night of the Iguana

Night of the Iguana ©2016 - The title of this piece came from the play by Tennessee Williams, "The Night of the Iguana" but has little to do with the storyline other than the obvious inclusion of  iguanas. The background is a very marshy creek captured from a bridge in a small town somewhere between Allentown and Freehold, NJ. I came across the magnificent ruin of an old stone building in Warren County, NJ in Pohatcong Township. Unfortunately, there was no indication as to what it had been in it's previous life but it nestled nicely into my composition. What initially drew me to the older lady from my vintage portrait collection was the wisdom and contentment in her eyes, but she also reminded me of someone else. I searched my collection and there she was! A "mini me" of the older woman right down to her hairstyle! She fit perfectly into the doorway. The iguanas were not photographed from life but from a remarkably realistic sculpture that resides in my house. The most common type, the green iguana, is among the largest lizards in the Americas, growing to an average 6 feet long and weighing 11 pounds. Sometimes called "the benevolent dragon", they are quite gentle creatures, content with just being and appreciating the simplicities of life. Perhaps reflecting on her childhood and how far she has come, the woman has learned these lessons of the iguana well; being at peace with herself in the here and now and realizing that everything she needs already surrounds her. After adding a majestic vulture gliding overhead and some clouds in the night sky, I placed the June solstice full moon from June 20, 2016 peeking over the clouds. It's the northern hemisphere's first summer solstice full moon since 1967, aka The Summer of Love, with all it's magic.  

Friday, July 1, 2016

Tread Lightly at Twilight

Tread Lightly at Twilight ©2016 - Twilight is absolutely my favorite time of day. The soft, diffused light from the sky when the sun is below the horizon and a few stars become visible has a magical quality not present at any other time. The rhythm of the day is fast paced and measured by the hands of the clock, but the rhythm of the night is meditative and measured by the movement of the moon. Twilight, or "half-light", hovers between the two signaling the death of the day and the birth of the night with all it's dark secrets. The background image of this montage was in reality captured a little earlier in the afternoon around Sergeantsville, NJ. I was fascinated by the tree whose trunk seemed to grow horizontal along the ground before swooping upward. The wire mesh containers behind the tree are probably corn cribs used to dry corn, but I chose to fill them with a murder of crows exiting into the sky. Clouds were added along with selected filters and texture to simulate that hazy, watercolorish time between day and night. The young lady from my vintage photo collection was actually climbing some steps carrying a basket of flowers, but I replaced the flowers with a candle to light her way and added some grasses and stones to her path in the foreground. Hopefully, she treads lightly through the gargoyles (trying to camouflage themselves among the stones) as she makes her way through the twilight zone to a romantic tryst.

Friday, April 29, 2016

The Messengers

The Messengers 2016 - The background of this montage is a combination of two images of Green Sergeant's Covered Bridge located across Wickecheoke Creek in Delaware Township NJ. Constructed in 1872 and named for local mill operator Richard Green Sergeant, it is the last historic covered bridge in New Jersey. After being damaged in 1960, it was dismantled and replaced with a modern bridge; but, oddly enough, due to public outcry, the bridge was rebuilt from the original materials in 1961. The gulls are from a rather large flock I came across hanging out, not by the sea, but in the parking lot of Wegmans supermarket in Bridgewater, NJ. Many species have learned to coexist successfully with humans and are resourceful, inquisitive and intelligent birds. In Native American spirituality, gulls are regarded as spiritual messengers that indicate a higher communication with spirit guides is taking place. The "spirit guide" in my piece is a composite of three different women to achieve the look I envisioned. The body is one of my models, the face and hair are from two different vintage photos from my collection. The pentagram she wears at her throat symbolizes the five elements with the top point, the spirit, ruling over the other four; earth, air, fire and water. The circle encasing them all represents infinity and the cycles of life and nature. With the composition in place, I added color, selected filters and texture to complete "The Messengers".