Homage to the Rhode Island Coast

Fotographia is the current, completely online exhibition from the Emerge Gallery in Saugerties, and in my last post I promised that I’d tell you about the two photographs of mine that were chosen for it.

As the name implies, Fotographia features photographs exclusively. Fortunately for me (and for other adventurous creators of photographic art), gallery owner Robert Langdon encourages artists to stretch their boundaries, leave their comfort zones, jump out of the box, because many of my choice artworks aren’t instantly recognizable as photographs.

Take Windswept, for example. Windswept was the name of what had once been a twenty-one-room mansion on the New England coast—specifically, a short drive north of Narragansett, Rhode Island. This ruin is all that’s left of it today. Easily accessible from a trailhead that’s located right on the main road, Windswept (what’s left of it) has been photographed countless times, and so my challenge was to do something different with it. It looks quite striking when the sun is illuminating it from a bright blue sky—the gold-and-blue combination is always a powerful one. I had some images like that and experimented with various filters, such as making it look like something Turner would have painted. None of those really respected the character of the place, at least not to me. Finally I decided it was time to put the virtual paintbrushes away and try something more in the character of a drawing. Here you see the result. The stones are strongly outlined without having a gritty look (I didn’t want gritty), and the absence of the bright colors emphasizes the shapes and lines. Lesson learned: It wasn’t necessary to rely on the bright colors to portray this interesting historic structure effectively.

In the second half of the 19th century some of the artists who had been painting the Hudson Valley and Catskills started to travel east, following what would eventually become the New England coastal experience. They included John Frederick Kensett, William Trost Richards, and Alfred Thompson Bricher. I fell in love with this school of painting when I saw several examples in the windows of the William Vareika Fine Arts Gallery in Newport, RI. Early one morning—before opening hours—I was feasting my eyes and Mr. Vareika (one of the Nicest People in the World), who was waiting for art shippers to pick up a consignment, let me run upstairs to see an Alfred Bricher. I was hooked. Now when I photograph this section of the Rhode Island coast, I feel the spirits of the 19th-century artists who immortalized these scenes in their paintings. This work, which I call Timeless, is my most successful attempt (thus far) to pay homage to this typical way they had of catching the sweep of the coastline. By using a filter that flattens the details, I ended up removing, from the human figures, any suggestion of a particular point in time. My son said he could just imagine the Victorian people walking this beach. For me that meant success.

Fotographia will run online until May 30. You can visit it here. And of course, all artwork is for sale.

Expanding One’s Vision

Since the pandemic put a temporary end to the traditional opening reception for gallery art exhibits, Robert Langdon, owner and curator of the wonderful Emerge Gallery in Saugerties, NY, has held a Zoom gathering to celebrate each of the gallery’s shows, both those held in the physical gallery and those exclusively online at artsy.net. The participating artists each get a few minutes to say something about the work(s) they have in the show, and the public may also attend on Emerge’s YouTube page. These events aren’t easy to organize, and all of us whose work has been chosen for the various shows are grateful to Robert for being so enterprising and going the extra mile for his artists. The Zoom meeting for Fotographia, which is now open exclusively online, was held on April 18. I watched with intense interest because, in addition to presenting my own work, I was curious to see what my fellow photographers are doing.

The ninety minutes I spent watching in front of my laptop has done more for my potential creativity than six months’ worth of courses or workshops on “expanding your photographic horizons” could have done.  I’m not knocking courses or workshops—I’ve benefitted from oodles of them and am very indebted to the teachers. But one thing I’ve now learned about myself is that when it comes to trying something different (Robert’s allusion to how some of his artists have been “challenging themselves” activated something deep in my brain), verbal input coupled with specific assignments doesn’t have a lasting impact on me. I need to do what I did watching the Zoom: absorb other people’s work and let it sink into my subconscious through the “this can be useful” filter. Not “useful” in the sense of something I can imitate, but as something that will inspire and challenge me to go beyond my creative comfort zone in a way that expresses who I am and not my response to a course assignment.

And so I arrived at church early on Monday morning, and the first thing I noticed was the way the light from a stained-glass window was reflected on a wall. Self-dialogue no. 1: “Do I dare go over with my iPhone and photograph it?” “You know that if you don’t, you’re going to be staring at it for the next half-hour watching it fade.” “OK, I’ll do it, to heck with what anyone thinks.”  

The Result

After church, self-dialogue no. 2 took place as I headed to my car: “Go take a walk around the church property, see if there’s anything worth photographing.” “There won’t be, just the same stuff, sun is probably too high anyhow.” “Go anyway.”

I went. The sun was in a good position and I got some nice shots of the light illuminating some of the gravestones in the cemetery. But the real moment of inspiration came when I went around to the front of the church and something said, “Switch to B&W.” No dialogue this time—I did as I was told. My iPhone has a “Noir” setting that I’ve used before with dramatic results, and the stark contrast caused by the sunlight inspired me to make compositions I’d never have thought of if shooting in color or in more conventional light. Here are a few of those:

As a dear friend of mine likes to say, “Trust your intuition; it’s why God gave it to you.”

And my photographs that are on display in the Emerge Gallery’s Fotographia exhibition? I’ll tell you about them in the next post, but meanwhile, please do visit the show at Artsy https://www.artsy.net/emerge-gallery-ny and enjoy everyone’s amazing work.

Something Blue

I love George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. And contemporary composer Michael Torke’s Bright Blue Music. And blue skies and blue water. When Robert Langdon of the Emerge Gallery in Saugerties issued a Call for Art for a show he was titling “Something Blue,” I did one of my “digital rummaging” exercises through my recent (two or three years) photographs for some works to submit.

It wasn’t as easy as I thought. Images for gallery shows have to be topnotch in their own right, and they have to have sales potential for the particular gallery you’re submitting to. Here I am submitting to a gallery in the Hudson Valley and most of my best “blue” pictures – again, think water and/or sky – are, well, taken in Rhode Island.

Fortunately, water and sky have a universal appeal that transcends their particular location. It’s not as if I were submitting pictures of buildings in Providence (I hardly have any). So I chose three, and these two were accepted.

Blue Paradise

One of my dear longtime mentors, California-based photographer Kerry Drager, always advises his students and followers that when they’re searching for a composition and find a nice horizontal, then turn the camera around and see if there’s also a good vertical to be had. (And vice versa.) The aptly named Blue Paradise (I love this place) is one of those experiments that didn’t quite work out. With tons of horizontal images in varying compositions already in my files, I wanted to try for a vertical, and the sky that evening seemed as if it would be perfect for this – nice layers of different colors. The problem was that I underestimated the strength of the top, white layer; it was overpowering. It had to go. The end result was what you see here – another horizontal, but one of my best of this scene. And I always like trying for an effect where the solid, unmoving rocks contrast with the silky texture of the water (longish exposure, facilitated by the diminishing daylight). Blue Paradise is hanging, matted and framed, in the Emerge Gallery’s “Something Blue” show.


Unconquered is one of those pictures that virtually took itself. When the wind gods favor me with the wild waves, I find a good composition and click the shutter again and again, because that’s the way you ensure you’ll get one good one out of the bunch. Ask Kerry, he does this on the West Coast. Here my unmoving, solid point was the lighthouse, which (thanks to the telephoto zoom) looks much closer than it is. In postprocessing I had to do some work with clarity and brightness to ensure that the light and the rocks would stand out. And then I wanted to give the picture a title that would draw attention to the lighthouse and not to the obvious drama in the waves. My friend and fellow Catskills photographer John O’Grady often likes to do that – title a photograph after a very small object in the image – and sometimes I find myself channeling John when I’m photographing. What to call a picture about a lighthouse sturdily surviving being battered and buffeted by the wild winds? As I was thinking about this, I had the radio tuned to our classical music radio station, WMHT, and the music being played was my favorite piece by the above-mentioned Michael Torke: Unconquered. I had my title.

“Something Blue” runs in the actual gallery until April 25, but the pictures will still be available to purchase online from Emerge’s Artsy site after that – my Unconquered and lots of other fabulous works by my fellow artists are in the “online only” show. Please, if you’re local, visit the gallery, otherwise welcome online!