Creatures - Valerie Shaff / John Dugdale / Margaret Saliske

opening reception: Saturday, December 5 from 6 to 9pm

December 3, 2009 through January 10, 2010

Carrie Haddad Photographs is pleased to announce an exhibit of work by photographer Valerie Shaff titled, “Creatures.” The body of work on view will include Shaff’s new series of birds at rest and in flight. Also on exhibit will be new photo deconstructions by Margaret Saliske, and introducing for the first time at the gallery, works by noted photographer, John Dolan. The exhibit opens December 3rd and will run through January 10, 2010. An opening reception will take place at the gallery on Saturday, December 5 th, from 6 - 9 pm.

The origins of Valerie Shaff’s photographic career date back to her seventh birthday, when she was given her first camera, a Brownie Starflash. Shaff wasted no time in commencing to photograph her world; a world where family, friends and especially, animals, became her chosen subjects. Her golden retriever, Taffy, squirrels, bunnies and every horse she crossed paths with, found themselves in front of her lens. Even pond frogs, which she stalked and briefly captured for her pending photo session, were prescient of work to come.

As Shaff’s affinity with animals developed, so did her photographic vision, though, as she says, her subject has remained consistent: animals and people. “The work has matured beyond that original childhood innocence, but the motivation is still genuine and emotional.” Shaff’s uncanny ability with all creatures extends to domestic animals, especially dogs, which she sees as “the incarnation of devotion itself.” She has been tagged “Avedon of the Dogs,” and has four book collaborations with Roy Blount Jr.

In each photograph shown in this exhibit, Shaff has sought to produce an image reflecting the state of natural grace she finds so compelling in the animal world. That grace, full of playfulness and authenticity, is what most brings Shaff in touch with life’s immediacy. There is, in waiting for the perfect moment before clicking the shutter, whether in front of a fragile baby crow or a two thousand pound buffalo, a complete abandonment to being in the present. “The state of oneness comes from being fully engaged.” says Shaff.

Shaff finds absolute truth in animals: “Animals have no ego, they disdain pretense; they are unapologetically who they are.” Interestingly, Shaff says she has little interest in traditional wildlife photography. It is the individual character of each creature Shaff finds intriguing; her desire is to monumentalize the animal for who they are.

The patience and rapport Shaff has developed with her subjects brings arresting results. The owl, the dove, the buffalo, even the turtle, look back at the viewer, revealing something essential in their nature. For Shaff, this is her desire and gift – to see these creatures as they truly are; as Mother Nature’s greatest work of art.

The acclaimed Irish author, William Trevor has said, “My fiction may, now and again, illuminate aspects of the human condition, but I do not consciously set out to do so: I am a storyteller.” Trevor, an author the photographer John Dolan (an Irishman himself), greatly admires, might also be speaking about Dolan’s photographs. It is human nature and the stories within, which are Dolan’s primary subjects.

As a young man, Dolan began his photographic career working for famed New York City photographer Sylvia Plachy and soon became her master printer. Plachy taught Dolan about the nexus of a photographer’s life, personality and pictures. When Dolan went out on his own, and as his career progressed, he discovered that the most meaningful pictures he took were those that captured, almost without him knowing, a vital element of the human spirit. It was this quality that drew the attention of the Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation, who offered Dolan “The Berkshire Project,” in honor of their 20th anniversary. This unique opportunity came in the form of a year long grant to photograph the region’s scenic beauty and local character.

In the collection of images presented in this exhibition, Dolan portrays the human need for comfort and refuge. Whether still or in motion, the human animal seeks connection; in the subtle positions of the body – in the bend of a knee or elbow, in the curled torso, in the running figure, (is he returning or departing?) in the children’s dive into electric blue water – there is a yearning for home and solace.

Dolan has said that literature affects the way he photographs more than painting. “A perfect sentence gives me hope. Hope that it is possible in words or pictures to hold the invisible.” In Dolan’s photographs, glimpses of desire and other secrets of the human story, become visible.

Margaret Saliske, a sculptural artist who uses digital photography as a primary element in her work, is presenting a new series titled, “Photo Deconstructions.” In previous work, Saliske has structured her photographs into racks, shelves, slots, flaps, drums, etc., to where they appear mechanical, functional and almost familiar.

Often incorporating images of the Hudson River, the surrounding landscapes and the interior of her Greek revival home in Hudson, NY, into her work, Salinske manipulates the photographs in such a way as to rearrange the relationships between objects and space. The new juxtapositions invite the viewer to examine what would otherwise go unnoticed.

The images exhibited here continue to develop the artist’s interest in combining landscape and architecture, nature and geometry; in making an image both familiar and unexpected. Saliske focuses on landscape because, she says, it is the most spatially familiar, therefore any manipulation creates a previously unknown space. In the still life pieces, light frames an ambiguous area and the cutting and folding of the photograph pushes the relationship between objects further.

Valerie Shaff

Margaret Saliske