You are invited to join me on a journey about my path of being an artist. Over the next year I am going to share with you the various projects I have made going back in time and working my way up to the present moment. It is exciting for me to share with you the seeds that were already present from the very beginning. To be able to see them take root, flourish and blossom into a visual language is encouraging because it is a testament to the slogan “Always let go, never give up!”.
I am going to share my creative process with you beginning with the shift I made from black and white to colour. The first ten years of my life as a fine art photographer I used a medium format Mamiya 6 x 6 cm camera with black and white film which I developed in the kitchen of my mother’s apartment on 95th Street and Columbus Avenue on the 18th floor which is where I grew up. I loved working in the darkroom and printed my work on Portriga paper and selenium toned the prints at the School of Visual Arts in NYC where I was going for my Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree in Photography from 1980- 1985
I found my voice as a photographer by initially doing self portraits but soon realised I needed to literally get out of my own way. In my third year of art school at SVA I turned my bedroom into a studio. There was one big window and the room was small and white so it was like photographing inside of a light box.
My bed became the stage for a whole world of paper, feathers, bones, ice eggs, sea fans, chiffon, sand, snake skins and glass, much to my mother’s dismay.
In my last year of art school the energy of the still life work shifted. The thought of leaving school and entering the big bad world terrified me, so death and impermanence became the main theme.
Little did I know what a lesson in impermanence these photos would become.
Five years later I moved to Amsterdam and on a visit home to NYC I shipped some things back to Holland that I had saved in my bedroom closet. In three separate boxes I sent the contents of my doll house, childhood sweaters hand knitted by my Grandmother, and all the black and white negatives that I had ever made at SVA and earlier.
The first two boxes arrived, but the negatives were lost and never recovered.
In retrospect I realised that I had shipped them overseas in the least expensive way possible with no tracking number. I think there was a part of me that felt burdened and overwhelmed by being an artist. A part of me that thought, “who cares anyway?”
From this sad and regretful experience I learned how important it is to truly value and care for one’s art work: to regard it as a gift that one receives and tends to like the seeds in a garden.
After graduating from art school I was trying to find my way as an artist and audited my favourite writing and literature teacher Linda Huntington’s Latin American Literature class at SVA.
At the conclusion of the class I made my first handmade art book of still life photographs joined with quotes from the books I had been reading.
This material was not easy to access but Linda could make anything accessible and interesting since she was an extraordinary teacher! We became friends by walking across town on 23rd Street after class.
One day as we were approaching the subway station she stopped abruptly, looked me straight in the eyes and implored me to promise that I would never stop making my art.
It was night time and the street lights caught the glimmer in her bright eyes. I could feel the importance of what she was asking me to do although I didn’t fully understand the implications!
Tragically Linda passed away this past May of 2020. Linda became a dear friend and we corresponded for almost 40 years. She saved all of my letters and I saved all of hers. That correspondence is now with me and is a testament to our love and friendship.
A few friends have requested that I share portraits of myself from the early days.
The first is a self-portrait that I made which was the beginning of finding my voice as an artist.
In my early creative life I agonised often about what to photograph. My teacher Algis Balsys gave me an assignment during our year of independent study at SVA in 1982. He told me to go into a room with one roll of film in my camera and not to come out until I exposed all 36 negatives. My first reaction was fear and panic because I really didn’t know what to do! Then I had an idea to photograph myself and that was the birth of a series of self portraits expressing my inner world through my own body and gestures.
The second is a portrait that Algis took of me.
The third is a portrait by my dear friend and fellow student at SVA, Richard Brandt.
After graduating from The School of Visual Arts I worked many different jobs in the field primarily as an assistant. One of them was on the Lower East Side of Manhattan in the basement printing photographs of Andy Warhol’s paintings. Another was working the night shift at a lab called Cosmic Sound Delight in Midtown Manhattan printing color photographs. I worked into the middle of the night adjusting filters of Cyan, Magenta and Yellow in order to get the color balance just right. Those were gruelling jobs and not what I spent four years of my life at SVA for!
Then I landed a fantastic job as an assistant photographer at Tiffany.
On the weekends I was permitted to use the studio for my own art.
I brought my collections of things and “lights, camera, action” got to work using their 4 x 5 inch view camera.
I remember during one session running back and forth making adjustments with the camera and the still life setup and the darkroom in order to load the 4 x 5 inch black and white film into the negative holders.
I moved quickly, even though the still lives were not going anywhere. It felt like something magical was happening and I needed to catch the moment.
Seeds of future work were present in this series: motherhood, fertility, the relationship between painting and photography as well as the relationship between beauty and impermanence.
When I was 10 years old I met the Buddhist meditation master Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche due to the blessings of my father who introduced me to his teacher. While attending SVA when I was not waitressing on the weekends I was attending a series of meditation trainings called Shambhala Training:The Sacred Path of the Warrior.
This culminated in being accepted to a three month Buddhist Seminary in 1988 in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. Thankfully I had an excellent working relationship with the Art Director at Tiffany, Q. Cassetti, and the two photographers Mark Bradley Bealmear and Josh Haskin. They permitted me to take a leave of absence for three months provided I found a replacement. My friend and colleague Peggy Spetsieri from SVA stepped in as assistant so that I would have a job when I returned.
Something unexpected happened at Seminary: I fell in love with a Dutch man. After returning to my job at Tiffany it became clear I needed to follow my heart to Amsterdam to be with my fiancé Rein.
This was a very big deal but I was young, in love and adventurous so I took a leap and moved to Amsterdam sight unseen. Soon after moving to Amsterdam I was admitted to the Rijksakademie van beeldende kunsten a prestigious graduate art school. The portfolio I made at Tiffany during the weekends paved the way.
I moved to Holland in the middle of Winter in 1989. Dutch winters are very grey! Perhaps that is why I made the shift from black & white to colour photography.
On my first Queen’s Day on April 30th when the whole country parties and celebrates the Queen’s Birthday I found a painted bread box. The Dutch accumulate all their stuff and sell it on Queen’s Day (Or King’s Day if the reigning monarch is a King).
I was in the gestation phase of my process and was collecting things that I was attracted to which turned out to be a big part of my way of working. The paintings on the bread box became the inspiration and the ground for the work ahead. Here lay seeds that have continued until this day: mixing the mediums of painting and still-life photography. The underlying question of what is real versus what is imagined and the relationship between the two is a theme that still moves me.
While attending the Rijksakademie van beeldende kunsten I produced my first portfolio in color called Ratna. This was also the first time that I titled a series. Ratna is a Sanskrit word which is characterized by the notion of ripe, rich, rotten, autumn, luscious, consuming, earth and full expansion. All these qualities are manifest in this body of work which became my second handmade book with 14 photographs. One of these books which is in an edition of 5 with original handmade cibachrome prints was purchased by the Victoria and Albert Museum thanks to Johan Deumens a publisher and distributer of Artist’s Books.
Milk and Honey is the story of the strong bond between a mother and daughter. It is about intimacy and at the same time about the struggle to be independent.
Milk and Honey was the second work I made at the Rijskadademie van beeldende kunsten and is a series of 12 photographs made into a handmade wooden book in an edition of 150 with reproduced photographs. The wooden cover functions as a frame and a stand so that the book can be displayed and lived with.
The original photographs were made in NYC during a visit back home.
When I returned to Amsterdam I worked with them in my studio by projecting the slides onto various surfaces and then rephotographed them. What began as a personal story transformed into a universal one about original love and differentiation.
This book was published and distributed by Johan Deumens and thanks to Johan is in the following collections: The Tate Gallery, London,The Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco and The Getty Center, Santa Monica.
Milk and Honey is still available. If you are interested in purchasing a book please send me an email.