HUMAN + NATURE: Beth Moon and Elizabeth Opalenik
VERVE Gallery of Photography is pleased to present, Human + Nature, an exhibition with Gallery artists Beth Moon and Elizabeth Opalenik. Both artists make their images using hand-made photographic processes.
Beth Moon’s photography examines the relationship between humans and earth’s creatures. Her tree images focus on their majesty and solitude. Her recent work took our intrepid artist to the island of Socotra in the Gulf of Aden off the coast of Yemen. Socotra, with a sparse and arid landscape, is the home to nine species of trees, all unique to the island. Beth’s portrait of the Dragon’s Blood Tree in Socotra pays special tribute to a distinctive tree that stands tall with a vertical trunk and an out of reach and arching umbrella canopy. Included in the exhibition are Beth’s prints from the Seen but Not Heard series, a body of work that examines the role of children in an adult world. Finally, in Augurs and Soothsayers Beth captures the regal essence of capons, feathered fowl as seen at their finest.
Elizabeth Opalenik exhibits recent images where she uses the Mordançage process. Elizabeth reconfigures the darkest emulsion of a gelatin silver print to make it into a veil or drapery. Once the emulsion is loosened from the paper she rearranges the emulsion so as to create a complementary veil that adorns the subject of the photograph, Elizabeth’s dancers and nudes. In addition, Elizabeth will be exhibiting platinum palladium prints from A Journey Home, a body of work where she photographed the Amish in Pennsylvania. Elizabeth was raised near this Amish community and found solace in their company while tending to her mother who was ill. The images in this series are very personal and yield a body of work that portrays a people living serenely and in harmony with the gentle rolling manicured landscape found in the western part of the state.
Time, memory and ones relationship with nature are the central themes of Beth’s work. Her platinum palladium images reveal an intuitive appreciation and understanding for the ways in which these elements define our understanding of our place in the universe.
Beth’s image of the Dragon’s Blood tree, the Desert Rose, and the Frankincense trees evoke a mysterious solitude giving the trees and plants a regal status in a desert landscape. The island of Socotra is home to the world’s most unusual collection of over 700 native plants and animals found no where else on the earth. Socotra is so remote that until recently cargo boats could only reach it. Beth Moon says of this unique landscape:
“I believe it is through the unique vegetation that the spirit of Socotra is defined, and the island’s culture so closely linked to nature which sets this island apart from the rest of the world. With its wildly diverse and enchanting landscape of surreal beauty, Socotra is one of the world’s last truly wild places.”
Beth’s Seen but Not Heard body of work portrays children in an adult world. The images place children in the natural settings so as to create a sense of innocence, wonder and curiosity. They result in playful compositions and juxtapositions.
Augurs and Soothsayers mirror a union of unlikely opposites. The common image of a banal barnyard animal juxtaposed with exotic varieties draws on both myth and mass production. Photographed out of their natural environment, the subject’s unique features become more apparent. The scale of these portraits is not purely for ornithological study, but rather allows us to see ourselves existing in their scale.
Susan Squier writes: “Augury is a type of knowledge-making about present and future that is in danger of disappearing in the 21st century: the knowledge gained by intimate relations with animals. Accepting animals farmed for their meat and eggs in a process of rationalized scientific management, we have lost the ability to see what they augur for our collective future.” The artist continues, “Today’s augury is a new mode of awareness, recognizing a need to re-connect our relationship with animals built around honor, crucial to ongoing life, human health and cultural ritual.”
Beth Moon was a fine art major, although she is a self-taught photographer with interests in alternative printing processes. Beth employs platinum printing that she learned while in England. Beth has exhibited widely in Great Britain, France, Italy and throughout the U.S. She has had solo shows in London, San Francisco, Verona and Chicago. Beth has won the Golden Light Award from the Maine Photographic Workshops and she has been published widely in major photographic magazines.
Elizabeth Opalenik is well versed in many photographic processes, and is known for her use of Mordançage. This technique strips away the darkest parts of the emulsion of a silver gelatin print creating a raised area on the print. Elizabeth pioneered the saving of the floating veils of emulsion in this process. It is Elizabeth’s trademark. Elizabeth lets the delicate skin of picture bearing emulsion fold upon itself and settle back upon the paper in new shapes. She harmonizes the floating emulsion with her own style of photographing dancers, nudes and still life. The artist utilizes the emulsion drapery of the Mordançage process to accentuate the subject of her photographs. The end result is a one-of-a-kind photographic image.
Elizabeth Opalenik will also be exhibiting platinum palladium prints from her recent series, A Journey Home, in which she photographed the Amish from Western Pennsylvania.
The artist says of this work, “In 2000 my mother was diagnosed with cancer. I spent those last six weeks in Western Pennsylvania with her. I found solace by seeking the peaceful vistas of the Amish land so near to my childhood home. My parents raised seven children in our family farmhouse, and as I emptied it of jelly jars and materials for rag rugs, I sought the similarities to my childhood found in the way the Amish still live today….The Amish understand the pictures are about my search for childhood memories and a life now gone. Within their lives, I found my metaphorical roots. Once again my mind played in streams, encountered the wringer washer that squeezed my brother’s arm and remembered Sunday soup where we would help mother pluck feathers from scalded chickens. The Amish sweetly refer to me as the “English” photographer, and slowly, have invited me in. Truly, all photographs are self-portraits.
A Journey Home, is available in a limited edition portfolio, each containing 12 prints in folios, with a letter-pressed introduction. Each set is housed in a slipcase made by the Amish. The portfolio is in an edition of 12.
Elizabeth employs the Mordançage process, infrared, platinum printing and hand painting in creating her innovative, one-of-a-kind images. She mixes digital and traditional technologies to explore all the creative possibilities. Elizabeth imparts her sense of artistry to personal projects on the Amish near her childhood home. She has worked with United Cerebral Palsy Games for the Disabled, Nuestros Pequenos Hermanos International and is currently documenting a project for Medical Ministries International that brings much needed eye care to small villages along the Amazon River in Colombia, Peru and Brazil.
Elizabeth Opalenik’s work is collected, published and exhibited in museums, galleries and private collections internationally. In 2007, Elizabeth published her first monograph, Poetic Grace: Elizabeth Opalenik Photographs 1979-2007. She is represented by VERVE Gallery of Photography in Santa Fe, Gallery DeForest online and Corbis Stock.
Elizabeth is sought-after as a teacher for the sense of wonder and possibility she awakens her students in photographic workshops. She has conducted workshops on five continents in conjunction with The Santa Fe Photographic Workshops, Maine Media Workshops, National Geographic Expeditions, Stanford Continuing Education, and The Rencontres d’Arles.