Living on a farm with a bunch of cats is an experience unlike any I had growing up in Philadelphia. While there have always been cats in my home life, it is only since my move to Shady Grove Farm that I fully understand what a clan of cats is like. They are each their own personalities with behaviors ranging from socially dependent to absolutely fearful of us.
Even as an animal behaviorist by schooling, I am still surprised by how much the cat’s group behavior mirrors that of a pride of lions. Social interactions between the members include a lot of head butting, females sharing in the nursing of young, and group sleeping. Observing the cats interacting with each other and their use of the farm habitat has been fascinating and sometimes just plain fun.
Two of my favorite individuals in the group have been Peanut and Percy. Peanut (the kitten on the left in the image above) was a very precocious kitten. She interacted with her mother like a child; playing, chasing, and annoying her. Percy was dropped off at our farm with his three sisters last summer. He has a friendly disposition, never acting aggressively toward either my wife Lin or me. He’s a good looking cat as well and I knew I would want to photograph him.
Peanut has become a mini-celebrity in my work already. The interaction between her and Percy is so indicative of both of their personalities that this image is very special to me. Titled Nose to Nose, the print is now a part of my Barn Cat Series on my gallery website HERE
I recently asked friends of mine to list questions they had about the artistic process. One of the questions asked was why do I work in my chosen medium and not another. What is it about the medium of photography that has kept me so engaged for over 40 years? The image that I have titled Red Wing is very much pertinent to the answer. For me, being able to create in the moment when my emotions are running highest is very important. I appreciate the rush I get when I observe something extraordinary. To most fully experience something remarkable, I need to engage with it in real time. I can achieve that engagement uniquely through the medium of Photography.
This image was made recently in a wooded section on our farm. It was a cloudy afternoon. I saw the flock through my studio window and almost just chose to observe. Then a rather desperate urge came upon me to engage. I’ve been working in a rather impulsive way recently, just grabbing gear and going. I knew which lens I wanted to use, which camera body to attach it to, and that time was fleeting. I also knew these birds would not like me approaching them. I began adjusting settings as I worked my way closer and when in position, my gut instinct took over.
This is a very significant image for me. It is an image that defines the kind of work I have come to make over the last five years, and especially within the last couple.
This image is part of my “100 Series” and will be limited to 100 prints in all sizes. Prints are already available at my gallery online – HERE.
It’s still winter, even though we hit 72F yesterday. In fact this whole winter has been crazy mild. We’ve had way above average temps, and very little snow — except in the form of geese! Several times in the last few weeks large flocks of these magnificent birds have dropped into the fields behind our farm. It has been such a wonderful display. Big, white birds flying in unison, sometimes against the dark hillside made for an exhilarating experience.
Over the last five years, most of my work has been done on our farm. The arrival of the Snow Geese has added a new element to my series done right here on our 7 1/2 acres. Although I have done several series on large flocks of blackbirds, the snow geese afforded me the opportunity to create an interesting contrast. I composed this piece to emphasize a strong yin and yang relationship — with white geese against the dark hillside balancing the dark trees against the light sky. It is important too that some of the white geese cross the dark trees which creates a unifying element in the image.
I am offering this image as a Limited Edition print as part of my “100” Series. Only 100 prints will be made across all sizes. Order it now on my website here.
My wife Lin and I spend a few days in D.C. We had a couple objectives. First, as artists, it is important for us to be engaged in the world of art beyond the events where we sell out work. Second, Lin had sold some work to the Smithsonian which placed it in the National Museum of American History gift shop, and we really wanted to see it.
I hadn’t been to Washington for a very long time and never for any extended time. So I was very excited to go. And, honestly, I needed the spark that going to great museums gives me. I always come away from such visits with new creative gusto.
Lin and I went to the Renwick Museum, and The National Gallery of Art. Both museums are must-sees during any visit. The Renwick has a more contemporary collection comprising various mediums. The NGA has a collection of primarily paintings and sculptures by the masters. The current special exhibit at the NGA is called “True to Nature: Open-air painting in Europe, 1780-1870.” It was awesome!
Whats nice about D.C. is that if you are staying in walking distance of the Mall, you’ve got a whole lot to explore without needing to get into a car. We are already looking forward to another visit as there was so much we didn’t have time for.
Here’s Lin standing in front of the display of some her work (floral felt trivets and coasters, and felt-art inserted into tea cups). There’s a sign identifying her as the artist and a business card holder on the middle shelf. The National Museum of American History was fascinating, and having Lin’s work in their Museum Store was exciting to see!
In the area around Lin’s display is a variety of work by other artists. These hand-made pieces are all kept around the central check-out area and mostly behind glass.
See more of Lin’s work HERE.
I received a fantastic email from a woman who purchased a print of mine at a show last year. Jen wrote to tell me that she had been searching for over two years to find just the right portrait of a hawk. She saw my work at a show here in Pennsylvania and was very pleased to discover my image titled Icy Stare. Deciding to purchase the print, Jen informed me that she “couldn’t be happier” with it.
“I am so pleased with the quality of Paul’s work. He captures the raw emotion of the natural world in seemingly effortless portraits” ~ Jen L.
Thank you Jen, for sharing your thoughts about this image with me! And thank you for asking me to share them here. Obviously, some real thought went into her custom matting and framing as well. It looks great!
The image Icy Stare was made in Bucks County, PA on a cold winter morning. The bird is a Coopers Hawk, a very handsome raptor with strong features and intimidating talons. I was working from a blind and was thrilled to see this bird show up. It remained for quite a while and enabled me to really consider my rendering. I had to be careful that my excitement didn’t cause me to make mistakes. When I began to relax, I allowed instinct to take over and created a variety of images.
One of the things I like about living in north-central Pennsylvania is our four distinct seasons. And while I don’t particularly like the coldest weather we get here, I do like the visuals of leafless trees and the landscape covered in snow. This type of scene elicits a mood within me that tends to be rather sentimental, nostalgic, or cozy. The cold air outdoors can be countered by a fresh cup of Pike Place coffee or hot chocolate (a bit of peppermint Schnapps helps too). Maybe a favorite blanket, a fireplace, a comfortable chair come to mind as well.
So it’s not really the landscape itself which has a mood, it’s our response to a scene which is projected onto the landscape that elicits our feelings. When I am creating images outside in the winter I am working mostly by gut instinct. A combination of conscious and subconscious responses to the visual environment effected by the feeling of cold, the sounds around me, maybe the smell of a distant fire. I cannot, of course, put all of these sensations into my image, but they impact the creative process.
When the images are brought into my studio and viewed on a computer screen away from the conditions in which they were made, I can evaluate them at a different level. Without all of the sensory stimuli which were associated with the making of the images in the field, I can look at them with fresh eyes. Elements like contrast, tonality, texture, composition, visual impact, and even just how much I like the image, can be evaluated more consciously. My goal in this part of the process is to be authentic to my visual experience in the field and my aesthetic response to that image in the studio.
The image below was made a short walk from my studio. I was drawn to the texture of the trees and to the way they surrounded the small red building. The evergreen trees provide a visual color balance to the red and a color harmony with the blues in the shadowy parts of the woods. Strong diagonal lines throughout the image lead from the the upper left to the lower right and so to the red building as well. Most of this analysis takes place in the studio and not in the field, at least not consciously. But I am sure that the studio analysis of the image impacts my subconscious responses going forward when I am working in the moment.
As an indie artist I feel it is important to maintain an authenticity in my work that speaks honestly to who I am. In the art world in which I exist, there are many players. It is both a smart business move and my absolute desire to distinguish myself as an artist. When I’m comfortable and confident in the work I am doing I have also been more successful in the art I create.
For me, this image only ever had one interpretation. An independent, self assured, non-conformist who would do it’s own thing regardless of the social pressures put upon it. The title “Be Yourself” came to me quickly. Notice the bird doesn’t completely isolate itself from it’s social system, but neither does it feel compelled to always be a part of the group. It is still close enough to be a part of the picture, but also able to be it’s own…….well, bird.
Like many images I have been making recently, this one was made on our farm. Tall electrical poles and long wires run along the creek at the back of our property. I often watch how various birds use this seating area and how they interact with each other. My university background in Psycho-biology (Animal Behavior) still informs my work. I was initially absorbed with pondering this individualist soul. Rock Doves are very social animals as can be seen by the tight group behavior on the top wire. So what was up with this rebel bird?
After a short while I began to see the scene for its simple geometry. I began composing in my head……….then ran to the studio to grab some gear. I’d need a long lens but one that would give me compositional freedom…..a zoom lens then! Since the sky was overcast, I knew I’d need to over expose the image. I wanted a stark, blank sky anyway so that worked out. Ultimately I printed the image as a black and white on a matte finish paper which gives the piece the character of a pencil drawing.
Its a fun piece, one that I have been offering at shows only since the beginning of June. The response has been interesting eliciting a variety of feelings about it. Some see the individual bird as I do, others as an outcast. Some just feel sorry for the poor thing. It may be a bit of a Rorschach Test type of image. We relate to the bird on the lower wire in our own unique personal-history, life-experience kinda way.
Archival pigment giclee prints are available matted and framed on my website HERE.