My works celebrate the surprising, sometimes humorous, and often surreal juxtapositions made possible in collages. I cut, layer, and paste imagery from many sources: vintage and contemporary fashion magazines, and books on art, nature, history, and science. This is a playful process where each collage evolves like a puzzle, with no preconceived idea of the final work.
Reflecting on fifty years of making photographs I’m struck by the odd fact that it never seemed like “work.”
That was true even as a beginner when I was still learning how to use a camera in order to make a good photograph. Each skill was realized through a cause-and-effect feedback loop: blurred motion, shutter speed too slow; out-of-focus foreground details, use the highest f-stop to achieve maximum depth of field. If a picture didn’t turn out the way I’d hoped, I did my best to figure out why. Next time I’d do better. I didn’t expect every picture to be perfect.
I embraced the notion of “beginner’s mind” without even knowing that’s what I was doing or why it might be important to my artistic practice. I was open to the possibilities my camera was teaching me frame by frame. If one image out of twenty stood out, I thought of it as a stepping stone pointing me in the right direction.
At the same time, as a teenager, I made it my business to go to the Cleveland Museum of Art where I studied the small collection of thirty photographs displayed in a remote gallery: a western landscape by Ansel Adams, a studio portrait of the French author Colette by Irving Penn, a stunning abstraction of broken glass by Brett Weston. I asked myself how each of those photographers achieved such stunning and unforgettable images. And then I tried to do the same with my modest Hanimex Praktica camera.
Half a century later, I have hundreds of images that collectively tell the story of my life’s journey. I can honestly say I learned something from each and every one of them. Some I’ve exhibited, even fewer have been sold. What matters is that I’ve found meaning in the people, places, and things I’ve photographed for the pure love of doing so.
With a camera in my hands, my practice is to stay open and be receptive to whatever speaks to my heart and mind together. Only then do I push the shutter’s release.
I’m including with these thoughts a series of four recent images taken on a moving train as my artist friend of fifty years, Kevin Hogan, and I traveled from Dublin to Belfast, Northern Ireland. The first in the series is a traditional portrait, except that it’s made with an iPhone camera small enough to fit in the palm of my hand. I then turned my attention to the late-September landscape our Ulster-bound train was passing through: shallow bays at low tide, green fields with grazing sheep, barnyards, and cityscapes—all present for a moment and then gone as Kevin and I sit in stillness and look outside at the scenes racing past our window.
The glass of the window is simultaneously there and not there: it is both a reflective surface that mirrors the interior of the train and alternatively something you can look through. Looking at those simultaneous realities via the viewing screen of my iPhone camera, I’m mesmerized by the wonder of it all. I’m making photographs without really knowing if any will be worth saving.
As we begin to pull out of a train station maybe twenty miles outside of Belfast, I see a near-perfect reflection of my friend’s face. Then I notice the reflected profiles of nearby passengers. I’m moved to make an exposure.
It’s unlike any portrait I’ve ever made. It’s both serious, and pure play. A moment shared with a dear friend as we make our way to Belfast, a place we’ve never been to before. A moment we’ll never have again.
Many in the art world still think of polymer clay as a toy for children. I prefer to think of it as an art form for adults to create and play, whether it is a play on color, shapes, or veneer technique. A clay quilt can be peaceful, engaging, playful, thoughtful, or mesmerizing depending on the design and techniques chosen. Matching the shapes of pieces to the veneers and not overwhelming the design with too many intricate patterns is often a struggle.
Assembling the quilt is done from the center out as each piece is separated by a thin line of contrasting color—mostly black. Quilts are defined as three layers of material. For polymer clay quilts the top layer is made up of the patterned veneers. The middle layer isn’t seen, but is essential for strength as the veneer layer is less than five millimeter in thickness. Framed quilts are backed by mat board rather than another layer of clay. Other quilted items such as bowls or jewelry will have a lovely finished back to complement the front.
Embellishment is where the imagination can go wild adding mixed media elements such as beads, buttons, metal, wire, or anything else to complement the piece. Whether wall art, wearable art, or usable art, polymer clay quilting is an extremely versatile art form.
Image at top: Betsey Feeley, Wired, collage, 12 x 18 in., 2023.