Once again I am ages behind on blog posts. Jumping right on our final 2015 artists-in-residence! I fell in love with the work of photographer
Olivia Parker way back in 2000 while on a sabbatical journey in the Southwest US. This was pre-cell phone and pre-email--at least for me. I was brand new to photography collecting and very green. I was solo and wandering around Santa Fe, NM. I went to a public pay phone booth and looked in the YELLOW PAGES!!! for photography galleries. I reached Janet Russek of Scheinbaum & Russek and she explained that they didn't have a bricks and mortar gallery but that she and her husband were both photographers and private photography dealers that worked out of their home. I was totally intimidated and told them I had been collecting photography for less than a year but they were unbelievably gracious and invited me over. It was love at first meeting. I loved both Janet's work as well as her husband David Scheinbaum's. They had just received a large cache of work from a private estate that they were selling. Janet showed me a small 4x5" contact print by Olivia Parker
called Miss Appleton's Shoes II from 1976 that was about the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. It was truly my first experiences with falling in love with a photograph as an object. It was a precious jewel. You can't see it well in this reproduction but Parker pioneered the use of a process called split toning and there are rich flesh toned highlights to the photograph that makes it look almost like a color photo. Janet shared a lot of Olivia's work through prints (they represent her) and her books. I spent literally DAYS with Janet and David and they really took me under their wing and began the process of teaching me about fine art photography. I left their home with one of Janet's photos, one of David's, and my first Olivia Parker. They are dear friends to this day and I see them almost every year. I never imagined I would ever meet Olivia though.
Fast forward 14 years almost to the day. Let me just say that the only thing more amazing than OBLITERATING your photo hero bucket list is doing it without knowing it was going to happen. I was up at the AIPAD photo fair in NYC and I run into my photographer friend Mona Kuhn. She tells me our mutual friend Heather Snider, who Ellen and I just visited over the holidays in San Francisco and was just made the new Executive Director of SF Camerawork, is going to be in town trying to network with photographers and galleries to garner donations for their big annual photo auction. Mona tells Heather she should crash the private party (Mona WAS invited) at Pace McGill honoring the new curator at CCP Joshua Chuang (he has since left). I had asked Heather to go to dinner so she tells me I should come along for a brief stop at Pace before we go out. So when we get to Pace it is packed and just as we get off the elevator someone clinks a glass and Peter McGill is introducing Joshua. I look to my left and I am standing beside Anne Wilkes Tucker and to my right is Lee Friedlander with a camera around his neck. I’d met Anne on several occasions but Friedlander is a giant for me and I’d never met him. I look around the room and I spot Danny Lyon and Larry Fink. After brief remarks I walk into one of the adjacent galleries and spot Emmet Gowin. We chat for a while and I realize the woman beside him is his wife Edith! OMG Edith at Chincoteague is my favorite photo in the world. I’m floating at this point. I head over to thank Mona and while we are chatting a woman comes up to hug her and it’s so loud I can’t hear who she is. I introduce myself and she says “hi I’m Olivia Parker.” OMG2. I figure I am not going to get this chance again so I talk to her about the residency and Mona gives her the thumbs up and SHE WANTS TO COME! So now I’m school girl giddy. I then get a text from our former AIR Rachel Perry who has come down from Boston with David Hilliard (whose work is our next exhibition) and wants to have a drink. We zoom over there and I tell my tales of the previous hour and David describes my expression as post-coital. That about says it all.
dinner first night in town at Ju-Ju
Fast forward again to October 2015 for Olivia's time here in residence. I had learned that Olivia's husband John was in the advanced stages of Alzheimer's Disease and had moved into a care facility. Olivia had been a full time care giver for the prior several years and had been unable to do much creative work. She proposed working on a very interesting yet personally challenging project around her husband's illness. She had been photographing objects that John had left lying around the house and proposed to represent photographically and conceptually how the images would evolve as John's perceptive ability changed.
She was seeking feedback on the project in the very early stages and I was able to connect her with two amazing photographers here--Alex Harris and Margaret Sartor. They came by the house and offered an informal "portfolio" review. It was fascinating to be a fly on the wall!
Olivia's work, at least the work I have seen, is all still life and she has taken this concept to a very inventive level. She shot a lot while she was here and was gathering imagery that will appear in future image composites.
Olivia was well known for her early analog darkroom work but was also a very early pioneer in digital photography and was one of the first photographers to work with Graham Nash at Nash Editions in the country's first digital lab. Her facility with using digital capture and compositing images was awe-inspiring. On one of my visits to her studio here I found she was working with india ink and using grasses from our garden to overpaint prints in the series she was working on.
One night we had Olivia over for dinner and she commented on the skin of the cantaloupe Ellen had just brought in from the garden. She exclaimed that it would make an exquisite form to ink her prints with. You can see the inked version above. A month after she returned home she surprised us with a gift of this extraordinary original print that she had taken in our artist's apartment.
Olivia gave a wonderful talk while she was here.
One of the things that excites me most about our residency program is when mid and late career artists can share their experience and vision with younger emerging artists in our community. Olivia was so generous with her time when she was here. Here she is holding court with a group of photographers at Lori Vrba's house.
Clockwise from left Rylan Steele, Bryce Lankard, Caitlin Kelley, Lori Vrba, Eliot Dudik, Olivia Parker
She also allowed Eliot Dudik to make portraits of her, one of which is at the top of this post.
Photograph by Tom Rankin
Thank you Olivia for fulfilling a dream and sharing your time and beautiful work so generously.