Why did you do that?

Back-stories from our Hammertown Gallery Exhibit

This is the first in a series of essays by artists who are participating in the current art show at Hammertown Gallery, Rhinebeck.  Each artist will share a back-story that tells a little about her work and how and why she does it.  In the following, Val Shaff writes about how she came to photographing animals in nature. Her story tells how a person can find exactly the right work to do in her life.

Photographing Animals – by Valerie Shaff

I’ve always been drawn to photographing animals. Perhaps it’s a bit of a hunt, in the sweetest kind of way.

from-valeries-websiteAs a young girl I can remember quietly circling any pond I might find, attentively trying to get glimpse of the hopping frogs as they made a speedy escape from my path.  I’ve found photographs that I made of those few that remained still long enough for me to fix their images with the rudimentary camera I was given as a child.

I rediscovered photographing animals as an adult.  Already well-employed as a photographer, I settled into a beamy country house on the backside of the Catskills for the summer by myself.  I explored every day on my bicycle.  I made medium format photographs of a landscape and a way of living that seemed like time travel back thirty or more years.  As soon as I’d discovered the Hull Dairy Farm a couple of miles down the road, it was there that I was compelled to return to daily with my camera in hand.

It was entirely engaging to watch, for hours, the natural movements and interactions of the inhabitants of the Hull farm.  The cows and pigs and chickens and goats, the bunnies and ducks and the grazing Shetland pony seemed to offer a way out of my own busy brain and into a natural rhythm of being in the physical world.

Photographing the animals made me focused and helped me watch with full attention, calculating when the combination of the light and their movement and their expressions beckoned photographic capture.

Somehow when an animal looks back and gazes right back at you, particularly into your eyes, all else falls away.  It’s just two souls recognizing each other.  It is here that I found something sublime to rest upon and monumentalize in a photograph, a shared moment of time between sentient beings.

[click images to enlarge]

To see more of Valerie’s work, visit her website:   valerieshaff.com

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