What’s Old Is New

There is something so captivating about a black and white photograph. The contrasting tones and varying shades can offer the viewer a more reflective experience than an image saturated with color. Elements of the image become more noticeable, the noise is gone, and often black and white images carry a sense of nostalgia in them.  I can spend hours pouring over the shadows and highlights of Ansel Adams’s landscapes or the stark contrasts and luminous skin tones of Herb Ritts’s portraits.

One of my clients in a candid portrait. (c) Melanie Guerra Photography

My passion for photography began with me shooting exclusively in black and white, using my beloved Nikon n2000 from the mid 1980’s through the end of the 1990’s (I did shoot color with it eventually!). I loved processing in the darkroom, and my favorite paper was ( and IS!) silver gelatin. What, you ask, is silver gelatin paper? It is light-sensitive photographic paper that has silver in its composition and a gelatin-coated surface. To me ( and many photographers), it creates the purest, truest black and white image available

“Flyaway” (c) Melanie Guerra Photography

I have continued to print my black and white images to silver gelatin, thanks to a lab near me that specializes in printing digital files in this traditional way. . The images are produced the old-fashioned way, using light and shadow to etch the image onto the paper, rather than creating black and white with various inks as other modern labs do now. The results are stunning. You can see one of my silver gelatin prints, “Daisy Series 5” through the end of March as part of the juried exhibition “An Artist’s Vision” at the Cape Cod Art Center in Barnstable, MA.

Blue skies,
Melanie

March is the month of expectation…

Spectacular Aquamarine Specimen

I am stealing Emily Dickinson’s line for this post to kick off March, which happens to be my birth month ( and yes, we celebrate whole months in our house!).March has come *roaring* into the Boston area, with 24 mile per hour winds howling since yesterday afternoon…but my yard was full of robins and blue jays yesterday, so you know what that means!But I don’t want to talk about weather, I want to talk about one of my passions…gems!

Aquamarine in its popular form – a cut and faceted gemstone.

March’s birthstone is Aquamarine (blue water), a beautiful form of beryl with a tranquil, delicate blue hue – and a long history of lore and admiration. It is without question, aptly named. For centuries it has been an important stone to mariners and those living by the sea. The Celtic lore that says aquamarine came from the treasure chests of mermaids. Romans called it the “water of the sea” and like many other cultures carried it for luck and protection while traveling over water. Fisherman carried it for luck and a prosperous haul. Ancient Greeks carved them into intaglios. Interestingly, beads of this storied gem were found in pyramids in Egypt- in the desert.

Aquamarine beads

With its long history, association with water, gorgeous color and luminosity, this semi-precious stone is one of my favorites. The fact that it is my birthstone is just a stroke of magical Aquamarine luck!
Blue skies ( and gems!),
Melanie

Natural Aquamarine

Hope & Awakening… 130 years later.

For quite some time now, I have been toying with the idea of making a few pieces inspired by Van Gough’s paintings of flowering branches against a bright blue sky, and in particular “Almond Blossom” (1890).

“Almond Blossom” was painted in a period of declining health for Van Gough. He relocated to the south of France, to Arles, where he hoped to nurture optimism and hope for the future, his health and in his work. He began painting studies of flowering branches, paying attention to detail in a way he had never done before. This particular painting was a gift to his newborn nephew, who was named after him and seems to have ignited just the type of hope and awakening Van Gough was trying to cultivate.

This body of Van Gough’s works symbolize hope and awakening, and as trees began to flower in the spring of 2020, I found the timing perfect for attempting and sentiment relevant. There are three versions of each – a photograph, a “digital painting” created from the photograph, and finally the ultimate result- a hybrid of photography with a bit of digital painting to acknowledge Van Gough’s influence on the series. Use the toggle on the image below to see the original photo and the final result.

“Hope & Awakening V” – slide toggle right to left.

These images are already being shown at gallery exhibitions, the first of which is the 26th Annual Juried Exhibition at the Zullo Gallery Center for the Arts in Medfield, Massachusetts. and I expect them to be shown more in the coming months. One of the images was selected, and will be on display/available for purchase there through November 7th, 2020.

I will announce more shows and exhibitions where these appear as they come up – and you can view and purchase the entire collection at my online gallery.

Here’s to Hope & Awakening,
Melanie

Pandemic Passion.

So it seems I have become obsessed with flowers.

OK, I have always been obsessed with flowers, but the past six months have really turned my attention to my flower gardens and it seems that suddenly, most conversations with me will include talk of flowers that are currently blooming, flowers I would like to add to my gardens, or something I have seen hovering around the flowers (we suddenly have a hummingbird frequenting my yellow rose bush!).

In addition to planting and pruning, engaging of the battle of the beetles ( I finally won that one) and making my daughter dabble in hydrangea and rose propagation (because SCIENCE!), I *naturally* have been photographing my flowers in all different ways, from all different angles. I worked on a series of backlit flowers after I shot this one last summer:

“Hosta Bloom II”

I spent a lot of time working in macro, which I hadn’t really had much time for prior to March:

“Lily Series 1”

I created a lot of new work in my old favorite, black and white. (Read more about that here)

“Daisy Series 5”

And I finally created an entire body of work that had been rattling around in my mind for a long time. This series, titled “Hope & Awakening is inspired by Van Gough and I am in the midst of writing all about that, and will post that later this week.

“Hope & Awakening 2”

I really appreciate that I was able to dedicate time to this work, as many of the ideas had been put on my to-do list for “someday”. So in finding the silver linings of a global pandemic, I decided that “someday” may as well be “today”.

Blue skies,
Melanie

Ever wonder why it’s called “The Silver Screen”?

Fun fact #1: Film projection screens have silver (or sometimes aluminum) embedded into the material from which they are made. The reflective quality is what makes a film “come to life”. Silver is still widely used in screens for 3-D projection.

Fun fact #2: Silver is also used, in combination with gelatin (yes, as in Jell-O. Sort of.) to coat fiber-based paper for printing photographs. These “silver-gelatin prints” are the only neutral-toned way to print black and white photography. The paper is light-sensitive, and in days gone by ( this process was developed in the 1870’s!), light was projected through the negative to create the print in the darkroom. Today’s silver gelatin prints are made in almost the same way, except now lasers expose the digital image on the the light-sensitive coated paper. A new twist on an old standard! There are no dyes or inks (as with today’s photo printing) , so the print is pure and genuine, and the colors and tones are as well.

I only print my black and white images, whether for portraiture or fine art, using the silver gelatin method. See my fine art black and white prints here.

I also offer silver gelatin prints for black and white family, senior and event photography. With my black and white portraits hanging on your wall, you can proudly display yourself and your loved ones “up on the silver screen”!

Reviving creativity.

It’s been a long time. I think six years? I have been working and creating, but not writing. So I told myself I would write… I am starting in my old comfortable blog space, and will see what happens… Feel free to join me as I explore the art project “Life”!IMG_6238

Boston, you’re my home.

At this moment, I am on Boylston Street. Yes, that Boylston Street. The one the tourists come to now with more than a desire to shop, eat, find the Freedom Trail.

It’s crawling with people today, it is not just set-up time for the Marathon, it is the one year anniversary of the terror bombings that killed and maimed runners, spectators, children. Boylston Street is usually buzzing with excitement as the barricades go up – Marathon Monday is kind of a big deal to us Bostonians – and it is today, too, but there is a sober, reflective mood here today – and everywhere, signs of determination.

On my walk down Boylston, I saw the media getting ready for its feast. Copley Square is a parking lot of satellite vans and a maze of power cords.

I saw police of all types in dress uniforms. I saw military, guns, bomb squad.

I saw the Old South Church with hundreds of yellow daffodils blooming around it, and blue hyacinth mixed in. Blue and yellow, the colors that mow remind Bostonians simultaneously of tragedy and resilience.

I saw lots of 2013 Marathon jackets in front of Marathon Sports, where the first bomb ripped through the window, and so many reporters questioning anyone that would stop for them.

I saw a man standing in front of the Forum, where the second bomb exploded, with tears in his eyes and grief in his face. By the time I decided to turn around and offer him a smile, a hug, something… He was gone.

As I passed The Atlantic Fish Company, servers came out with white-linened trays of pastries and offered them to the police standing watch outside their doors, then continued on to offer the colleagues of those officers up and down the street.

I saw the honor guard standing on either side of the wreath in front of the Forum.

I am here by accident, this was not my plan today. I do not have my camera, just my iPhone. As a photographer, I see much I would love to “capture”, but as a Bostonian I am thankful for my absent mindedness- the photos I would take, you will see anyway on television tonight, in the papers tomorrow, on Twitter and Facebook right now.

Today I am soaking this in. The respect, honor, reverence. It didn’t take long for me to tire of the words “Boston Strong”- it became a punch line, a rally cry for things unrelated to the Marathon… It started to lose its meaning.

But not today. Today I see the strength and beauty of my home city… And the people who live here. We have not forgotten, but we will not be deterred.

Boston Strong. Yes.

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Luminous Labradorite

Luminous Labradorite

This center stone is called Labradorite. Legend says it comes from the frozen fire of the Aurora Borealis. It certainly has an inner glow like that of a blue flame! It is often found in Labrador, Canada, but has also been found in Norway.
I’ve set this gorgeous specimen into a fine silver ring and surrounded it with three glittering sapphires.

Once Upon A Town

Veteran’s Day was yesterday, I know, but I was reminded this morning of an amazing story, and the photo I took to honor it. So I’m sharing it today, a day late…but really, shouldn’t veterans get more than one day in which we acknowledge their work, sacrifice and dedication? I think so.

In 2004, I read an amazing book that really illuminated for me a corner of American life now so rare, yet storied by older generations. A tale of community and reverence, of appreciation and a common goal. A true story worthy of any Hollywood adaptation, though sadly I don’t think it will ever get to be so mainstream. Bob Greene wrote a short, incredibly readable book called Once Upon A Town: The Miracle of The North Platte Canteen and it has stayed in the corner of my mind for almost a decade. The story should be read, so I won’t give you all of the details. One must experience it for themselves, but the basic idea is that during World War II, when the United States was engaged in both the Pacific and Eurpoean Theatres, American soldiers criss-crossed the country on troop trains, bound for their stations across the sea. The trains stopped in the tiny town of North Platte, Nebraska for 15 minutes. There they found the “North Platte Canteen” – a place where every single day of the War, soldiers were treated to music, conversation, baskets of home made treats and meals, even birthday cakes. All of it funded, staffed baked and sung by volunteers – ordinary citizens of a town smaller than the one in which I now live (North Platte had 12,000 residents) despite distance, personal challenges and food and fuel rations. They served over SIX MILLION soldiers. Without anyone telling them to.

The book made me love the America that was, and hope for it to somehow return. So I went to North Platte… on one of my solo cross-country drives, I went (as usual) looking for America. I found it. In the form of a strip mall and abandoned warehouses. The post-war buildings have been built practically on top of the tracks that once carried the troop trains, and they peek out from the dirt and pavement less than a yard from the doors of warehouses and industrial buildings on a outskirts of town. No more hub of goodwill. But a lovely brick wall, about waist-high, honoring what happened here decades ago.

To a photographer, there is always a story to tell or an essence to capture, so I pulled out my camera and started shooting. It was a quiet Sunday morning, so I was alone ( I did get to meet some of the locals at a coffee shop afterwards – after church let out of course) and was actually taken by surprise when a train approached from the west. I started shooting and the result was a nice personal souvenir. Much later, I started playing with the image in Photoshop, and the final version I present to you here – my own tribute to the past and present, of our country, ourselves, and a tiny little town which once upon a time, shone like a beacon for so many young, scared boys heading off to defend our freedom.

My humble thank you to them and all of you who have served, are serving, and plan to serve in the future.

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