ARTIFACT explores a narrative of transformation evoking the spirit of the elements contained within clay itself. The installation includes works from three related series: Excavation, Thread and Matrix - produced from 2009 through 2016. As the viewer moves, the photographs evolve in an almost cinematic manner. Seen collectively and at a distance, the carbon pigment prints create a planetary effect, evoking ancient human cultures and mysterious celestial constructions. As we get closer, the images resolve into their essential materials: earthy, mineral matter within stone forms, ashes, and water unconsciously moved around by hand on a surface. We are invited to consider another sort of artifact on an intimate and human scale; something lost, left behind and carefully buried for safekeeping or alternately exposed to reveal its existence. Ambiguous in scale, and sensual in tonality and texture, the stillness of the compositions in black-and-white renders these abstractions serenely minimalist.
The Extraordinary Beauty of Birds
BIRD is the next chapter in a photographic odyssey that began with Passing, continued into Elegy, and is further elaborated with the exquisite images of BIRD. In the beginning Deborah Samuel’s work was about the cycle of life - its splendor, its persistence, its conclusion. Elegy proposed a reflection on mortality that examined the translucent beauty to be found in skeletal remains. Luminous central images settled in a velvety black darkness; a darkness that gained no purchase on their light. Leonard Cohen once famously wrote, “There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in”. Deborah Samuel uses photography to find the light.
After darkness comes the light. Metaphorically and spiritually, birds have symbolically become the agent of that transition. In their flight they break free of the earth, with its complications and anxiety, and soar above it in the realm closer to heaven. They are a symbol of freedom and a conduit to whatever lies above. In 1958, Ferlin Husky sang, “On the Wings of a Snow White Dove, a sign from above, on the wings of a dove”.
Birds inspire us. Their flight is transfixing. They are compelled by mysterious instincts to feats of migratory endurance far beyond their size and apparent strength. Their beauty is limitless and rare. They lift our spirits when we are burdened. In our dreams, the bird symbolizes a freedom to fly – the wish for freedom and escape. Who can forget the movie, The Birdman of Alcatraz, a story of a man whose tender care of birds promoted his survival in jail? Historically, women and men have festooned themselves with feathers to enhance their beauty or symbolize strength and/or nobility. The international symbol of peace is a white bird with an olive branch. Alternatively, birds have also been agents of cruelty and deception. Think of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven or Alfred Hitchcock’s movie, The Birds. Birds seem to carry our deepest emotions – their flight can literally carry us away.
Deborah Samuel’s photographs of feathers and nests, eggs and birds are the soaring conclusion to her meditation on what it means to be alive and she arrived here through a consideration of the meaning of death and its irrevocable place in life. With these images she took off into the limitless potential of living – its beauty, its abstraction, its endless options. Her pictures are portraits of what art can do. BIRD is an opulent document containing unexpected portraits and abstract ideas personified through art. BIRD is one photographer’s journey to the light, a celebration of the beauty in life.
Courtesy of The Royal Ontario Museum
Superb Lyrebird.IX 2012
Resplendent Quetzal.VI 2012 / Courtesy of the Royal Ontario Museum
Guianan Cock-of-the-rock.II 2012
Red Knot.I 2012
Mourning Dove.I 2012
Osprey Eye.VII 2012
Great Argus.VII 2012
Cedar Waxwing.VI 2012
Blue Jay.VIII 2012
King Bird-of-paradise.V 2012
Himalayan Monal.II 2012
Indian Peafowl.IV 2012
Black Sicklebill.IV 2012
King of Holland Bird-of-paradise.II/Wilson Bird-of-paradise.III 2012
American Robin Egg.VII/American Robin Nest.II 2012
Cedar Waxwing.I 2012
Cooper's Hawk.VI.IV 2012
Elegy is all about life – its transience, its fragility and its persistence. It is about the same qualities in photography.
“The bones of an animals remaining form mesmerized me. They spoke to the delicate equilibrium of my own existence, to the complexity of relationship and interdependence inherent in all living creatures”.
The tender gestures of skeletal fingers and toes, so miniscule and friable, that the balance between life and death became sublime. These bones have a liquidity that makes them curve into articulated shapes like gossamer in water. Here, this water is a deep velvet void that seems to beckon and seduce, perhaps like death itself.
This is what photography does so well. It captures the elusive; the unseen, and the inexplicable and privileges us with a glimpse of the unknown.
Contained within these images is the essence of life-its ultimate mysterious conclusion of the beauty that buries itself within. With these innocent bones we are free to speculate on our own mortality without fear and with curiosity and reverence.
Barred Owl.I 2012
Cardinal + Solitare.II 2011
Cobra Series I, II, III 2011
Cardinal + Solitare.I 2011
Great Horned Owl.I 2012
Canada Goose.I 2012
Soft Shelled Turtle.I 2012
Avian Embryo 2011
PASSING The progress of life draws us towards a deeper understanding of the cycles of life. Cycles found in the waxing and waning of seasons, as in the life cycles of plants, animals and humans. Botanicals are compelling and ideal subjects suggesting the transience of life.
Passing is represented in three cycles: Root, Heart and Remains.
Root Our present is rooted in our past: our DNA, our childhood experiences and our communal influences. These codes shape how we experience life and respond to it. This is our foundation, our belief system.
Heart Beyond the gifts and burdens of our history is our spirit. We are born with it. It sustains us. This spirit is buried in some, generous in others. Ultimately, the root and heart intertwine, becoming a life force that moves us through our cycles.
Remains What remains? The imprint of life translated as memory. Embodied in Remains is the essence of Root and Heart, but transformed and inevitable.
Life is navigated. It cycles through Root, is joined and motivated by Heart and its progress is remembered in Remains.
Root.Cala Lily.I 2006
Remains.Aspen Leaves.2 2006
DOG For dog lovers, DOG is a collection of portraits that celebrate the beauty and spirit of humankind’s most devoted companion. Focusing on different breeds within different breed groups, photographer Deborah Samuel has captured their ever-changing moods and eccentricities. Through her closely observed photographs we come to understand the vitality of an German Shorthaired Pointer, the roguish humor of a Jack Russell Terrier, the diffident elegance of a Greyhound. Ultimately, each photograph reveals not just the character of the breed but the heart and soul of a beloved pet. Photograph after stunning photograph, from Afghan Hound to Yorkshire Terrier, the photographs in this canine collection are tender reminders of why we love our dogs.
In PUP, Samuel pursues the true spirit of puppyhood in her luminous collection of portraits featuring humankind’s favorite companion. With Pup she captures the downy fur, still soft paws, relentless energy, utter exhaustion and total adoration that make puppies irresistible. Featuring puppies in their first year of life- from a 10 ounce Jack Russell to a 31 pound Saint Bernard- Samuel’s photographs remind us that charm comes in many shapes and sizes.
Buckley.1 / Samoyed 2001
Twyla Rose.II / Afghan Hound 2013
Eve.II / Borzoi 2013
Alice and Bess.I / Manchester Terriers 2000
Burnie.I / Dachshund 2008
Harry.I / Kerry Blue Terrier 2000
Georgia Peach.I / Labrador Retriever 2001
Boone.I / Afghan Hound 2013
James.1 / Poodle 2004
Joeybagodoughnuts.I Cirneco del Etna 2001
Juri.I / Basenji 2000
Margot.I / Poodle 2002
Kirby.1 / Chinese Crested 2000
Rolland.I / Bull Mastiff 2001
Miss Hiss.I / Greyhound 2001
Wang.1 / Whippet 2001
Georgia Peach.II / Labrador Retriever 2002
Leap.I / Ibizan Hound 2004
Summer.I / Afghan Hound 2005
Akin to her previous portfolio Dog, Horse, is rooted in Deborah Samuel’s life long respect and affection for horses. To photograph them she employs a medium format camera and her vast experience as a portrait photographer.
At liberty in front of her camera, the horses are free to be themselves. Her voice and her presence hold them in trust while she waits, quiet and still, for the moment or gesture that is true. That moment may be a defiant toss of a mane or a soft gaze full of confidence and curiosity. Sometimes the image she makes is simply a definitive detail- the elegance of a sleek muscled neck or the curve of a nostril. Each portrait contributes to the everlasting beauty that is Horse.
Galisteo Basin.5 NM 2017
Galisteo Road.1 NM 2016
Rossbeigh Beach.10 Ireland 2015
Shannon.4 Ireland 2016
Sun Rays.NM.1 2018
Muckross Lake.2 Ireland 2015
Galisteo.9 NM 2016
Lakes of Killarney.Ireland.1 2017
Ode to Georgia.Datura.1 2017
Lake Ontario. Canada.1 2017
The Burren.Ireland.5 2017
Venus Passage represents a provocative bid to illuminate and question the pursuit of perfection in our media age. One Samuel deems pathological in its need to improve upon how we look to one another.
To the viewer, some of the images may appear stark and clinical in their dissection of symbols, of how we perceive and alter the human form. The photographs—from Blindspot to Skeleton, which depicts the outline of female underwear on a male form—are also an unsparing look at the inner conflicts and workings of Samuel herself as she struggled with her own totality, her masculine and feminine energy, her vulnerability and ultimately, her strength.
In Backbone, Samuel uses the image of a woman’s spine to illustrate the beauty of the body by highlighting an overlooked but central part of the anatomy. She shows us the magic of the bone structure as an instrument that not only governs our movements, but, using paint, much the way American Indians decorated their horses to go into battle, allows us to see the structure’s power and strength.
“They (the photographs) are really an examination of the process of perception and the way I approach it” Samuel explains. Los Angeles has been a fertile breeding ground in that respect. Living there, I’m inundated with questions about the body’s perfections and imperfections, about ways to fit together the pieces of how one looks and feels. “Hanging over it all is the media’s power to set the agenda, to dictate why and how this should be done. My response was to look inside myself, to ask why I was so unsettled by it all, to find my own way of putting all the pieces together.