review

Brigitte Carnochan
Painted Photographs

Woodstock Times - July 26, 2007
by Paul Smart


Smart Art

The hand-painted photographs Brigitte Carnochan's been creating out of her home in Palo Alto, California, are exquisite - a perfect choice for a show this time of year, as Galerie BMG's Bernard Gerson recognized when he first ran into her work at a gallery in Santa Fe last year.

A new exhibit of the photographer's works, Painted Photographs, opens at Galerie BMG Friday, July 27, with an Artist's Reception on Saturday, July 28, from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.

Carnochan works with a Hasselblad to get her pristine images of flowers, fruit and nudes, which she then brings to life in two sizes in her darkroom, carefully toning her work, as well as potting and perfecting it, to get it to the point where her more idiosyncratic and individualistic artistry comes to the fore.

"First in literature and now in photography, I have been interested in the power of the imagination - how it colors everyday life - creates, in fact, private views of experience, whether revealed in words or in images," the former English professor, who's worked at Stanford University for years, writes. "Even though most people see the world in color, they do not see everything in the same exact colors. From an optical point of view, the colors we see depend on where we stand in relation to the object, where the sun is on the horizon, what colors the walls are, or the tint of our glasses (or contact lenses), and so on. From a psychological point of view - everything depends on whether we are worried, elated, anxious, in love, lonely, distracted, or fully alert, For this reason, I hand-color my work, because the process allows me to interpret the essence of my subject according to my own imagination."

Carnochan's works are not overtly impressionistic in any way. Her use of color is subtle, almost anachronistic or surreal at times, like faded illustrations or dreamscapes. They feel timeless, and accentuate the classic sense of beauty she seems out to capture when shooting flowers in a vase, a put of raspberries, or a nude woman with raised arm. Some elements get softened, others highlighted... the backbone of a Clematis' stalk, the curve of a woman's neck where it touches her hairline, or the pink in a nipple's aereole.

These are works one could live with, the key to Gerson's decision to show and hopefully sell them within the local, Woodstock-centric market. Carnochan has shown, and sold, in the Berkshires over the years, but has yet to have her works become a standard in homes on this side of the Hudson.

With prices tending to group at either $1,500 or $2,500 for works, and Gerson making frames for the 30-some painted photos he'll be showing, he's hoping local collectors, and those simply looking to fill their walls with beautiful pieces worth repeated viewing, and living with, the current show will allow him and Galerie BMG to continue what's been a banner season so far.

"It's a leap, but I believe in this work," Gerson said, introducing it recently. "I feel what Brigitte's doing is exquisitely beautiful and I feel honored to be introducing her work here."

Carnochan was educated at San Jose State University in San Jose, California (B.A., English), at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California (M.A., Education), and at the University of California at Berkeley (Ph. D., English). Her work has been the recipient of numerous awards and has been shown in exhibitions throughout the country as well as in several recent publications and books. She currently teaches photographic workshops at Stanford University.

"There's a magic for me in applying the paints over the photographic image - moving them around, layering them, deepening the shadows and opening the highlights until the image I saw in my mind's eye when I made the photograph is finally realized in the image on my desk," she says of her process. "I use cotton swabs of varying sizes instead of brushes to apply paint and remove bits of it with an art eraser to create highlights and other effects. I don't use colored pencil because I find it too fugitive... I am drawn to the subject matter because I find the formal beauties inherent in the human body and in flowers to be an embodiment of the spiritual. I use black and white film to concentrate each image to its most abstract form - and then I color it to energize it visually according to the sense of my own imagination - to make the image completely my own."

The results need to be seen... and bought.++