Nathan and Sidi Schaffer at the opening of their photography exhibit at the Zack Gallery June 22. (photo from the artists)
Painter, printmaker and mixed media artist Sidi Schaffer has a new show at the Zack Gallery – a photography exhibit with one of her sons, Nathan Schaffer. Eye Love Nature invites viewers to see the beauty and wonders of the natural world, and for us to recognize the dangers we pose to it.
Rather than nature as something separate, we see ourselves in the Schaffers’ photos. Sometimes, the animals are doing something that we enjoy doing, like the three whales in Nathan’s “Family Swim,” only their fins visible in the misty ocean. Other times, we can empathize with what a tree has endured, but also our part in hurting it, as in Sidi’s “Embraced and Loved,” which shows a gnarled tree not only tightly wrapped by a vine, but also scarred by the initials, including a pair in a heart, that many people have carved into it.
The titles of some of the photos bring a smile, but also a sense of responsibility. The overall feeling of the exhibit, however, is uplifting, hopeful.
“I have a fondness for word play and puns as a way of expressing humour. I find it helps keep a positive environment when interacting with others and, at times, deal with sensitive issues in a less threatening manner,” Nathan told the Independent. “Artistically, my goal is to engage the audience both visually and with language. ‘The Pepsi Challenge’ [in which two horses tussle over a Pepsi cup] in my mind ‘can’didly raises concerns about human garbage and pollution straight from the ‘horse’s mouth,’ so to speak. In ‘I’m Stumped,’ there is also a bit of fishing line on the stump under the bird’s foot – again a reminder that human pollution is unfortunately prevalent in the lives of wildlife and sometimes it can feel like we are stumped trying to deal with it.”
Eye Love Nature is the first photography exhibit for both Schaffers. Sidi said, “as I age, I wanted to see my photos on a gallery wall and share our joy creating them with the people in the community.” Nathan writes in his artist’s statement: “I very much hope the viewers enjoy the photos and that positive emotions arise and carry forth.”
Both Schaffers thanked Zack Gallery director Hope Forstenzer and the selection committee, as well as their friends and family, “for providing guidance and supporting this,” said Nathan, who works as a psychiatrist treating adults at a community mental health clinic.
“The resilience of many patients inspires me to search for strength and marvel at beauty in nature,” he said. “I often recommend spending time in nature as a way of reducing distress from inner turmoil, both to patients and family. I also enjoy my photography as a way of expressing latent artistic interests, as I haven’t improved my drawing beyond a rudimentary level. It is a counterweight to the stress associated with my work.”
For Sidi, who is a career artist, the skills involved in painting/printmaking and photography overlap to some extent.
“The combination of a good eye and imagination can help in both forms of art expression,” she said. “[But] the trigger when taking a photo is coming from outside. It is your sudden surprise of what your eye sees in front of you at a certain moment, in a certain light or shadow. It can be a landscape, people or clouds in the sky. It can be a design that the power of nature created on a tree bark, or a gentle breeze moving the petals of a flower. You can be enchanted by a flower’s seeds that hide themselves from the elements.
“As compared to painting or printmaking, with photography, it’s presented to you, you only have to look and explore,” she said. “When I am in front of a canvas or paper, it’s usually in front of a white surface that waits for my imagination, for my expression of freedom to choose the subject or design that comes from inside me. It takes me even more into my inner self, into a world that brings me satisfaction, reflection and peace. Physically, painting is more challenging; my whole body is involved in the making. I love both mediums and hope to combine them in my mixed media works.”
While Eye Love Nature is Sidi’s first photography exhibit, she has been a photographer since childhood. Sidi was born in Romania – her mother studied photography before the Second World War.
“After the war, coming back home from the camps, my parents opened a photo studio,” said Sidi. “From then on, even as a little girl, I immersed myself in their world. I assisted my father in the dark room; I helped colour the black and white photos with watercolour. I learned from my mom how to touch up the negatives. Today, we would call it Photoshop. In my later years, here in Canada, at the University of Alberta, in addition to painting and printmaking, I also studied photography. I will always be thankful to my parents, who exposed me to the magic of photography.”
It was Sidi who gave Nathan his first camera when he was young. “But the love of nature, the curiosity, his investigative spirit and his good eye, he developed through his life, step by step,” she said. “He was always surrounded by art and love of the natural beauty of our world.”
When asked if he had been lucky enough to meet his grandparents, Nathan said, “Yes, I have vivid childhood memories of helping them develop negatives in a darkroom with a red light and strong vinegar-like smell. I very much enjoyed spending time with them while watching photos gradually appear during this process.”
Of course, photography has changed much since that time.
“Through the years, I’ve worked on film and in dark rooms,” said Sidi. “With the explosive development in photography these days, I switched very happily to the digital camera. This way, I have a more direct and faster approach to picture taking. My aim is to stay true to what I see and not manipulate the image except maybe to crop or lighten/darken if necessary. We are surrounded by enough fake images and news these days. I want to be far from all that. The truth gives us freedom.”
More than 40 photographs comprise Eye Love Nature.
“For this show, we picked images where we were primarily appreciative observers rather than creators,” said Nathan. “We only attempted to correct minor blemishes, in keeping with our parenting style,” he said with a smile.
There were many candidates for inclusion in the exhibit. “Like in nature, Darwin’s rule of survival of the fittest was the main guiding force,” said Nathan. “Some couldn’t compete due to technical issues such as file size or being unfocused; others lost out due to not being as captivating. Hope, the JCC gallery director, also helped in selecting the final choices.”
As for the choice of where to direct any profits made from the show, the Schaffers have decided to divide them equally between the Canadian Cancer Society and the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society.
Both organizations, said Nathan, “do their work in what appears to be very different areas; however, they share an important similarity. Cancer is essentially resident cells going rogue and taking over space and resources from the body, thereby putting it in serious danger. Civilization and humans can have a similar destructive impact on nature and wilderness by urban spread and taking of natural resources without limits. Controlling these rogue processes is needed in order to save and heal patients and nature. These organizations share in a mission of tackling some of the major problems we face.”
Eye Love Nature is at the Zack Gallery until July 24.