Sunday, June 30, 2013


Arvind Garg is a photographer living in New York. This is part II of a two part interview. Do read Part I first - CLICK HERE
all images Arvind Garg and may not be reproduced without permission.
DM: You have chosen to go the self published route with your photography books. Why?
AG: There have always been photographers and other visual artists who had to self-publish their books, for it is almost impossible for anyone without a celebrity name to find a commercial publisher who will risk money on a book by a relatively unknown artist.  But to publish a book yourself you needed lots of money, and then there was the problem of distribution.
I never thought of self-publishing books of my work until the digital revolution came out with the technology that made it possible to do it without spending much money. My friend Dennis who did a few books and was thrilled by the experience encouraged me to do the same. I did my first in 2008, a small format (7x7) book of my black and white images taken in Japan in 2002. Since then I have published fifteen books in different formats and sizes and on subjects ranging from focus on places (Egypt, India, Tunisia, Syria and Jordan, New York, Turkey) to fine art images (The Eucalyptus Way, Gallery Light), to memoir and biography (Marina) and portraits (Facing the Creator). 

DM: Your book on Marina is a lovely tribute to your wife who died of cancer. It is a celebration of her life with you, her craft as a writer with the inclusion of pages of her manuscripts with handwritten notes on them, and an indication of her struggle with her illness. It's a very personal book. Would you say that this is an example of a project that you thought might not be embraced by traditional publishing, but one that as an artist yourself you had to share? Or do you simply prefer the creative freedom of self publishing?
AG: I met Marina in 1986 in New York and we started living together right away. Officially we married in 1994, just four years before she passed away. She was a person of incredible personal beauty and moral integrity and she had a vision of an active and meaningful life as a poet and an arts enthusiast. Despite her uncertain health throughout our life together, she was unstoppable in doing things she wanted to do, for realizing one’s potential to her was a moral obligation.
Her pre-mature death left me not only with folders and boxes full of her writings and journals, but with an experience and indelible memory of having shared part of my life with a woman of extraordinary beauty and depth and passion. For more than a decade I knew no way to mourn her or to memorialize her and her life the way I wanted to. I did not have  funds to create an arts organization in her name or to sponsor a poetry scholarship named after her or to fund a corner of Central Park’s Observatory Garden that was one of her favorite spots in the city, or any of the other ideas that would preserve her name and  be her legacy. 
I always knew I would do a book on her. I had photographed her from the first day we met and until the end. She was my wife and companion but she, with her irrepressible nature and changing moods, was also a mystery to me. She was always searching for something, mostly looking for ways to give expression to her own inner nature and vision, for there was no peace  for her without it.
Finally doing a book on her became my way to mourn her. Once I started working on it, it took me six months to finish, because it was like re-living our whole life together. I read every piece of her writings and kept finding more and more of her photographs in my files and folders and boxes. The layers of memory became deeper and deeper with each new find, helping me to feel her presence in my life once again.

I never even considered that a commercial publisher might do the Marina book. It is a very personal thing, and had to be done by myself in every detail. In a way it made itself,  as it grew and flowered organically watered by Marina’s own words. The photographs are mere foundation for the project. I also think of the book as a fountain, like the Arethusa, which was the name Marina gave to the organization about Italian art, history and life that she founded.

DM: You were in Syria a month before the war broke out. What are your thoughts about what you experienced and the situation today from the perspective of having just done a photographic essay there?
AG: Yes, I traveled in Jordan and Syria just before the fight against Assad's regime took off. It took me by surprise as much as it did the rest of the world, for as a tourist I detected no sign of any looming political or social unrest. In fact I felt that the country and its people were remarkably civil and polite, and there was a sense of vibrancy in the local life in Damascus and particularly in Aleppo's famed picturesque castle as a site of fighting and destruction. I had enjoyed entering it through its humungous doorway and climbing the steps inside to go to the top where, sitting at a cafe smoking a hookah I had a bird's eye view of the whole city, a sight as memorable as any in my travels.

DM: There are two photos in particular from that group that I like. One is the photo of the men on a motorcycle against the ancient ruins. It seem symbolic of an ancient culture thriving against the surge of the modern world. The other one is the photograph of Assad attached to a post in an alleyway. It feels as if it is a reminder that Assad must be revered and present even as one walks through an otherwise nondescript, out of the way route. What do these photos say to you and what other photograph stands out for you from that group?
AG: The photo of two Bedouin men on a motorbike in the dusty and dusky landscape of Palmyra ruins evokes for me the surreal reality of the past and the present seen and felt at the same moment. The other photo with Assad's image on a pole in a dark alley in the Old Town in Damascus is also surreal in its own way. In most countries under the rule of a dictator or an autocrat, you will always see the propaganda portraits of the leader in every imaginable place, whether in markets or billboards along the roads or train and bus stations, even temples and mosques, but this felt like an odd choice for a venue for the leader's image, right in the middle of a narrow alley in an isolated corner of the old town. I guess I like images with a little surreal element to them. But I also like, while traveling in a foreign country, to find a moment of everyday ordinary life that says something about the culture. From that angle I like the double spread in the book on Jordan and Syria of men smoking sheesha (Hookah) in a tea house in Damascus, which, despite its ordinariness, is fascinating to me as a glimpse into a foreign culture.

DM: What is your favorite subject matter to photograph and why?
AG: I really don't have a favorite subject. Almost everything with an interesting light on it is made visually attractive and a subject for a photograph for me. For this reason I find myself taking photographs wherever I happen to be, including my own apartment where the late afternoon light coming in from the Western window never fails to surprise me with its intensity and beauty. My latest book for this reason is about patches of light in art galleries that I found visually more interesting to photograph than the art works themselves.

Arvind Garg, Venice 1978
DM: What are some of your favorite images from your work and why?
AG: A black and white photo I took in Venice in 1978, soon after I started to photograph, has remained a personal favorite of mine. It is an overview of silhouettes of people and pigeons and their long shadows in St. Marks' Square that I shot from the balcony of the cathedral. It is also perhaps the first abstract image I made (without knowing, safe to say, what I was doing) from a real life scene. 
Arvind Garg, Rajasthan Woman
Among my work in color, a constant favorite is the image of a traditionally dressed and veiled woman walking down a dusty trail in Rajasthan with a tree at the bottom left corner. It is just the color and composition that makes the image but for me it evokes the landscape and the rhythm of life in this part of India.
Arvind Garg, Zen Garden

DM: Black Thorns is a photo with a graphic design sensibility in black and white, and the photos you did on eucalyptus trees with the abstract patterns in color highlight your interest in pattern and design. Is this the type of work that in particular made you want to explore painting?
AG: I have thought of trying my hand at painting several times in my life, but somehow never got to do it. Unless now, partly encouraged by my artist friend Beverly Brown whose watercolors of fashion figures I truly admire. But my photographic series on eucalyptus tree bark also is a catalyst in my finally picking up a painting brush, for images in that series are mostly about color and abstract and organic design. They appear to be asking to be painted, so how could I not start painting?
Arvind Garg, Christo Gate

DM: You are using your photographs as reference for your paintings. What difference does the choice of medium, photography or watercolor make to the image, or does it make a difference?
AG: Well, photography is a very precise medium where sharpness traditionally is valued, whereas painting, especially watercolor,  is a medium that allows more freedom of execution.  But trained as I am as a photographer, I am finding it a challenge to be loose in painting and let the brush and paint guide the imagery.  I still find myself trying to make my painting look like a photograph, which defeats the whole purpose. I recently went to see Sargent’s watercolors in a big show at the Brooklyn Museum. His work took my breath away. I could see that he is precise in some places and totally free at other spots in the same painting. The way he paints light and shadows and water reflections, even architecture,  combining both realistic and abstract elements, is fascinating. I felt very inspired and moved.

DM: What else would you like people to know about your work?
AG: I have been mostly lucky in that whenever I have made the effort to show my work to editors and curators I have found them attentive and appreciative. WIthout much effort I have had my photographs acquired at major institutions like the New York Public Library and Brooklyn Museum as well as academic institutions like the Herbert Johnson Museum at Cornell University in Ithica, NY. I hope that my books will find an audience one day that will lead to more of my artwork seen. But I am just enjoying the process of making books as well as paintings and drawings. And the joy of doing it seems to be enough reward for now.
Arvind Garg, Village Door

DM: What is your next project?
AG: I have a long way to go with my drawing and painting, so the next few years I hope to devote to this utterly fascinating medium.

DM: Thank you for joining me. 
To view more of the photographs we discussed and to purchase Arvind's books click HERE
To purchase art prints click HERE
To view/license images click HERE

Friday, May 17, 2013

ART- ELIZABETH SAYLES, author/illustrator

Elizabeth Sayles is an author/illustrator living in NY. I'm thrilled to have Liz join me for a conversation about her art and the illustration industry. She has illustrated numerous children's books as well as writing and illustrating her own. Liz's other illustration work for advertising and editorial projects include clients such as Lands End, Delta Airlines and T. Rowe Price to name a few. She has a keen eye and a generous spirit. Take her class. Her assignments are cool and you'll learn a lot about being an illustrator. 
All artwork Elizabeth Sayles 1998-2013 work may not be used without permission from the artist. 

DM: Hi Liz! Thank you for joining me. Talk a little bit about your background and why you decided to become an illustrator.  
ES: I always drew, on my walls, sheets, occasionally paper.  I went to art school to be an illustrator, but didn't like the program and wound up dropping out after 3 years.  Eventually, through a series of fortunate events, I became a designer, and then an art director, and then the stock market crashed, photoshop was invented, and all hell broke loose.  So I finally decided it was time to dip my toes back in the illustration world.  And I was again met with a series of fortunate events that led to many wonderful books to illustrate, as well as other projects.

Elizabeth Sayles
DM: Your work is ethereal. Who are the artists that have inspired or influenced your work?  
ES: Many artists have influenced me.   Garth Williams in particular, Degas, Gaguin, Kunyoshi, Maurice Sendak…

DM: Why did you choose pastel as your primary medium?
ES: I was in art school (college) and a girl next to me had a box of Rembrandt pastels, and I asked to borrow one. It was love!  I ran to the art store after class and bought my own box!

DM: What type of pastels do you use, i.e. soft, pencils?
ES: I use all types of pastels for different effects, but I use the pencils to get detail and also they are a lot less messy.

DM: I started with a toothy paper but now I like the sanded Senelier paper for my pastel work. Many pastelists I know use Wallace. What paper do you use?  
ES: I use Stonehenge paper mainly, but lately I've been priming paper or board with Golden Pumice gel (fine) and it gives it a nice sandy surface.  I like to use it on top of an acrylic underpainting.

DM: Some pastellists use a watercolor underpainting, others none at all. Why do you use acrylic?
ES: I use watercolor or acrylics mixed with acrylic medium.  I really use whatever is at hand.  I use the acrylics like watercolor, not opaque.

DM: Do you use the computer at all?
ES: Yes, I size up my art, piece together sketches in Photoshop. Sometimes I scan in a work in progress, fix it up, print it out and work on top of that.  I also send all art to the client  digitally.

Elizabeth Sayles
DM: There are too many to mention but I particularly love Fairy’s Bridge, the one with the fairy and the butterflies, the boy in the ship with the clock, Little Red Riding Hood, the moon images in Moon Child, the new one you highlight on your web site that is based in Persia. What are some of your favorite images and why?  
ES: Well those are my favorites as well.  Probably because I tried something new and it worked, or they are pictures that worked despite having to fit a storyline.

DM: You work in the general illustration market with a concentration in the children's book market. I’ve heard many illustrators say that the illustration market has shrunk considerably. What are your thoughts?
ES: I think it has shrunk in certain areas:  books, magazines, for instance.  Other areas have disappeared (record jackets, etc).  And other areas maybe have grown, such as licensed products, animation, games.  Illustration is in flux, as is nearly everything right now due to technology.

Elizabeth Sayles
DM: What advice can you give to illustraors who want to further their career or who are just starting out?
ES: Draw a lot, and look around you.  Don't stay cooped up in your room, and quit staring at what someone else did last week and posted on line.  Go out in the world, explore, open your eyes, be inspired by what you see, and also go to museums and study artists who have come before.

DM: Your father is also an artist. How has that influenced you?
ES: I grew up with a father who was an artist (an illustrator and a designer) and a mother who was a writer/ editor, and then they produced books together.  Besides the obvious influence of learning how to use some materials, I grew up having no idea about holding down a 9-5 job!  Seriously!  I thought that was normal. My parents worked all the time, and were around a lot… that is what I wound up doing as well.

DM: You have curated an exhibit about the ghost army of artists in WWII, currently on view at the Hopper House Art Center. Who are they? 
ES: Yes its an  exhibition of original works by soldiers in the 23rd HQ Special Troops aka "The Ghost Army" of WWII. They were a camouflage and deception unit that happened to be loaded with artists. This top-secret group of GI’s helped win the war with inflatable tanks, sound effects and illusions.  But that's only half the story. As they travelled across the battlefields of Europe they documented everything with watercolors, ink, and pastel, creating a vast array of artwork. Artists in the unit included fashion designer Bill Blass, painter/sculptor Ellsworth Kelly, and wildlife artist Arthur Singer. 

DM: Your father was one of these artists. What does it mean to you to be able to celebrate his participation in such an important program and honor his and his colleagues’ service to the country?
ES: It's such a great story of the melding of two things that don't seem to belong together: Art and War. And a heck of a lot of imagination.

DM: What did your father tell you about his involvement? 
ES: He told crazy stories about inflatable tanks and dummy artillery, and how they would drive in circles around villages to make it seem like there were thousands of them when there were just a few hundred. And how Bill Blass, the future fashion designer, re-sewed his uniform so it fit better. They were just crazy stories. There were a couple of pictures on the wall that he did then, but I didn't realize it till later. Then my brother searched through his studio and found a lot of sketches.

DM: You are a member of Illustrators Partnership of America. Tell me what they do and why it’s an organization artists should know about.
ES: It is an organization whose main purpose is to advocate for illustrators' rights.

Elizabeth Sayles
DM: Does teaching have any influence on your work?  
ES: Yes, everything I know I've learned from teaching.  I have to stay on my toes, stay up to date with what's going on, and I also have to figure out what I do so I can explain it.  This semester I'm teaching Color & Design at Queens College. To prepare I had to research color theory, and I realized how much I hated color theory in college, it had no relevance, so I taught the class so it would have relevance.  I think they got a lot from the class. I know I did.

DM: I took your  illustration portfolio class years ago at SVA and it was great. Everyone should take it and more than once (I plan on taking it again sometime).  Where can people take a class or workshop with you?
ES: I try to keep my website updated with the classes I'm teaching.  I still teach Illustration Portfolio at SVA.  I also teach at other colleges in the area, SUNY Rockland, Queens College, Mercy College, and Rockland Center for the Arts.

DM: What are you working on now?
ES: I am writing a novel (of course), and clearing out my studio so I can begin some big paintings.  I think I've been working too small lately.  Mostly to hit deadlines.  I would like to start showing my work in galleries.

DM: Do you have any books coming out this year?
ES: Yes, In September:  "Anne Frank's Chestnut Tree" will be published by Random House. It is a Step-into-Reading book, fully illustrated in color.

Click on the following links
View/purchase Liz's books 
  Web site 

see more of her work


About the Ghost Army

Artists of Deception: The Ghost Army of WWII Exhibit - click on Exhibit to view info at Edward Hopper House in Nyack, NY through June 9th. Curators: Elizabeth Sayles and Rick Beyer. Check your local PBS station for the schedule for the documentary - airing in NY on May 21st at 8pm channel 13. NEW: the exhibit travels to Salmagundi Club, NY in June 2015. 

Next up - Part II of my interview with Arvind Garg, photographer. Click here to read Part I

Monday, April 29, 2013


Arvind Garg is a photographer living in New York. This is part I of a two part interview.
all images Arvind Garg and may not be reproduced without permission.

It was one of those strange chance meetings that left us fast friends. Some years ago Arvind wandered into the reception for a photography show I was participating in. We launched into a conversation about photography, literature, art, and travel and have continued these themes to this day, albeit over good wine and food. I'd like to thank him for allowing me to interview him. - DM 

DM: Tell me about your background, what drew you to photography and what in your background influences your photographic work.
AG: My uncle, Balwant Gargi, who was a writer, was the first photographer I ever knew. He lived in New Delhi and when I was a small boy in the 1950s he visited us in the small town of Bathinda in Punjab, India, he would take our pictures. He had a twin lens Rollieflex camera. He would mostly take portraits of family members, close ups of faces in natural light for which we sometimes had to go to the house roof, or sometimes he would light the face with the pedestal lamp in the house. He would take the pictures and go back to Delhi. Weeks, sometimes months later, there would be a package in the mail carrying just a few of the photos but all in large 8x10 size, that he had gotten developed and printed by the best  known lab in the capital, the Mahattas. These photos left a deep impression on me and over the years they formed the family album. All my siblings and I still have these portraits in our family albums; in fact they form the backbone of old family memories from the 1950s and 1960s. 

DM: You and I share a love of street photography. To me it's the sense of discovery of the unexpected and the challenge to create a photograph that is both journalistic in its storytelling, but also evocative. What does this genre mean to you? 
AG: Ever since then I have carried my camera with me everywhere I go, and I rarely return home without a new image taken in the street or other public places. Street photography suited me perfectly as I was already a good walker by nature. This kind of photography helped me really “see” the world and then try to select an image in it that would not only reflect life but also hopefully be an aesthetic object in itself. After I moved to New York City in 1985, street photography became an all-consuming activity, for like Paris and Rome, New York City seemed to be built for street photographers. I discovered and found my New York (for every Newyorker has his or her own New York) through street photography.

I became aware of the genre called “street photography” only when I came to America in the mid1970s. I was a student at University of Wisconsin in Madison and there in 1976 I bought my first SLR camera (Pentex K1000). Cartier-Bresson was everyone’s favorite photographer at that time. His images, along with those by my other favorite, Kertesz, intoxicated me and my photographer friends like Dennis Church and Lewis Koch. His candid photographs of people not only of Paris and France but from all over Europe and Asia seemed to capture the rhythm and poetry of everyday life of ordinary people in different cultures. 

DM: Who are the photographers that have influenced you?
AG: Except for the early influence of Cartier-Bresson and Kertesz as mentioned above (Oh, I almost forgot Eugene Atget whose images I was in love with in my early years as a photographer), I am not aware of anyone else’s direct influence on me. But there are photographers whose work I have consistently admired since the very beginning and I am sure their imagery has influenced me indirectly and unconsciously. Among them I would name  Stieglitz and Steichen (somehow I always think of these  two together), Walker Evans, Clarence White, Brassai, Minor White, Manuel A. Bravo, Paul Strand, Bill Brandt, Josef Sudek and  Josef Koudelka, Mark Ribout, Margaret Bourke-White, Helen Levitt, Robert Frank, Harry Callahan and a few others whose names are not coming to my mind right now. As you can see this list is dominated by French and American names. Among Indian photographers Raghubir Singh was an influence in color photography of exotic Indian places, and later Raghu Rai’s photojournalistic work in India also interested me greatly. 

DM: Your photogravure work is so beautiful. First, can you explain what this process is?

Konarak Temple, Arvind Garg
AG:  Photogravure is an intaglio process by which an image from a photographic negative is first transferred to a polished copper plate which is then etched in fine and continuous gradation that produce the original tonal values in the image when the etched plate is inked and printed like any other etching.  It was a popular printing method during the early years of the twentieth century. If you look at some famous images of Stieglitz or Steichen,  you will find that they were printed as photogravures. 

I was lucky to get my initial training in photogravure process in a class at Manhattan Graphics Center taught by Lothar Osterburg , known in the photogravure world as a master. He taught with humor and had a lightness of touch as he gave demos and answered your questions. 

I loved the look and feel of photogravures, the use of etching paper and ink and their soft tonality fascinated me. It was perhaps the first time I actually enjoyed getting my hands dirty rubbing the ink into the etched copper plate, and yes, the smell of ink. And how magical it felt to pull a printed image out of the etching press, especially when it came out good. 

DM: You don't do much work in this method anymore, why?
AG: It is a labor-intensive process, and it involves so many delicate steps any one of which can go wrong and you would have to start all over again. It is not cheap either, and for some reason it is not as valued as it should be, in the photography market. I guess I got tired after a few years of doing it, although the process still fascinates me. I also moved on to other things like self-publishing books of my photographs and now to painting and drawing. 

DM: You and I are both old enough to have started with manual cameras. How has the digital revolution influenced and/or effected the way you work?
AG: Like most serious photographers I hesitated to buy my first digital SLR. It felt like giving in to technology at the cost of authenticity in your work. But once I started using my Nikon D200 which I bought in 2006, there was no looking back. If one is a part of the photography universe, there is no choice about the technology you will use these days. Digital photography has obviously made enough progress to compete with the film process in quality, but in addition it offers new opportunities not only to create imagery but also to share it with others, the latter being equally essential to the experience of being an artist. 

DM: I think it's fascinating to see the process. What was great about the contact sheets was that you could see the thought process of the photographer. I take one or maybe three photos of a subject and I tend to compose in the camera rather than cropping on the contact sheet beyond some extraneous edges. Do you tend to take a lot of photos to get what you want, and what is your composition process?
AG: One certainly shoots more frames using digital camera as opposed to film camera, but the framing and composing habits remain the same, I think. I have always tried to compose my pictures in the viewfinder. Still, with the availability of photoshop software it is impossible to always remain true to the original composition and not to crop the original image here and there a bit and give it a new form. I don’t see anything wrong with that. 

DM: I love Village Women In Alberca as an example not only of portraiture, but also a photo that speaks to the culture of your subjects. Do you have something specific in mind when you do portraiture?
Alberca Women, Arvind Garg 
AG: That particular image of the Alberca women in a Spanish village outside Salamanca is definitely one of my very favorites in all my life’s work. I was In Salamanca during some random travels in Spain. Salamanca has one of world’s most beautiful main squares, I think. There in a bar I met two young and eager photographers who then offered to take me to this village on the outskirts of the city. What a look at the rural Spain it turned out to be. Cows and sheep roamed the street as in India. The elderly, dressed in fine clothing, sat around chatting and laughing. This group of women, with ancient faces and curious expressions, happily accepted to be photographed by this foreign visitor. They seemed to be as amused by the experience as I was. That moment was one of the highlights of all my travels anywhere in the world. 

DM: Brooklyn Children. Wow, this is quintissential street photography. It's a moment, it's attitude, it's atmosphere. Were you talking with the kids, or did you happen on the scene? What were the circumstances that led to the image? 

Brooklyn Children, Arvind Garg
AG:  While shooting the boys playing with the water, one of them asked me for money I think. I don't remember if I gave him this dollar bill or he showed me what he wanted, but I thought this turned out to be an eloquent image about the preoccupation with money in America (even about the preoccupation with dollar bill in the whole world), so I used the image in my America book. 

DM: I would think that doing stock photography is good training ground for producing spot-on composition and effective storytelling. How do you think the commercial aspect of doing stock photos has influenced your work? 
AG: Professional stock photographers take their work very seriously and shoot from the angle of what sells out in the commercial market. They have editors working with them, they hire professional models, they “create” imagery for stock sales that their agencies demand. 
Even though I have sold my images for decades for editorial and commercial use on my own and through photo agencies like Getty and Corbis, the two big ones, I almost never take a photo with stock sale in my mind. I tend to walk around and take photographs of what I like visually. I have therefore been lucky that many of these images have been used in publications such as the New York Times and many travel and other magazines and text books, as well as sold for commercial use by my photo agencies.

DM: I'd like to continue to explore more of your work, talk about the books you produce and what you are working on now. (Interview to be continued in Part II)
Part II of my interview with Arvind Garg will appear at the end of next month. Meanwhile view/buy his books HERE

My interview with Elizabeth Sayles, author/illustrator will be pushed up due to the timing of her exhibit. She is co-curator of the exhibit Ghost Army on view at the Hopper House Museum Gallery, through June 9. A film by the exhibit's co-curator Rick Beyer about these WWII artists will air on PBS in May, locally May 21. Check your local listings.