Behind the Scenes: Martha, the last passenger pigeon, for Smithonian Magazine

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Article from this month’s Smithsonian magazine

100 years ago, Martha – the last passenger pigeon on earth – passed away leaving the extinction of a species in her wake. 

A few months ago, I was lucky enough to photograph Martha at the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History Bird Division archives for Smithsonian Magazine.  My assignment was to create a photograph that would memorialize her as she deserved, as the last member of a species that used to be the most populous in North America, to accompany an article commemorating the 100th anniversary of her death.  Jeff Campagna, Smithsonian’s photo editor, contacted me for the project after seeing my fine arts series featuring live bird portraits on wallpaper called, Birds of a Feather.  Between that project as a reference and my love of taxidermy and natural history, this was a dream assignment for me.

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Martha on Thibaut Little Rock Pattern, Historic Homes Vol 7 Collection in Document

The wallpaper background in the image below is a historical reproduction, sourced from Thibaut’s Damask Resource Vol 3 Collection, from around 1914, roughly the same time period that Martha would have taken her final flight.  As you can imagine, photographing a perfectly posed Martha resulted in far fewer ruffled feathers than the shoots with live birds that I typically do!

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Martha posed against Thibaut Mumford Pattern, Damask Resource Vol 3 Collection in Red – I love how this brings out her red feet and eyes

I also wanted to take on the challenge of presenting Martha in a way that would pay homage to her historical importance, and reference imagery from the time period.  I have always loved John James Audubon’s classic illustrations of birds from the Victorian Era. After a few brainstorming sessions and research, I set out to recreate one photographically with Martha.  I started with the image below for inspiration, and then got to work to make it come to life.

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The inspiration illustration for my photograph

Claire Rosen

My resulting photographic image of Martha

After several trips to home depot, various arts & crafts and floral stores I had everything I needed to build this set.  I carved the mountains out of green floral board and added spray paint and texture.  Moss, branches, rocks, clouds from natural cotton and model trees created the final touches and it turns out luckily that Christina Gebhard, is also an expert cloud creator.

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Preparing my mountain before the shoot….

After the stage was set and Martha was in place, I needed to light it to mimic the flat nature of the illustration, while maintaining the detail in the bird.  I accomplished that using two medium soft boxes and a grid on the Dynalite RoadMax Series Kit.  This project was shot with a Canon 5D Mark II.

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It was so great to work with Jeff Campagna from Smithsonian Magazine and of course, Brian Schmidt and Christina Gebhard, the brilliant team of museum specialists at the Smithsonian Institute National Museum of Natural History in the Division of Birds.  Assisting and behind the scenes images courtesy of Drew Gurian.  Thanks guys!!

Click Here to read the fascinating article about Martha in Smithsonian Magazine.

I will be taking over Smithsonian Magazine’s Instagram feed on Saturday the 6th for a week and showing unseen images from my fine art series, Birds of a Feather – to check it out please visit and follow http://instagram.com/smithsonianmagazine

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Reverie Exhibit for deFine Art at SCAD Atlanta

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DATE: Jan. 14 – March 22, 2013
LOCATION: Gallery See 1600 Peachtree St., Atlanta, Georgia

“Reverie” features recent work by SCAD alumna Claire Rosen (B.F.A., photography, 2006), who was selected as one of Forbes Magazine’s “30 Under 30” in the category of Art & Design in 2012. The artist constructs theatrical, dream-like settings inspired by her fascination with fairy tales, folklore and mythology. Enchanting and surreal, Rosen’s photography entices the viewer into a realm of reverie. This exhibition marks this intriguing young artist’s solo debut presentation at SCAD.

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Photos courtesy of SCAD Atlanta

Burlesque Shoot for Lleah Rea

To call the timeline of sporadic happenings that brought Claire Rosen and Lleah Rea together anything other than serendipitous would be an under statement.

When Lleah Rea stumbled upon Claire’s website she causally expressed to her co-worker how she wished her own designs could be captured with such innovative style; the co-worker was Natalie Krim, who immediately put the two in contact.

Within minutes of their first phone conversation, Claire realized she had photographed one of Lleah’s designs the  week prior during a shoot for hat-designer Ryan Wilde. Claire and Lleah marveled at the coincidence as a contagious creative energy ignited these two fanatical artists.

Coming off the hype of having Beyonce wear her lingerie-bodysuit for a GQ Cover, Lleah wanted to create a series of images to launch her website.  Impressed by the talented emerging designers aesthetic and talent, Claire accepted.

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Lleah had just finished a commissioned, hand-made ‘one-of-a-kind’ series of burlesques costumes for an Atlantic City Burlesque Show that were to be shipped out that coming Monday.  Being that it was Wednesday evening, they would be held to a tight deadline, but when imagining a fantastical world of elegant, sexy burlesque dancers the whimsical two-some rose to the challenge. The visual-perfectionists wanted to construct a “timeless” feel of luxury and elegance.

With only 4 days and no budget, they hit the ground running. Lleah focused on finishing her collection while Claire worked out the logistics. Utilizing late nights, a string of flavors, and manifesting an image of beauty the two artists finally met on at 7:00 am Sunday morning. Claire with flowing mermaid hair and Lleah with a cleanly shaved head; they were quick friends.

The team of beauticians consisted of Chris Rivera, Jessica Calvache and Nicole Fabre for Bangz Salon and Spa and Quinntin for make up. Each model was given a “mood board” of images to inspire their character. With her alluring sex appeal and flawlessly structured face, Gina Antoniello drew inspiration from Sofia Loren and Bridget Bardot. The fun loving “Betty Page” type was played by Hazel Honeysuckle, a professional burlesque dancer. Kelsey Tangel channelled her fiery redheaded lineage to transcend the role of a “Jessica Rabbit” type.

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Utilizing the back door to an abandon nightclub, the team carefully stepped around stray lights, tarnished furniture and dusty corners, while walking through a pitch-black room towards the set, constructed by Tom Pisano. The scuffed up floors were framed by a black backdrop and circling light bulbs below. With the addition of sultry music, the stage was set.

Hazel shared some classical burlesque moves and spoke about the importance of being playfully sexy. Claire kept the scene fresh, inspiring movement, intensity and thoughtfulness of her models. Lleah ran back and forth between the studio and set styling over thirteen one-of-a-kind looks. The models switched around shoes, accessories and howls of laughter through out the 4 hour shoot.

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The images showcase a spectrum of emotions by the flashy dancers. When capturing moments of fun-loving dancing, Rosen included the “stage” lights, fog and exposed brick, creating a sense of space and performance. This is countered by glimpses of deep contemplation where the models’ sequins and glowing skin pops against the barren foreground, giving the illusion they are alone in thought.

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Claire wanted each frozen silhouette to express a new dimension of character, just as Lleah needed each design to invoke a unique dancer. Their attention to detail, fluid communication, stylistic-focus and desire to produce excellence, made for a wonderful collaboration. Claire and Lleah will dance with each other again.

To see the images, visit www.clairerosenphoto.com
Written by Kelsey Tangel

Behind the Scenes Photos Courtesy of Natalie Krim

Winners of the Px3 Prix de la Photographie Paris Announced

Exhibit at Johnson and Johnson’s Headquarters NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ, May 25th – July 24th, 2012

{about the exhibition}

Inspired by fashion and fairy tales, photographer Claire Rosen constructs whimsical worlds, designs costumes and captures beauty with her camera.  As both a fine art and commercial photographer, Rosen explores the dualities that exist in life.  By working with themes and imagery popularized by fables and children’s stories, Rosen investigates universal truths while appealing to our desire for fantasy.  Lightness and darkness, the real and the imagined, the beautiful and the bizarre – all of these paradoxes permeate Rosen’s work.  Because of their contradictory nature, the tension generated by these pairs entices us to behold, inhabit and get lost in Rosen’s photographic narratives.  Once inside, we take part in an adventure.  Despite having no clear destination, our adventure proves valuable.  We encounter unusual characters, stumble upon enthralling situations and overcome obstacles.  We are challenged by the unfamiliar and then rewarded with experience and knowledge.  Luring us into worlds that blend fact and fiction and onto journeys that make us question that which we know, Rosen encourages us to look at the familiar in new ways.  She spurs us into exploring the human condition.  She allows us to gain insight into ourselves and each other.  She lets us live in a fairy tale.

{about the world headquarters gallery}

The Johnson & Johnson World Headquarters Gallery is located at 1 Johnson & Johnson Plaza, New Brunswick, NJ 08933.  The gallery is open to the public by appointment only.  If you would like to schedule an appointment, please contact Stacey Hecht by phone at 732.524.6957 or by email at shecht2@its.jnj.com.

{about the corporate art program}

As part of its community outreach in New Jersey, Johnson & Johnson is committed to social, environmental and cultural programs that improve the livability of communities. The Corporate Art Program highlights current artistic endeavors and features work of living New Jersey artists as well as artists who deal with themes related to science, healthcare, consumerism, and New Jersey culture. In 2012, Johnson & Johnson will sponsor 13 art exhibitions, six in its World Headquarters Gallery and seven in its local New Jersey galleries.

{to schedule a visit, contact}

Stacey Hecht
Corporate Art Intern at Johnson & Johnson
Telephone: 732.524.6957
E-mail: shecht2@its.jnj.com

The Paradoxical World of Claire Rosen

essay by Heather Cammarata-Seale

The relationship between fine art and commercial art has long been fraught with controversy.  Their interaction is often a source of tension.  Susan Sontag asserts that photographs “are clouds of fantasy and pellets of information” which have the ability to show not only beauty, but the world and our relation to it.[i]  Fine art photographs utilize their connection with truth to both display and construct new understandings of reality, producing provocative pellets of information.  On the other hand, fashion photographs, or idealized clouds of fantasy, function in the commercial sphere, using the medium to present stylish commodities and persuade the public into purchasing them.  However, according to Susan Kismaric’s Fashioning Fiction in Photography Since 1990, fashion photography has recently aligned itself with fine art, becoming more pellet-like by focusing on illuminating facets of contemporary clothing and life, privileging meaning over commercial intent.  By crossing the border into artistic territory, fashion photography has gained critical attention, demanding that this commercial outlet be reevaluated for its artistic merits, messages and social value.

Contemporary photographer Claire Rosen straddles the line dividing these two photographic domains, producing both independently conceived projects and those commissioned for commercial use.  Inspired by photographers such as Sarah Moon, Annie Liebowitz, Tim Walker, and Erwin Olaf, Rosen stages seductive scenes that appeal to our need for information and fantasy.  In order to blend these two seemingly paradoxical realms, these photographers, including Rosen, look to the fairy tale for insight into the human condition.

“Human beings have a deeply rooted need to create and identify with narratives, an instinct linked with the tendency we have to see our lives as a story.  We look to narratives for insight into our past and present, and as crystal balls hinting at our future.  Narratives represent our deepest fantasies and desires,” and photographer Claire Rosen constructs and chronicles our cravings by evoking the enchanting yet foreboding fairy tale in her work.[ii]  Attracted to the beautiful and the bizarre, the whimsical and the rational, the commercial and the theoretical, Claire Rosen carefully composes photographs that are both familiar and fresh, that entice contemplation and elicit consumer impulses.  By wrapping memories of childhood in a blanket of darkness, Rosen blends innocent nostalgia with elements of adult longing.

Claire Rosen’s tales are populated by pastry-eating pigs, women lost in the written word or lush landscapes, and taxidermied creatures waiting to be reanimated.  The inhabitants of Rosen’s photographs recall the literary characters present in fables penned by the likes of the Grimm Brothers and Hans Christian Anderson.  However, despite the perceived notion that these stories were written solely for children, fairy tales were in fact created to appeal to a broad audience.  Their exploration of universal themes and abstract truths affect us in childhood and throughout adulthood. [iii]  At a young age, these tales expose us to everyday realities and teach us how to overcome real world obstacles.  The appeal of the fairy tale has endured for hundreds of years, proving that the lessons learned in youth indeed serve us well later in life.  Fairy tales have become fundamental in forming the ways we understand and manage the world around us, explaining why their motifs have become popular in the field of commercial design.  Furthermore, it is the everlasting appeal of the fairy tale that makes Claire Rosen’s photographs resonate on multiple levels.

In both her fine art and advertising projects, Rosen situates her characters in different terrains.  Some exist in scenes of pastoral bliss, symbolic of childhood innocence.[iv]  Others suggest entry into foreign terrain, representing the loss of purity and the gain of vanity.[v]  A third and always present element in Rosen’s work is the inevitability of death, empowering us to revel in the moment and give in to our desires, encouraging us to seek out the unobtainable qualities and consumable products she makes so enticing.

No matter the subject or scene, all of Rosen’s work is infused with a captivating light: a light that is surrounded by darkness, a light that beckons us to move closer, a light that urges us to uncover that which is hidden.  Whether creating a diaphanous haze, an ethereal glow, or a crisp stillness, Rosen’s light allures us and persuades us.  Fashion advertising’s power relies on its ability to invoke a sense of longing in the spectator, encouraging us to imagine ourselves completing the narrative present in the photograph.[vi]   The ambiguity present in fashion photography not only pervades Rosen’s fashion-based imagery but her fine art work as well.  This ambiguity leads to temptation, luring us into worlds that blend fact and fiction, lightness and darkness, life and death.

Once upon a time, it became clear that “we have many questions, and with questions answers have to follow.  The answers become stories; many stories told us how to act and how to look and what to see.”[vii]   In the end, these answers spurred photographers to explore the human condition in fantastical yet relatable ways, allowing us to answer our questions by viewing their beautiful stories.

Heather Cammarata-Seale
Exhibitions Coordinator, Corporate Art Program
Johnson & Johnson

i Susan Sontag. “In Plato’s Cave,” in On Photography. Picador: New York, 1977.
ii Edwards, Kathleen A. Acting Out: Invented Melodrama in Contemporary Photography. Washington: University of Washington Press, 2005, 6.
iii Williams, Gareth. Telling Tales: Fantasy and Fear in Contemporary Design. V&A Publishing:  London, 2009, 32.
iv Ibid, 15.
v Ibid.
vi Edwards, 13.
vi Jurgen Bey quoted in: Williams, Gareth. Telling Tales: Fantasy and Fear in Contemporary Design. V&A Publishing:  London, 2009.

GPP Limited Launch June 6 at 7 pm

FB event:
http://www.facebook.com/events/365499243514352/

Online website:
http://www.gulfphotoplus.com/limited

 

 

MOPLA + Smashbox Group Show: Thursday April 26