March 1, 2021
THE RHYTHM SHE SEES
Photography by Karen Ghostlaw Pomarico
Interview by Melanie Meggs
When taking in the vibrant atmosphere of New Orleans, it's hard not to be in awe of the city's unique culture and its wild inhabitants. New York photographer Karen Ghostlaw Pomarico has dedicated her life to capturing the true essence of the city, and her series MUSIC STORY is a vivid example of her creative vision. In this series, Karen takes us to Maple Leaf Bar, a club tucked away in Pigeon Town, where the soulful sounds of the Rebirth Brass Band echo throughout the neighborhood. Through her lens, we see the energy and passion of the Oak Street neighbors as they fire up the smokers in the street and set up buffet tables in their front yards, all to welcome those who come to listen to the music. There's no denying that Karen is a visual storyteller, and through her photographs, she encourages us to see the world in a unique way and engage in thoughtful discussion. Join us as we explore Karen's photography and discover a side of New Orleans that you won't find anywhere else.
“When you think of New Orleans you visualize food, music and a love for art. Arriving in New Orleans I relished in meeting these unique people and their passion for celebrating life. Recommendations abound in this town, but one made me curious, a club that was not to miss for music, off the beaten path, where I would find the real music of New Orleans, the Maple Leaf Bar. In Pigeon Town, a little neighborhood three blocks from the Mississippi River, the Oak Street neighbors of the bar were setting up buffet tables in their front yards, while smokers were being fired up in the street, welcoming all whom arrived. Headlining was the Rebirth Brass Band, everyone there seemed totally pumped as the bar filled waiting for the band to play late into the night. Obviously not a regular, camera in hand, I made my way to the front of the crowd and stage. The crowd guided me to front row center, welcoming my passing them.”
IN CONVERSATION WITH KAREN GHOSTLAW POMARICO
THE PICTORIAL LIST: Thank you Karen for sharing your series of photographs called MUSIC STORY with us. Tell our readers what was the inspiration for the series?
KAREN GHOSTLAW POMARICO: I believe that to be a good photographer it is important to study all the arts. When taking a photograph, I see many different influences and pieces of a puzzle. When the pieces fall together, the shutter is released. I see architecture, geometry, light, color, space, volume, movement, dance, gesture, personality, and humanity, all presented to me through an aperture, in a box. I study dance, I learn physicality and gesture in movement and the stories they tell. When I am in the street shooting or when I was shooting the Rebirth Brass Band, I understood their hand and body movements and how I wished to capture them. Music for me is about the rhythm I see in the World. I think of Steve Reich and his “Music for 18 Musicians”, each instrument having its own rhythm, moving in and out of unison. As I take my photo, all of the chaos becomes synchronized and everything fits, light, shadow, the band on the stage. I’ve found my moment, when I physically feel part of what I am photographing. I don’t need to think about releasing my shutter, it just happens, all is right, my camera and I are one, I am part of the process, thoughtless.
TPL: Karen please tell us about yourself. Can you tell us when you first became interested in photography?
KGP: I was born and grew up in Poughkeepsie New York, in the lower Hudson Valley. I became interested in art before I knew I would become a photographer. While in High School I had the fortunate experience of being guided by my then teacher, and subsequent lifetime dear friend, Maggie Caccamo. Maggie exposed me to numerous mediums and processes, understanding it was process that inspired my creative thought. She exposed me to mediums such as drawing, painting, pastels, batik, quilting, trapunto, jewelry, metal work, welding, woodwork, linoleum and die cuts, silk screening, sculpture, and many more techniques throughout the years. She helped me seek out universities when applying to college, and stood by me through my application process. Being a Pratt Institute graduate herself I decided among the acceptance applications that Pratt would be the school for me. In my freshman year during the Foundation Program at Pratt Institute that I found interest in photography. I was always disappointed in my ability to paint and draw, and realized that in photography and printmaking I was able to transcribe what my minds eye conceptualized, translating it into reality with these mediums.
Pratt brought me great opportunity and exposed me to influential educators, one of whom was William Gedney, who inspired me to find myself and my creative expression through the many photographic technologies at his disposal. Studio work, black and white, 4x5, platinum palladium, and non-silver processes were integrated into my processes. Bill also taught me how to make hand bound books, to display my work in, both photographic and written. He was as process driven as I was, and the connection between us was fuel that fed my fire. There was no turning back for me, the camera became my tool to create, making my imagination reality.
TPL: In general, where do you find your inspiration for your photography?
KGP: Absolutely anywhere and everywhere. I find some photographers specialize in certain areas of photography; portrait, wedding, street. I am a visual storyteller, I approach all my subject matter the same way looking for those connections and details, so I can tell specific stories. I don’t change what I see, rather, I express through the lens what the stories are telling. I love to explore the same places over and over, looking for new stories to tell, forcing myself to look even harder each time. I also find it exhilarating to photograph something I have never photographed before, learning new things and applying them to my work. I find street photography, nature and abstract photography to be places of constant inspiration, and I access them daily.
TPL: Do you have a favorite quote, lyric or saying that especially resonates with you?
KGP: I find it is not usually photographers that come to mind when I think of what resonates with me, rather it is painters. Two painters come to mind who have said things I relate to. Picasso said, “Everything you imagine is real”, and my favorite Dali quote, “There is only one difference between a madman and me. The madman thinks he is sane. I know I am mad.”
My interpretation, rules are meant to be broken. I choose to express myself by breaking the rules of photography, expressing myself in different ways, finding my place between painting and photography.
TPL: Do you have any favourite artists or photographers you would like to share with us, and the reason for their significance?
KGP: This is a fever for me. Favorite artists are a list so long, a few, William Gedney, Lee Frielander, Garry Winogrand, Danny Lyon, Diane Arbus, Eugene Atget, Henri Cartier Bresson, Vivian Maier, Cindy Sherman, and I could name so many more, and that is only photographers. Painters such as Van Gogh, Picasso, Monet, Rothko, Miro, Matisse, to name a few. Sculptors, Giacometti, Brancusi, Noguchi, Richard Serra, Mark di Suvero, Andy Goldsworthy, Dance Companies, Pina Bausch, Bryn Cohn and Artists. For Music, Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis, Mulatu Astatke, Nina Simone, Philip Glass, Steve Reich.
I really enjoy all art, and find it inspirational. A walk through any gallery, and I find something that makes me think, makes me grow as an artist. My style influencers, the abstract expressionists and impressionists. Often, when I am in nature, I think of Van Gogh, texture and sculptural aspect of the landscape painted with a pallet knife, one example of an influence of on the expression of what I see through my lens.
TPL: What do you want to express through your photography? And what are some of the elements you always try to include in your photographs?
KGP: I want to express that things are what you make of them. I want the viewer to participate in the story, engage them to think about what they are seeing. To question is good, and to draw one's own conclusions even better.
I usually shoot with my lens wide open, with as little depth of field as possible. This allows for a focal point even in an abstraction. I do not visualize clarity in my life, it is not how I see my world. What you see in my finished work, is exactly how I saw it in my minds eye through the lens. I do not Photoshop my images, they are all single exposures.
I choose to express myself by breaking the rules of photography, expressing myself in different ways, finding my place between painting and photography.
TPL: What is it that you enjoy about street photography. What happens when you walk the streets with your camera? Explain your technique? Have you ever had a negative encounter?
What draws me to street photography is the unpredictability from one second to the next. There is a different story to be told each and every time I walk the same street. Street photography engages all the senses, noises, smells, visuals of light, shadow, color, and the taste for adventure. When I walk the streets, no matter what city in the world, I try to first find my light, my ISO, and general aperture and speed settings. I become very focused, I look everywhere, listen to sounds that may direct me, smells that may lead me in a certain direction. I always with my camera in hand, ready for anything that catches my attention. I specifically look for details, that are unique, maybe out of place, or considered to be not of much interest, so ordinary. But I see the extraordinary in the ordinary, and find these abstractions to inspire. I am obsessed with reflectivity of all kinds, and the city has so many reflective surfaces challenging me to learn new ways of seeing and recording what I see. I enjoy a street empty of people, as much as I enjoy them full and chaotic. I engage someone that catches my eye, most the time I make eye contact a may gesture for approval, but sometimes anonymity is preferred. I try to feel the energy in those moments, and I try to feel like I am part of that energy and go with the flow. When in sync it is a feeling that is hard to describe, it is bigger than just you, an awareness that creates connectivity and an inspired clear vision.
Recently while shooting in London I had a negative encounter, the first time in a very long time. I was walking down a high street when I saw two young men popping wheelies in the middle of the road in traffic. I reached for my camera, pulled it to my eye and turned the camera on. One of the two young men saw me and started cursing at me in a very loud and disrespectful way. Angry that I apparently snapped his photo, he rode on. The interesting part, I never got one shot off, the camera never turned on in time. I apologized to the young man despite not having taken his photo simply because I violated his personal space.
TPL: Do you have any favorite locations to go photographing? How has the pandemic affected you and your photography?
KGP: I adore photographing in any city, New York City it is a constant inspiration. The moment I hit the street it is like a fever that takes over me. Can’t wait, and usually don’t, to engage my camera and the urbanism. I love to see architecture and art, but I am also just as happy taking a stroll down the lower east side of Manhattan. I feel very fortunate to live in New York State. I am a Libra and it balances my scale. A few hours north of the city you can be in the Adirondack Mountains and the high peaks that are home to unique flora as well as animals. These mountains created by glaciers are the yin to my New Your City yang. My father’s family is from a small town in Northern New York State very close to the Canadian border. I spent my entire youth swimming, skiing, hiking, camping, in this wilderness. During the Pandemic, I isolated in the Adirondacks. My study of the natural world their has influenced the way I see the industrial city landscape. It has helped me find order the the chaos in the metropolis.
Prior to the pandemic I spent much time traveling and photographing urban environments. It had brought my work in a new direction and was a fascinating and supportive venue for my continued study in self portraiture. I was photographing Pride Night at Madison Square Garden in New York City for the New York Gay Hockey Association 48 hours before New York City Lockdown. After the lockdown, I isolated with my family from February through April in the Adirondack Mountain wilderness, where my connection to nature was reawakened. While in isolation, I revisited a study called “Between Painting and Photography” and explored the isolating landscapes and reflections of the mountain estuaries. I created a beautiful body of work, featuring reflected abstracted landscapes.
TPL: Does the equipment you use help you in achieving your vision in your photography? What camera/s do you use? Do you have a preferred lens/focal length?
KGP: I have one camera and one lens. I am never without them. I use a Leica, I currently have a Leica M10-P, with a Summicron ASPH 35mm. It fits me like a glove and is an extension of mind and body. It has the capabilities of articulating my abstractions, and is my partner in seeing the extraordinary in the ordinary.
TPL: What are some of your goals as an artist? Where do you see yourself or hope to see yourself in five years?
KGP: My primary goal as an artist and photographer is to share my work. It is a glorious act to create and I am involved in my work in some way every day of the week. Like a musician playing the scales, I need to photograph or edit every day. But to create and not share is working in a vacuum. As my children have all graduated and moved on, I am no longer a home educator and have the ability to focus on stepping out and engaging platforms and communities to support my work. I see myself immersed in my work and utilizing all outlets available to share and achieve my goal.
TPL: Are there any special projects you are currently working on that you would like to let everyone know about?
KGP: I have begun a hand bound book of platinum palladium prints made from negatives taken from a nude figure class with Bill Gedney in the 1980’s, taken on the rooftop of the painting studios at Pratt Institute. This project is in its formative stages but I am looking forward to bringing it to completion. I have also conceptualized a mixed media installation piece, weaving together life size photographs printed on various materials and woven together with actual artifacts of objects seen in the images. I see this project as a natural progression to explore my roots of non-silver printing processes and my love for the different mediums I have engaged with throughout my life. I have been studying self portraiture and reflectivity for over 12 years and believe the layers and abstractions found in the urban landscape would be a wonderful foundation for this project. I am actively working to establish connectivity and a communities to share this work with.
TPL: When I am not out photographing, I (like to)...
KGP: I love to do everything, but I am rarely found without my camera. I have an abundance of energy and physical activity is a must for me. I do yoga daily as well as hike, swim, ski. I also need to see art, so I have memberships to most museums in NYC and throughout New York State. Before the Pandemic I would attend concerts, dance, and opera on a regular basis. I also traveled extensively throughout North America, South America and Europe. I adore food, to cook and eat it, so you will often find me in the kitchen or eating at a favorite restaurant with a nice bottle of wine. I love a four hour dinner. I enjoy people, a conversation, and new connections made. I am a sponge absorbing and photographing everything around me.
As a visual storyteller, Karen explores a unique vision of the world through her artistic expressions. It is without a doubt, The Pictorial List would not be possible without the work Karen does as Editor. We are truly honored to have her on the team. Connect with Karen and join her on her pictorial journey.