Let me start with a wee bit of background. Lori Vrba was the first photographer I signed on to represent, and from minute one, we have taken off running together. Sometimes gleefully. Sometimes fearfully. But we make quite a team.
A few months ago, Lori got some sort of (what I would consider to be) divine inspiration to do a new collection called Piano Farm. For years Lori has been taking photographs on Emerson Farm – a quirky piece of land where her daughter takes piano lessons from a hippie caretaker on a baby grand in the kitchen of a log cabin. It has been tirelessly inspiring for her, and she decided to create an entire body of work about the connection between an artist and a place of endless creative possibility.
So over the months, I have seen breathtaking images come tumbling into my inbox – some scanned, some crude iphone shots (Lori is a 100% silver gelatin girl, digital is not in her vocabulary, so scanning is scary). And then the prints. She has hit her stride and found the toning combination to end all toning combinations, and her prints are deliciously rich and chocolate. I promise, you’ve seen nothing like it.
When Lori and I realized we would both be in New Orleans at the same time for PhotoNOLA, me as a reviewer and she as a reviewee for their portfolio review, we decided to blow it out NOLA style and show Piano Farm. Edward Hebert, the gallery director for A Gallery for Fine Photography (an iconic photo gallery in the heart of the French Quarter), agreed to curate the show, and we were in business. We found a gorgeous, haunting, partially restored, historic home in the Treme neighborhood to have the show and decided to make it a one-night only signature New Orleans event. Hold onto your hats.
This weekend, on my family’s return trip from Richmond for Thanksgiving, we decided to stop in Chapel Hill to have an impromptu studio visit with Lori. Since PhotoNOLA is this coming weekend, stress has been high. There have been quite a few “talk me off a ledge” phone calls in both directions, and there was a lot of finished pieces I had not seen in person yet.
But first, the darkroom. The place of wonder and frustration. Glorious successes and spectacular failures. Up until this point I had only seen this magical retreat in a single iphone picture where Lori is in her pajamas in the late afternoon, holding the tongs in one hand and flipping me off with the other.
After the darkroom tour and a glass of wine to calm the nerves (hers, not mine), we took a close look at the work for the show. Because we are having the show in a home with a very distinctive aesthetic, we wanted the framing to fit the atmosphere and the work equally well. Done and done. All by the hand of Master Craftsman (and all-around carpentry genius), Michael Dulude. Phe-nom-en-al.
All that was left was an early morning trip to see the farm. I had been so anxious to see the place of wonder that is Piano Farm. And it wasn’t that I was disappointed. It was more that I was utterly amazed by how Lori had captured it. I walked around and thought, “pretty cool”. There were no fireworks or rainbows or sparkly prettiness. But Lori takes her camera and makes the farm lustrous and wondrous lovely. She draws out the emotion and the magic. I am in awe of her.