In the first-ever mother-daughter exhibit in Soho are “painterly photographs,” the work of professional photographer Julie Betts Testwuide of Yorktown Heights and her 8-year-old daughter, Molly, who are displaying at New Century Artists Gallery through January.
Works in the collection are the result of a technique that transforms photographs into prints that look more like paintings than photographs. The process involves manipulating the emulsion of a Polaroid photo to achieve a misty aura and hand coloring the print with pastels and pencils. The result resembles an impressionist image.
In truth, its resemblance is in the quality of famed French Impressionist Claude Monet; his riot of flowers and lauded water lilies that are known to art lovers everywhere.
A viewer will note the likeness hazily and softly painted among the willows and the lily pond, or on a waterscape of the French Riviera, a plein air blend of rock-strewn shoreline with reflections of the sky on the water, and an evanescent trio of children looking toward a distant fisherman.
Julie's "Seaside Pleasures," featured in the Soho exhibit, include photographs taken on the French Riviera. Molly's painterly photos were taken at Monet's Lily Pond in Giverny, France. St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City, The Grand Hotel in Paris, and at a castle in Killarney. Ireland. Molly's photograph of a portion of St. Patrick's strikingly resembles Monet's serial paintings of Rouen Cathedral.
"Yes, people have remarked on the similarity to Monet." her mother said, but added, "There is no overt intent to mimic the great Impressionist."
Having had only a high school course in art and none in college, Julie recently studied oil painting with former Yorktown resident and master artist Lee Hochberg.
"I have always aimed for a dreamy, ethereal aspect in my painterly photographs.” Julie pointed out.
Molly's interest was sparked at a young age while modeling for her mother which helped her develop a keen eye.
A third-grade student at Yorktown's Brookside School, she also plays the piano and is a member of a ski race team in Massachusetts.
Julie Belts Testwuide has been working in corporate and sports photography since completing a Master's degree in 1981 at the University of Wisconsin in Madison.
Among her well-known clientele are Chase, Chemical Bank. Manufacturers Hanover, Miller Brewing. Simon & Schuster, St. Martin's Press, Avon and AT&T. Testwuide's work has appeared in The New York Times Magazine
, the Daily News
. New York Post
, Runner's World
magazine, Running News
magazine, and New York Magazine,
and become a visual in annual reports and corporate brochures.
Stellar moments from her career include photographing the New York Marathon from the highest point of the scaffolding on the Verrazanno Bridge. She cruised aboard Malcom Forbes' Highlander
to photograph his private celebration of the publication of one of his books. On firmer ground, she shot the stills of the Rodney Dangerfield/Miller Lite television commercials in L.A.
Prior to receiving a Master's, Julie taught elementary school in Wisconsin. She moved to New York to pursue her love of photography and subsequently married Konrad Cullen (Kip) Testwuide, a stock broker. After the birth of their third child, she decided the travel demands of corporate asslgnments were too time-consuming.
The desire to continue her photography while spending more time at home with her children ÷ Kacey, Molly and Emily, ages 4, 8 and 10 inspired Julie to write and illustrate two children's books.
Molly and Emily modeled for Postcards from Manhattan, a book that resembles old, tinted postcards of popular sights in New York City. Written by way of children's postcards to friends and relatives, it is a sharing of unusual facts about each landmark. She has also continued to create eye-popping ways to combine her painting and photographic talents.
“I have always aimed for a dreamy, ethereal aspect in my painterly photographs,” she commented.
Julie's husband is a staunch celebrant of her virtuoso talent, and often models for her photo illustrations. In Running News
magazine, Kip posed as a runner on Montauk Beach to illustrate an article on “Suburban Running.” And he portrayed an apron-clad house-husband, with mop and laundry basket for an article entitled “Runaway Wives.”
Exhibits of her unusual work have been seen in the New York area at The Hudson River Museum, Lever House, Broadway Mall Gallery, and Santarella Gallery in Tyringham, Massachusetts. In addition, she has opened The Grotto Gallery in Yorktown Heights.
While photographers are known to experiment with composition, only a few may be as facile as Testwuide in this specialized medium. Organized and resourceful, she doesn't fret about a problem. She solves it.
“In Manhattan, I needed instruction by the Polaroid Company in the capabilities of a particular out-of-date film, which is especially adapted to my technique for making painterly photographs.”
The Polaroid Company complied, and now Testwuide is skilled in three processes that involve film made for a 1960s Polaroid. Testwuide uses that old camera, and, fortunately, Polaroid continues to make the film dedicated to it.
A darkroom specialist who has mastered the technical know-how, Testwuide is able to develop the intricate processes to make her photographs primarily. At the University of Wisconsin, she had planned to major in art. “Not a good idea.” her advisor said. “You’ll never make any money at it unless you become an occupational therapist.” Loving to work with children, she switched to elementary education.
However, working toward a Master's in photography, she learned more about a hobby that had always fascinated her. Practical experience accompanied this graduate course as she handled photography for the college newspaper and yearbook. “I loved working in the darkroom.” she recalled during a recent interview. And that's where she was every spare moment.
In fact, all that darkroom experience proved to be the "open sesame" for her amazing technique. Her most recent process is working from a color photograph instead of black and white. She learned how to use the negative, not the print, transferring the photograph to art paper that would absorb paint.
Her son Kacey makes his own toys from empty boxes and odds and ends slated for the trash. “He's probably going to be a sculptor someday.” she surmises. “Because of this genuine gift for designing things.” The children head for the art room at home, where they work with the real thing. “No children's hobby paints for them.”
“When we were in Paris this summer, the hotel breakfast arrived with a rose on the tray. Emily, Molly and I photographed that rose so many times, my husband finally asked, 'Haven't you photographed that rose enough?'
“As it turned out, Molly's was the best,” Testwuide said, "better than mine."
Emily also has a flair for photography and an eye for composition. But the 10 year-old is more retiring and prefers not to exhibit her work. “Emily's choice is honored.” her mother affirmed, “and her privacy is respected.”
One might wonder, how did she teach her children photography and painting?
“They were involved-as my models,” Testwuide said. As she was writing and illustrating her children's books, they wanted to participate and would take some of the photographs and do the hand coloring with paint and pencils. That's how they began, always surrounded by their mother's art supplies.
“I was using oils and giving them hobby paints. 'Why can't we use oils? Why can't we use canvas? they would ask. Exposing them to real materials was very exciting for them.” she said. Testwuide did a lot of her work in France this summer. “It's been addictive. I think they figured, 'If you can't beat 'em, join 'em.' Each child had a camera and got so interested - 'Wow! Wait! Wait! Wait! I see some more flowers! Let me get this. Let me get that.' “
And snagging a good photo seems part of their mindset. While in New York one afternoon, Emily and Julie were taking so long shopping, Molly chose not to tag along. Bored with waiting. She used the time for a photo shoot. A spiral staircase provided so many arresting angles, her best shot resembles a giant snail.
Photography has been a positive experience for all the children, according to Julie who believes they have a fresh view of things.
Perhaps she's the signature mother for the 21st century.
Upcoming for Julie is her “The Eye of the Beholder” scheduled for a February mounting at both the Salimagundi Club on Fifth Avenue and at Lyndhurst Mansion in Tarrytown. She'll return to the commercial gallery, New Century, in April to exhibit and highlight the process of her work with an in-depth demonstration, a treat for both photographers, artists and art appreciators.
The exhibit at New Century Artists Gallery, 168 Mercer Street (between Houston and Prince Streets) in Manhattan, runs through January 31. Gallery hours are from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. The number to call for gallery information is (212) 431-5353; for artist information, (914) 962-5096.