Focus on Art – December 2010

Focus on Art

By Rob Mohr

Jay Koppelman:
A Journey from Darkness into Life


From his early success as an actor in The Lion in Winter with the Banyan Professional Theatre in Sarasota Florida, to Romeo and Juliet at the Kennedy Center in Washington, and in several movies including, The Fanatical Teachings of Julian Tau (2000) and The Accountant (2000), Jay Koppelman, unable to find work, entered a downward spiral that left him deeply depressed, homeless, and living out of a car on the streets of Sarasota and New York. “I lost my capacity to love what was once loved.”

Remembering hiking in Mexico as a youth, and the uncritical support of his father in Ajijic, Jay escaped to Mexico where with the help of a professional counselor and discovery of his father’s new camera, he began to heal. Through the lens of his father´s “transformative” camera he began to focus on the world outside of himself. “Seeing beyond myself, I came alive again.”

Jay soon realized that there are no dead ends, and, digging deep, he began to forge his remarkable life as an artist/photographer. Seven years later his powerful and evocative photographs taken in Mexico grace his new book The Through Line, A Journey From Darkness into Life, and recent photographs taken during a three-month journey through Ecuador, on exhibit in Veronica Navarro´s Studio 18 (18 Colon, Ajijic) further demonstrate Jay’s maturity as an artist. Many attending the opening were excited by Jay’s consummate ability to reveal what is seldom seen.

While the trend in contemporary photography is to manipulate the image, Jay’s photographs, in contrast, capture the moment and bring into focus the intrinsic aesthetic (the truth) he finds in his subject. “Photography is my way of exploring life – not following rules or doing what others do, but holding fast to my desire to capture the ‘grittiness’ of the subject.” Jay´s adept vision enables unity between the subjects and the viewer through the photograph.

For example, the dog peering out from under the horse (exhibition) reaches out and pulls the viewer into the world of the photograph.

Being open and vulnerable and seeing past the mask people wear are keys to his art. In his photograph, Quechua Kids, as in Renaissance paintings, the textiles covering the young girls become a masterful visual element in the work. The sweeping curve of the hooded head-covering of the child on the left is echoed perfectly by the curve of the bread she eats. Equally refined, is the graceful downward curve of the shawl over the shoulders of the child to the right. The positioning of the children is in perfect balance providing the viewer with a classically composed portrait of stunning beauty. Jays Photos of indigenous children rival highly acclaimed photos by Lisa Aviva Diamond of Peruvian children and Barbi Reed’s of Tibetan Children.

Haunting and pungent works like “Wet Dreams” (p14) evoke an eternal stillness while conveying a sense of mystery created by the ethereal lighting. The fisherman in his boat, with oars extended – on what appears to be dry land (actually Lirio) – looks inward as several boats move across the lake. The full moon in the upper left punctuates the mood creating a dark, ambiguous reality. A composed, well-dressed girl sitting in a tall doorway (P99) conveys a similar feeling of absolute calm.

Other ‘lakescapes’ like Cormorants Roosting (p62) – where the single tree filled with cormorants to the left works as a counter to the group of bird filled trees on the right – and the knurled tree with a heron perched on top (P92), are reminiscent of the stark serenity of photographic landscapes by Ansel Adams (1902-1984). In both works, composition and details reveal a quicksilver lake frozen in time.

Jay’s “Double Photo of Shuar Children” is one of the most satisfying and playful photos in the exhibition at Studio 18. The upper panel which reveals a group of children standing serenely on a log, is juxtaposed against the lower panel which reveals an outbreak of sheer joy as the children leap in to the river. Both mood and content are perfect mated in this compelling photograph making these astounding children forever part of the viewer’s memory.

Jay Koppelman’s life as an actor, his subsequent rediscovery of the world around him, his tenacious hold on life, his willingness to take risks, his personal search for beauty, and his innate awareness of the essential elements of his art, work with synergistic unity to affirm the growing stature of this photographic artist.


Ojo Del Lago
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