By Sara Paul
It was a warm May evening just before sunset when a determined photographer with a serious sense of purpose placed his hand gently on his wife’s hand. They had to make their way to “Jessup’s Oak,” right then, right there. A majestic 75 foot white oak tree had reigned for more than 200 years in a Florida, NY field and it was at this precise moment when all the elements were in place for the ideal composition.
For photographer John Kiersten, getting his perfect shot is not an easy or random chanced event. From the time of day – early, direct, or late lighting – to the moods of the weather, particularly clouds and mist, capturing the proverbial moment takes patience, calculation and instinct.
“I’m drawn to capture those moments when form and light combine in a beauty that has meaning for me emotionally as well as esthetically,” said Kiersten, who has pursued his passion of photography since 1989.
To be sure, Kiersten’s glassy blue eyes had gazed upon Jessup’s Oak many times before in the colder months, however the artist knew that something in that winter scene was not quite right. The almost picturesque picture required billowing white clouds and lots of leaves. It was clear that he needed to return in the spring.
“I do go back to the same place many times, as I can see the composition and something that resonates, but I can feel something is missing,” said Kiersten, who took his first photos with an antique 8” x 20” camera (one of those big relics on a teetering tripod requiring poster size paper loading) and an 8” x 10” field camera.
Interestingly, Kiersten seems to have come full circle. With his beginnings in developing black and white photographs in his home’s barn-turned-studio space, which lies between a quiet Florida, NY road and his home, the artist went digital in 2008. While the newer photos were obviously readily printable in color, this traditionalist remained true to his roots, transforming pictured back into black and white.
“Black and white is a different form of expression and a different way of presenting the ideas I’m feeling,” comments Kiersten, who has been inspired by such artists as Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, Paul Caponigro, and the Hudson River School painters.
The leap to digital gave the artist, often on foot, a freedom from weighty equipment and costly materials. The old-fashioned days of toting cameras, film, tripods, and multiple lenses, the sum of such luggage which could total about 60 pounds, has been replaced with one camera and one lens, which ranges from 28 to 100 millimeters. There was also a tremendous amount of pressure lifted when John went from only 20 to 24 exposures per film per day to an infinite number of digital shots.
With his father and great uncle instilling artistic curiosity, it still took time for a young Kiersten to develop his interest, forgive the pun. Work, family and life lead him in different directions, though all seem to have led him back home, to nature, to his studio, to his creative, explorative second set of eyes: the camera.
With photographic art at the heart of most of what he does, the tri-state area artist does not travel far, as some do, to find natural landscapes amidst varying light and mist conditions.
“I have everything I need right here – beauty, fields, nature,” he smiles, noting that he finds true inspiration and plenty of subject matter in the New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania area.
Staying local, however, doesn’t mean his efforts haven’t reached far and wide. His works have appeared in exhibitions from east to west coasts, from the Carolinas to California. Art enthusiasts and even artists themselves have purchased his works and the feedback on his creations has been overwhelmingly positive.
“Most people seem impressed and say they have never seen something quite like that before,” he says humbly.
With artistic beauty and creativity meeting a kind of historical preservation through meaningful images, Kiersten looks back on many pieces that allow one to reminisce about some bits of nature and also structures that no longer exist.
He recalls photographing a small, old barn in the Black Dirt Region of Pine Island that was destroyed in the wake of Hurricane Sandy; a maple tree that once towered in a field that has now become one of only corn; and countless numbers of plant-life drowned in a Delaware Water Recreation Area storm.
“I have to seize the moment because you never know what’s going to happen,” he states seriously.
While Kiersten is mostly known for his nature and landscape pieces, he has also focused on many gratifying ventures that involve abstracts and notably a “figure in the landscape” series, inspired by a professional dance performance in Warwick.
While once creating his own platinum palladium paper, John now manipulates images with Photoshop and prints them on a professional Epson printer, with a twist. Using piezographic archival carbon inks and Hahnemuele cotton rags papers, he prints with ink that replace Epson’s, from black to gradations to light grey.
With a back story, an anecdote, and sometimes even a poem attached to each of John’s gems, one artistic adventure stands out.
En route to his day job with an international, commercial vinyl wall covering company called Rigo, Kiersten would often wistfully gaze at Arden Farms.
Unfortunately, while the keen-eyed and curious photographer yearned to roam the property’s vast expanse with his digital comrade, he was sensibly deterred by stern signs indicating, “Private Property.”
After written correspondences and samples of his work had won over the owner, Kiersten soon had his shot at shooting on no less than 3,000 acres of private grounds only seen previously by a handful of visitors.
“I felt quite privileged to have had the opportunity to explore this private residence and property. Just being able to walk and wander around in such beautiful surroundings was truly a gift,” he said.
With his dark room retired, a pensive and mellow Kiersten chills in the adjacent converted barn spaces: a sitting room bearing a Warwick porch photo of his favorite saying, “Dulce Domum” (sweet home in Latin), and a gallery where some of his favorite works from his “Spirit World” series hang below warm lights and old ceiling two by fours.
His heart’s favorite is, of course, “Jessup’s Oak,” that stately, tremendous tree that called to him one spring day at dusk when the timing, weather, and elements had harmoniously come together, in the presence of both artist and muse.
John’s wife of more than 25 years, Patty, is a well-known local pet portrait painter and shares their barn space, with her own studio at the far end. The couple met in 1993 at Pacem in Terris.
Outside in their quiet Florida one-ish acre, Kiersten is surrounded by hundreds of flowers (Patty’s colorful contributions) and also five rescue cats, one of whom has but three legs, and their poodle pup Gracie.
The beauty and simplicity of his home life is closely bound to the natural, to nature, to his art, which he says, “… brings me fulfillment in expressing something I’m seeing and feeling and thinking. I’m making something that shows beauty and interest… and I’m making that happen.”
To view John Kiersten’s work, visit his website at www.johnkiersten.com.
The Warwick Valley Dispatch would like to feature local artists who are passionate in their creative pursuits. These individuals can be established artists or those who are getting started in their trade. We ask that if you know of any artists who would be appropriate for these human interest pieces, that you contact Sara Paul at firstname.lastname@example.org or 718-702-3091.