Katie, the Rev. Judy Campbell's cat, one of many seen at Lynn Christoffers's photography show. Photo by Lynn Christoffers

Children, cats at play and at ease

By Eleni Collins - October 4, 2007

Using cats and children as her subjects, Island photographer Lynn Christoffers takes candid photos to a new height. Her slice of life pictures on display at M.M. Stone Gallery in West Tisbury depict the subjects in their natural elements.

Upon seeing the four photographs of her cats, gallery-stroller Susan Jones is visibly pleased with the outcome. The cluster of photos titled "14 Cats" includes one with Susan sitting on an over-stuffed chair accompanied with three of her 14 cats. Two cats are cooperatively looking at the camera from two different parts of the chair, while a yellow cat, who looks to be a handful climbs up Susan's chest, its ears pinned back, wanting no part of this family portrait.

But posed shots were not the focus in this show, not for the cats, nor for the children. When asked how she captured such real life images, Ms. Christoffers chalks it up to time.

"I spent time with them. They were in their own plaything at the time; I was just a bystander."

She captures Tofu, Richard Knabel's cat, in two instances that catch the wandering eye, perhaps because the cat has one green and one blue eye, and is stark white in color. In one photograph, the cat is sitting in an overturned trash barrel, so stoic and calm. In the other, the beautiful cat stares and its eyes light up the picture.

Another handsome photograph depicts a black cat, Midnight, sprawled on a green lawn licking its paw. Midnight is joined by chickens and horses in the background at Brookside Farm, making this a picturesque Vineyard scene.

Ms. Christoffers also captures simple scenes of daily routine rarely seen from a bird's-eye view. In one, owner Trish Ing lets her cat outside. The cat is stepping through the threshold of the house as Trish watches. The simplicity of the photograph is stunning.

While most of the photographs were 8" by 10", there were a few larger ones scattered throughout. One notable photograph showcased Vercingetorix, a stunning yellow tabby in a close-up profile.

Another section of close-up images were set apart up on the partition, which led into the children's section.

Taken at a number of locations, such as the West Tisbury library Halloween party last year and a pumpkin sale this year, Ms. Christoffers's photographs of children are vivid, full of life and capture moments that would go unseen unless one was part of the action. There are no school portrait smiles, no saying "cheese."

"I don't do posed shots. I like to capture the child's play in their imaginative sense," says the artist. "It's all really about play and child's spirit."

Ms. Christoffers's images of the library's Halloween party show two girls in a grassy field. While they are standing apart and looking at the camera in one shot, in the next, they are running in their princess costumes, uninhibited.

Another action shot is at Kendra Mills's farm, and is a picture of three children, taken from a distance, in a yard. The photographer takes the viewer into the scene as an onlooker of children who are working out the rules to a game.

Several of the pictures of the children exhibit can be seen as portraits. A vibrant photo of a mother and daughter is Adrianna with Deborah Johnson, with young Adrianna lying on her mother, laughing as if she's being tickled.

Ms. Christoffers uses a different angle when photographing young Eddie Gude. She shot the picture from above, capturing Eddie's head, eyelids, and hands, which hold a snail. The photo is a beautiful portrayal of a child caught in mid-imagination, as the viewer sees the snail from the boy's perspective.

The images from this current show are works in progress for two book projects, "Cats on the Vineyard" and "Children on the Vineyard." Ms. Christoffers's show runs through Oct. 30.

M.M. Stone Gallery is located at 527 State Road in West Tisbury. The gallery is open daily from 1 to 5 pm, and by appointment. 508-693-0396; 693-4920.