Alida O’Loughlin presents us with more than 40 treasured moments in her new exhibition by the same title at the Edgartown library, through the end of November.
For such a prolific artist, it’s amazing to learn that O’Loughlin didn’t take photography seriously until her 70s. She came to the U.S. from her native Holland as a graduate student in 1951 with $80 in her pocket. As a single mother of three kids in four years, her career was in politics, working with international nonprofit organizations. “Life has always been one of hard work and making sure people get provided for,” O’Loughlin tells me.
“I’m not a photographer. I came to it accidentally in the course of time,” she explains. Although O’Loughlin had been using a point-and-shoot camera to take photos for her own pleasure, it wasn’t until her partner, artist Washington Ledesma, enlarged and framed one of her works as a present that she even entertained the idea of it as a profession. “I looked at the photograph and was quite shocked because I thought it looked very good. From that time on, photography became a more serious business for me,” she says. “Bit by bit, I started developing the shots, and people were ‘oohing’ and ‘aahing’ about them.”
O’Loughlin started selling here at the artisan fairs, and had exhibits in Boston and Cambridge. “I was able to do it with the help of Washington. I wasn’t wandering out in the desert by myself by any means. So I became a photographer, which was a surprise. My life had been about politics,” she adds.
As we look through her broad scope of work, O’Loughlin repeatedly emphasizes, “I never became a technical photographer. I couldn’t get into cameras and settings and all that sort of stuff. Basically, I worked with what I saw. If I catch it, great, wonderful. If not — nothing lost. I did not manipulate.” In fact, it took her a long time to switch from film when digital cameras initially came on the scene in the 1980s and ’90s. “I said, My eyes do not see digitally. When I see something, I focus, and everything else becomes background, but with digital, everything is sharp. At some point, everybody became a photographer, and it became much more important to manipulate things digitally, so I stopped exhibiting.”
Shooting just for herself again, O’Loughlin says, “I became more and more interested in what I saw that other people didn’t see; that intrigued me.” And her sharp eye is evident throughout the exhibit. The show starts with that first “official” photograph Ledesma framed — the icy cold winter image of the Shenandoah at the pier in Vineyard Haven in the early 2000s, and her final piece, titled “Urban Energy.” The composition of a teeming construction site at South Station in Boston pulses with industrial energy.
The rest of the show, however, is about nature — sometimes up close, sometimes from a distance. The images are grouped by themes, the initial one being intimate portraits of tree bark. By isolating sections of tree trunks, O’Loughlin revels in their texture, patterns, and colors. They become abstract compositions from which images emerge, like a sensuous woman’s naked body in one, or Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” in another.
O’Loughlin’s next grouping is landscapes, and close-ups of flowers reflect a keen sensitivity to natural beauty. The story of how she became sensitive to looking at nature is poignant. “I learned to see thanks to the Nazi occupation of Holland. Young people weren’t allowed to gather together. All the youth groups were disbanded except the Netherlands Youth Bond for the Study of Nature,” she shares. “I joined when I was 12 years old. They would go out on Sunday excursions to the woods for birdwatching and identification of bird songs, moss, and trees.”
O’Loughlin’s eye for nature is also apparent in her grouping of seascapes. Here, the light is particularly striking, with the sun setting and creating distinctly atmospheric scenes. While different from one another, a sense of calm descends on them all, and augments the beauty and awe of the world around us.
In her artist statement, O’Loughlin writes, “There are all these sudden moments when I see the composition of the elements, and sometimes I have my camera with me, and sometimes my camera is capable of catching that one specific instant. These photographs are what they are — a conscious moment in time, a moment of light, not retouched or altered in any way. I hope the viewer will find some enjoyment of recognition in what my eyes and camera experience.”
O’Loughlin also hopes that after viewing her art, people will realize, as she says, “There is a whole world out there of many different forms and shapes … stop and think about how it makes you feel.”
“Treasured Moments” will be on view at the Edgartown library through the end of November.