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Woods yield images that soar and plunge

By Denise Woodin
One of John Maggiotto’s photos on display at the Hastings Public Library.

Viewing John Maggiotto’s photographs of Hillside Woods on his website does not prepare you for the real thing. Online, they are a series of nice pictures of a forest. Against a white wall, framed and illuminated by a small spotlight, these large-scale photographs are almost startling in their detail and immediacy, the natural world captured at a moment in time by a watchful and patient eye.

This Sunday, Feb. 26, the Hastings Public Library will host an opening reception for Maggiotto’s “Hillside Woods” exhibit, which will hang in the Orr Room through April 23. During a recent conversation at his Dobbs Ferry studio, located in the former warehouse at 145 Palisade St., Maggiotto discussed his relationship with the Woods and the ideas he hopes to convey through his work.

“In this particular series,” he explained, “the unifying element is the fallen tree. This is what helps make these wonderful compositions. The composition is what really drew me in.”

Shot mostly between last September and November, the eight photos in the exhibit are at once scenes of tranquility and momentum. “The idea is that this twig takes you up,” Maggiotto noted, pointing to the outstretched tree branches. “That one takes you around. This one takes you down, and then you’re over and back. This is how photographs should be made… You have to build movement into the composition. You want the viewer’s eye to be pushed around.”

A Hastings resident since 1993, Maggiotto spent several years walking in Hillside Woods with his yellow Lab, Stella, and a group of fellow dog owners. Gradually, he began to notice the patterns of nature. “I learned how the planets move by watching when I walked the dog every night, the slow change-over of the forest. The way the small saplings survive, or don’t survive.”

“I had taken photographs of my dog walking in the Woods and I had taken pictures of the Woods, but never with any real intent,” Maggiotto continued. “These were little pocket cameras I would carry around. When I walked the dog I wouldn’t carry any other equipment. My dog died about two years ago. I started exercising again in the Woods… and that’s when I started looking at the forest again. I had time. I was thinking. I didn’t have to worry about an animal, and I was alone most of the time. That’s when I wanted to go back. I said, ‘I really want to photograph this tree.’”

For Maggiotto, who has spent his career photographing everything from vintage automobiles to corporate events, the Hillside Woods project brought him back home. “I’m actually very happy with this series,” he remarked. “You get caught up trying to survive as an artist; you’d get distracted thinking, ‘What would the public like to see?’ And you start doing all these big beautiful scenes, but it was these intimate walks through the Woods that really grabbed me.”

While the trees in his photos suggest repose, Maggiotto sees bigger, more dynamic themes. Pointing to the massive exposed roots of a downed tree, he observed, “The fact that it’s been uprooted, that takes a lot of environmental power. There had to be a storm, there had to be something that brought this tree down. And you get into the idea of the strength of weather, and movement, and time. These all become a notecard on how short our time is. These are giants. These are 80-, 90-year-old trees, and now they’re down. And we too will pass. It’s sort of that reminder out there.”

A native of upstate Buffalo, Maggiotto was influenced by his father, an amateur photographer who had a darkroom at home. He became serious about the discipline during his undergrad years at the State University at Buffalo, where he studied art history and studio art. “I started to realize that photography could be something other than what I had grown up with,” he remembered. “It didn’t have to be Life, Look, or The Saturday Evening Post [magazines]. It could also be more of an artistic expression.”

At age 61, Maggiotto has achieved his college-era dream of becoming a successful professional photographer. His work has been shown in solo and group exhibitions in Los Angeles, New York City, Tucson, San Francisco, and other cities throughout the country. In 2014, several of his large-scale photographs of the Hudson River waterfront and the Palisades were shown at Dolphin Restaurant in Yonkers. His work also appears in several publications, including two of his own books, and on the cover of “Nine Horses,” a collection of poems by former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins.

These days, much of his work revolves around the Rivertowns. He’s working on a commission for Tompkins Financial, pulling together his Yonkers photos for the firm’s office in that city. He photographs other artists’ work — paintings and other pieces for marketing materials. He also teaches one-on-one, helping his students realize their vision through photography.

Maggiotto also participates in the annual RiverArts Studio Tour, which will be held this year on April 22-23. “I think the most exciting way to show your work in the Rivertowns is through the Studio Tour,” he remarked. For art aficionados, “You get to go to the person’s studio and see how it’s made, where it’s made, and it’s really the best situation to see what’s going on in the work by talking to the artist.”

Reflecting on the upcoming exhibit at the Hastings Library, Maggiotto commented, “I like the Orr Room. It looks out on a woods and the Palisades. And you can deal with the work intimately there. It’s a quiet space… I hope people will spend time looking at [each photo], to try to figure out what’s going on… if you look at these photographs on a screen, you’re not looking at the photograph.”

The opening reception for John Maggiotto’s Hillside Woods exhibit is this Sunday, Feb. 26, 3-5 p.m., at the Hastings Public Library, 7 Maple Ave. The reception and exhibit are free and open to the public. Maggiotto will donate a portion of the proceeds from any sales of the work to the Hastings Conservation Commission for its stewardship of Hillside Woods.

Read more local coverage of your hometown in this week’s issue of the Rivertowns Enterprise. Newsstand copies are available at several locations listed above, or subscribe today for convenient home delivery.


February 24, 2017

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