Earlier this week, a blood-red moon hovered over Tucson — and much of the rest of the world.
It was a joy to see the colors change from pale orange to red in the darkened sky.
Longtime Tucson photographer Kate Breakey has captured the extraordinary hues of this red moon more than once. And in my mind, I couldn’t help but call this celestial beauty the moon of Kate Breakey.
Coincidentally, I had just seen Breakey’s wonderful moon pictures at Etherton Gallery.
On her show, Transience, she brought together nine of her full moon photos into one glorious piece, “Nine Lunar Eclipses.” The nine moons are aligned in three rows of three, placed on a black background. Each has a different color, capturing a distinct phase of an advancing eclipse: white, gray, orange, and red.
Breakey is known for her stunning nature images; his earliest works that I remember were his oversized pieces that paid homage to tiny dead birds.
The current show, 57 pieces strong, is about all kinds of nature: birds of course, but also trees, clouds, a great cavalcade of flowers, a snake, a random boat-in-a-bottle and, oh yes , another beautiful moon, a special from Arizona called “A Fingernail Moon Setting Over Safford”. And a charming white lace dress for a little girl.
The photos, mainly in color, some others in black and white, evoke the cycle of life and death. Pink flowers fall from their vase in “Drooping Daises”. In another piece from Arizona, “Tall Dead Pine Tree, White Mountain, Arizona”, the branches and trunk are exposed, silhouetted against a stormy sky. Elsewhere, a dead crow, all funereal black, is placed carefully on a piece of white lace. Even the little child who wore the lace dress will die one day.
“Nothing lasts,” Breakey wrote in a statement on the gallery wall.
“The stars eventually go out, the moon recedes inch by inch…I take pictures of things in the natural world so that in the short time I’m here, I can hold them close to me, to marvel at each one – remember it as it is, commemorate… Unbearable beauty and unbearable sadness, everywhere, coming and going all the time, all tangled up.
Breakey reported that she is an admirer of Alfred Stieglitz, a famous early 20th century photographer, who developed pictorialism. Stieglitz insisted that beauty is above the real world. Instead of crisp, grainy streetscapes, for example, he softened figures and buildings to the point that his work often looked more like paintings than photos. The same can be said of Breakey, as she strives to make her flowers, snakes, and trees beautiful.
Like a latter-day pictorialist, Breakey experiments like mad. The gallery’s Daphne Srinivasan counts paints, pastels, colored pencils and embroidery among the many materials she uses. Then there are the handmade papers, the glass and the silk and, as if by magic, the orotone which gives a golden luminosity to his art.