The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, January 21, 2005


Dave Guarnaccia: an education in photographic art

(Photo by Dave Guarnaccia)
Dave Guarnaccia seems to be a man of contradictions. He is a mechanical engineer and a photographic artist; he is at once reserved and yet expressive and articulate; he is a photographer who doesn't like to be photographed. Under closer scrutiny, however, these apparent contradictions begin to form into a shape expressed in one of Guarnaccia's favorite words: interconnectedness.

Guarnaccia grew up in Winchester and, after high school, "found [him]self" at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst in the 1980s. There, his aptitude for mathematics and the desire to prepare for a career that would afford him "a certain level of independence after four years of college" led him to major in engineering. By the time he had worked in the field and was also completing his M.B.A., he was experiencing some "intellectual burnout," and he began to take pictures as a way to clear his mind and refresh his palate.

Self-education in black and white photography

After beginning with color photographs, Guarnaccia opted instead to specialize in black and white because "I have difficulty in distinguishing colors." His wife, Kathy, thought he had "an eye" and bought him some books on Ansel Adams, the famous photographer of nature and landscapes in black and white. Guarnaccia had found a passion: he devoured these books, as well as Adams' technical works, and set about mastering the art of black and white photography.

What followed was a long and patient process of self-education. Guaranccia spent "about one and a half years with one manual camera and a single lens, developing my skills and learning film development. During this time I put an ad in the Concord Journal asking for basic instruction." He received an answer and for several Saturday mornings he worked with a more experienced photographer learning the mechanics of the art.

The "stump and moss" period

After acquiring a Nikon automatic camera and some more lenses, Guarnaccia began submitting photographs to the Concord Art Association's biannual exhibitions, and to the Arthur Griffin Center for Photographic Art in Winchester. Juggling the responsibilities of a young family and his job, he would "get up before dawn on weekends and slosh around outdoors taking pictures." Kathy Guarnaccia refers to this as his "stump and moss" period. These photographs, along with a number of pictures of man-made objects like buildings, brick walls, and fences, evoke a sense of depth and texture that seems to transcend the subjects themselves. Guarnaccia says that something "triggers a chord, and I see more than just the subject." If he is successful in expressing this personal feeling, he says, the "photo loses its perspective of time and place."

Guaranccia's subject matter altered because of his growing interest in high contrast black and white photography and his decreasing leisure hours. Using a 4x5 large-format camera, he began to develop and print sheets individually. At about the same time, he started photographing the flowers in his wife's abundant garden at their Carlisle home, especially at night when he could control the lighting on the plants. Kathy responded by planting open-at-evening day lilies purchased at the Seawright day lily field. Guarnaccia placed these and other plants in his basement, lighting and photographing them at night. He insists that nature dictates the composition of these photographs: he merely "waits for the right moment" in a plant's development and then captures it on film. He experimented for many years, with "hundreds of pictures," to learn the techniques of high contrast photography. The lily that appears on his exhibit postcard was lighted "from the top, to make the rim distinct, from the back, to show the ribs and bring out the middle, and from underneath, to show the stem so that you know it is not sitting in space, that it is in connection with the world."

In the mid-1990s, Guarnaccia became a Distinguished Artist at the Concord Art Association, and has received awards from the Arthur Griffin Center as well. In 2004, he produced his first calendar, "Flora and Fauna." Balancing and connecting his art with his family life and work, he says, "I do it because I enjoy it I will probably always do it, and it will evolve as I evolve."

Photography is a family affair

The evolution of Dave Guarnaccia as a photographer is a story of passion and exemplary self-discipline and curiosity. The rewards are not only in the extraordinary beauty of his photographs: he has passed along his interest to his daughter Zoë, who is also exhibiting at the Gleason Public Library. Zoë, who is seven, began taking pictures "a long time ago" at "around age three or four." Her new camera has a manual zoom lens, so she can experiment with close-up and distance photography. Zoë explained that she likes to photograph family, "especially Dad's funny faces," the outdoors, and anything that "looks pretty or that I think might look good as a picture." She has chronicled on film both the growth of her little sister, Katie, now four years old, and of the family dog, Lily. Lately, she has been experimenting with self-portraits, holding the camera up to a mirror, or facing herself at different angles to see how it reveals her face. Her little sister Katie now has a new camera and is starting to snap her own pictures. In the Guaranaccia family, there is interconnectedness: with nature, with each other, and with a shared art.

Dave Guarnaccia:
Black and White Photography

an exhibit of the Art at Gleason Visual Projects Program
at Gleason Public Library
January 3-March 6, 2005
Reception: January 29, 2-4 p.m.

2005 The Carlisle Mosquito