Wonder Woman

Text by Caroline Cunningham Photography by Courtesy of Heather Gaudio Fine Art Gallery

Bonnie Edelman’s sense of awe at the beauty of the world around her is reflected in the almost magical quality of her photography.

Bonnie Edelman’s elegant photographs resist easy categorization. One series captures the majesty of horses in the South American landscape, another records the whimsical beauty of fiddlehead ferns and yet another documents traditional hunting rituals in Germany, albeit with a modern gaze. In Edelman’s latest work, a stormy sky or an overgrown field along a European highway is transformed into mesmerizing bands of color. Her subject matter has shifted over time, but the unifying thread in her work has remained the same. She records astonishing beauty in the natural world; her photographs are both homage and celebration.

Edelman’s images also reflect the artist’s own intuitive confidence and grace. Her easy warmth turned a formal interview into a long and laughter-filled conversation in which she discussed her artistic journey, from making jewelry as a child to creating photographs that are held in private and public collections, including many Ralph Lauren stores, around the world. Edelman has worked hard for her success, and takes nothing for granted. She also has a deep appreciation for the unexpected magic in the universe, and it is perhaps this sense of wonder, above all else, that gives her work such resonance.

Edelman started her career in publishing, first at Seventeen as an assistant to the creative director, and then at Glamour, where she reported to the European market editor. She found time to explore the extensive archives at Condé Nast, photocopying layouts and advertising from back issues dating back to the 1950s through the 1970s: “I was obsessed with midcentury architecture and furnishings, and it was so exciting to see these in context,” she recalls.

She shared this interest, and many weekends exploring local flea markets, with John Edelman. They married a few years later; John is now president and CEO of Design Within Reach.

When a job opened at Sports Illustrated, Edelman, who had played volleyball at Connecticut College, considered the chance to combine her interests in sports, travel and fashion a dream come true. And so it proved to be: she spent two years as the magazine’s travel editor, scouting exotic locations and coordinating all the details for the swimsuit issue. She also worked closely with photographers like Francesco Scavullo and Sante D’Orazio, and soon concluded that “this is the life for me.”

In 1998, Edelman and her husband moved with their young children to Ridgefield. She started taking photographs, and enrolled in workshops with Mary Ellen Mark and Keith Carter, among others, to learn and refine her technique. A successful portrait photography business followed. Edelman also devoted time to her fine-art portfolio during annual trips to Uruguay, where she stayed with a close friend on her family’s farm. Edelman used 35 millimeter and digital cameras, as well as a 2¼ Rolleiflex; she also experimented with a Lensbaby, a flexible plastic lens that creates indistinct margins around a precise focal point. Her black-and-white images of horses and of the magnificent rural landscape have a dream-like quality, as if taken in a time and place long ago. Exhale Press published a luxurious volume of this work, Sermo Per Equus, in 2010.

Edelman has explored other subjects in depth. She was entranced by the anthropomorphic quality of fiddleheads in the countryside, and used a backdrop to make detailed photographs of them. Red Mark shows the delicate and textured stems turning to one another, like an intimate family gathering in the woods. Girl with Ram Head is from a series that Edelman shot in Germany, where huntsmen honor the lives of the animals they hunt, just as their ancestors have done for centuries before them. The photo of a child holding a ram’s head in a refracted circle of light is a powerful and poignant memorial. In her Scapes series, Edelman’s deliberately blurred photographs capture sweeping horizons of color in pictures of land, sea and sky. Her disciplined attention to tonality, proportion and framing is what makes this work so compelling and so gorgeous. Like a realist painter who moves toward abstraction, she’s learned the rules. And now she gets to break them. •

EDITOR’S NOTE Bonnie Edelman’s photographs can  be seen in Waterways II, an exhibition running through August 24 at Heather Gaudio Fine Art, New Canaan, (203) 801-8590, heathergaudiofineart.com. To see more of Edelman’s work, visit bonnieedelman.com.

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