NEW YORK -- Ariadne Getty, granddaughter of the legendary J. Paul, is the Ted Turner of still photography, hand coloring her photographs to create a remarkably personal artistic vision that is both meritorious and marketable.
Turner's colorizing of black and white film classics has been widely criticized, but Getty's tinting of the black and white photos she takes with her favorite Nikon FM camera has won nothing but critical kudos as the result of exhibitions in Los Angeles, where she attended the University of California, and New York, her new home. She is currently having a one-woman show of her work at the Frank Bernarducci Gallery in Manhattan's SoHo district through March 5.
The oil heiress' photographs, which are a curious blend of the monumental and the ethereal, have been snapped up by such collectors as actors Elizabeth Taylor, Cher, and Bud Cort, Priscilla Woolworth of the five-and-dime Woolworths, and Cassien Elwes of the British art dynasty.
She markets only 10 prints of each photographs, but the tinting on each varies to the extent that each print is unique. Large photos sell for $2,200, smaller ones for $1,100, framed.
'I never tint the entire photograph, just some areas,' said the 24-year-old daughter of John Paul Getty II, an expatriate who has given his adopted Britain more than $100 million for cultural institutions, charities and medical research.
'The less that is colored, the more I like it. If I colored the entire photo, it would look like just another aged color photo, and I have never liked color photos. The colors are too bright.'
Getty has devised her own method of tinting photos, using an unusual photogaphic paper which she coats with a special solution before applying pigments to small areas at a time, achieving shading by adding layers of paint. The process takes about seven days, much of it taken up by drying.
'I'd like to be more specific about how I do it, but it's really my secret, not so different from how other photogaphers might do it, but different enough,' she said apologetically.
Getty said she started to take pictures with a Pentax when she was 15 and loved it, finding the time spent waiting for her pictures to be developed as 'almost unendurable.' Her mother owned some Victorian photographs and postcards that were tinted and this gave her the idea to color her photographs.
'I started with small photos, which I showed only to friends,' she recalled. 'Some of them encouraged me to try larger pictures. When I showed them to a photo gallery owner on the coast, he told me to 'get out there and do more work -- improve yourself,' and I took this as rejection. But I finally came to see he was right.'
'Out there' turned out to be the American southwest, which fascinatesGetty, who was reared in Italy in a dramatically contrasting setting. Most of the photographs in the Bernarducci Gallery show were taken in Santa Fe and its environs. One of the most impressive is a frontal view of an adobe Spanish church.
'Architecture interests me very much and that's probably why many of my subjects are architectural,' Getty explained. 'Architecture affects my moods. I'm especially impressed by the architecture in New York and have taken an apartment in a fine, solid old building that is the antithesis of the sort of impermanent, stage set architecture that I tried to get used to in California.'
Human figures rarely invade Getty's photos and if they do, they seem incidental. There is one in the exhibition showing a Santa Fe man gazing at some chilis drying on a veranda. The chilis are more important than the man.
Getty explains this simply, saying 'I don't find photos of people as interesting as photos of things.' But she is experimenting with photo portraits and pictures of men and women on the streets as well as still lifes. A study of delicately colored New Mexican flowers in a basket has all the qualities of a fine paintings.
Getty, who describes her family as 'very supportive' of her new career, is widely travelled and made a recent trip to Bali. Photos of temple carvings there may be the subject of her next series of photographs for exhibition, or it may be graveyard scenes in the West Indies. She has done two American Southwest shows and is 'bored' with the theme.
'I've learned one thing,' she said. 'And that is not to wait so long for the next theme. I've got to get back to work.'