Still life with dog at Depot

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The model is so serious, set against the plain, painted studio backdrop. The model moves her head to strike the cool, refined pose of an 18th-century royalty portrait.

It's impossible not to laugh.

JoAnn Baker Paul's latest series of portraits feature the faces of 17 dogs. She shot the portraits Nov. 10 at the Depot Art Center. The dogs lined up as if waiting for their school pictures.

When they walked in front of Paul's backdrop, she positioned her Hasselblad camera and treated her subjects like movie stars.

"It's a distillation of the subject that makes it become an object. It becomes an object made up of light and color," Paul said. "But it's also a portrait with an emotional element.

"It's serious, but it's funny because it's a dog, and I'm treating them like royalty or movie stars. That's where the irony is."

Paul doesn't "get to know" her subjects. She simply poses them in the stylized setting until she gets "a feeling that now is the time to take a photograph."

Paul comes from a tradition of photography passed to her by her former employer, fashion photographer Irving Penn. Paul worked as Penn's curatorial assistant in New York City before moving to Steamboat Springs in 1987.

Penn is famous for pulling subjects out of context. He photographs objects against plain backgrounds as a way of removing all extemporaneous information. His photographs gave dignity to unusual objects.

"If you know his work, you can see that he very much influenced my work," Paul said.

After seven years in New York, Paul decided to follow her sister to Steamboat. She set up a portrait studio in the Good News Building, but lost a lot of her work in a fire that destroyed the building in 1994.

Her process since then has led her slowly away from the abstract, still-life photographs she built with paint and pencil and found objects.

She was building a life in rural Routt County and was starting to see the artistic potential in the farm animals around her.

"In 1998, I got the ducks," she said. "It was amazing, the inspiration I got from them. They were very healing. We never had any kids, and I fell madly in love with those ducks."

She started photographing them in 1999 and soon she was photographing "everyone" on the farm -- 18 ducks, two geese, 20 chickens and her dogs. But every photograph was taken in studio sets that Paul created. It was the meeting of two passions, photography and the satisfaction she found in rural life, she said.

"I see myself as an artist before I am a photographer," Paul said. "All my work is based on the still life -- made up of elements and composition."

She showed and sold a photograph of glamorized chicken at a show last summer in Aspen and was awarded second place in photography at the SummerArt 2003 show for her stark image of two eggs in a creamer.

The success gave her confidence to focus full time on her art.

The unveiling of her new body of work titled "Animal Spirits: Dogs" marks the beginning of a new phase in her artistic existence.

She plans to market her dog portraits in New York, New Jersey, Texas and other parts of Colorado.

"I see huge potential for this kind of work," she said.

-- To reach Autumn Phillips call 871-4210

or e-mail aphillips@steamboatpilot.com

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