Through the Eyes of Photographer,
by Karen Reider
Sedona is fortunate to have
an eclectic mix of unique and talented artists in residence.
Some pass through and some stay. Staying seems to involve
some kind of initiation. Perhaps it is the way of this untamed
land, to accept you or put you out.
Ultimately, it’s the journey,
and what you do with it, that counts.
When I first viewed the photography
of Pamela Duffy, I saw the grace, mystery and adventure of
spirit in her work. When she accepted my request for an interview,
I felt blessed.
The woman who welcomed me
into her home was no one I knew, yet some thread bound us.
New Yorkers have a way of finding each other in this small
town. We must gravitate at some level of familiarity. I had
found her by accident, or perhaps by grace.
Duffy’s photos encompass life
and living in a rare and beautiful way. Her subject matter
is mostly women, children and animals, captured in their intimate
surroundings. In the passion and power of their everyday lives,
Duffy catches her subjects’ movement toward wholeness with
sensitivity and wit.
She began her adult life as
an art major at UC Davis in California. Convinced that painting
and drawing were her future, Duffy studied fine arts and obtained
her degree. As is often the way, her journey took a detour.
many years, Duffy was enamored with Spain. When the opportunity
came to be an exchange student in Madrid, she eagerly took
Her dad gave her an old 35mm
camera to take along and she was delighted. Duffy had tried
to take photography classes in previous years, but they were
always booked solid. Never having used a 35mm before left
her bewildered by F-stops and light meters. A determined young
woman, she was not hindered.
The inside of a classroom
had no appeal for Duffy. If she was to become fluent in the
language - experience Spain to its fullest - she would have
to mingle with the people, immerse herself in their culture.
Using her camera to capture
this culture proved somewhat disastrous. None of the pictures
came out. But it kept her visual world going and rooted her
future with a growing seed.
Often the places we visit
have great importance to us. Being there may remind us of
our strength and our value. Duffy was stepping on to a new
path of self-discovery, moving in one direction and finding
Upon her return to school
a year later, she took a photography class at UC Davis. Duffy
remembers being in the dark room and making up her mind to
become a photographer.
When she graduated at 22,
she took another bold step and moved to New York. Landing
a job as an assistant to a fine arts photographer and filmmaker,
Duffy began her career.
For two years she apprenticed,
worked and even assisted teaching at her employer’s studio.
During this time, she met many journalists who liked her work
and hired her for assignments. She naturally moved into photojournalism
Taking a job with The Village
Voice, New York’s avant garde weekly paper, Duffy met her
The skilled and eccentric
30-year editor of The Voice, Fred McDarrah, took a liking
to Duffy. Seeing something unique in her photographs, he took
her on as an intern.
During the years she worked
there, McDarrah gave her unique and challenging projects.
He taught her to take the photos he wanted first and then
let her decide what she would shoot. Creating a blend of professionalism
and creative freedom, McDarrah was certain to get the photos
he needed, and a few surprises along the way.
Duffy’s first assignment was
to shoot photos of Mayor Ed Koch, who was running for re-election.
The rally was that afternoon and she was to have the photos
to McDarrah by the following morning.
Her training had begun, and
things moved rather quickly from there.
McDarrah gave Duffy a lot
of freedom. He found her images visually strong and trusted
her to make good choices. She didn’t let him down.
Duffy’s face was radiant as
she spoke of her first year at The Voice. “I learned so much,”
she smiled. “Sitting in on editorial meetings was huge.
You really get it in there.
When a photo editor is good, they can teach you how to tell
a story with your photos. If someone just looked at the photos
and didn’t read the story, they would still know what was
All of the photos at The Village
Voice were black and white. Duffy enjoyed this. “Black and
white has more story content. It takes out the background
noise. Often the beauty of color distracts you from thinking
about the content and form.” Duffy’s photos make you aware
of the value of hidden things - things that may come wrapped
in plain paper but exude grandeur.
During the six years Duffy
worked at The Village Voice, she did a lot of private work
doing portraits and documentaries.
Towards the end of her tenure
with The Village Voice, personal circumstances brought her
to Brazil. She had experienced a liberation and felt that
she could now reach others in ways not previously possible.
She was moving on.
Duffy found the class structure
in Brazil shocking. A spirited, fun-loving, and intensely
social people, the Brazilians’ world was powered by maids.
“Not one or two, but whole divisions of them!”
Duffy stayed in people’s homes
and found herself watching the maids in their daily routines.
This was something they had never experienced before. Duffy
was intrigued and so were the maids. Out of this intrigue
came a new photo project she called “The Invisible Woman.”
Attending dinner parties and
luncheons, Duffy found herself spending a lot of time in the
kitchen with the maids. This was their territory, the private
place where reconciling the vastness of life with the mundane
tasks of cleaning took form.
They found it odd that Duffy
wanted to be there with them, but were curious about her.
They liked her and “let her in.”
If she found the maids and
house interesting, she would ask permission to photograph
them. Photography was her passport into their world. During
this project she discovered that what is most real is often
those very things that cannot be expressed at all, but only
known. It became a way to understand the social class and
it freed any judgments she arrived with.
The project consumed her.
She interviewed and documented many homes and the women who
maintained them. In some way, it changed her.
As Duffy reflected on the
project, the interviews and time she spent with these amazing
women, I sensed it was an important time for her. She marveled
at the vitality of these women who prepare food and maintain
the household with all its ritual complexities. She captured
this in a way that would deeply affect any one who saw them.
Looking at these photos, I
felt as though I was in the company of women across many thousands
of miles. I knew myself to be a thread in a great tapestry
woven by all women. I had a glimpse of something larger, not
only of who I am but how all of our experiences are interwoven.
Somehow, it had changed me.
The words that accompanied
the photos were a potent description of something real, a
statement about grace and the mystery of life itself. They
spoke of the complexities that had characterized the life
and relationships of women from another world.
The project was completed
over a four-year period and was very well received. Duffy
showed it in San Palo and Rio to wide acclaim. The notoriety
got her work in New York, as well as a grant. This also opened
Duffy to create other projects. Many, like “Nanny in New York”
an assignment for DoubleTake Magazine, or A Day in the Life
of a Pony Girl, an assignment for Life Magazine, focused on
women, children and pets.
As Duffy now teaches her students,
she discovered her “personal image bank.” She told me “you
have to look at your photos, spread them out before you, and
see what it is you photograph most. Is it about women, children,
lighting...? That is how you find your own personal image
Flipping through Duffy’s photos
made it easy to guess what her image bank contains. Women,
children and animals dominate her portfolio. I could see every
nuance of expression on the faces of the people she shoots,
evoking in me thoughts of conversations filled with hope,
fear, loss and love. Life flows through her photos in a slightly
Living in Sedona has opened
Duffy to another form of expression with her art. Presently,
two major ideas are coming forth.
“The Feng Shui of Photography,”
are images that relate to different Baguas (energies within
your home). Photos that Duffy composes from her archives can
actually enhance and harmonize your home and life. “Energy,
nature and beauty make sense to people here,” said Duffy.
“And all of these things contribute to our lives in positive
ways.” Couple one of her Feng Shui photos with your future
intentions, and you’re bound to notice something different
in your life.
“Embracing life is actually
a choice,” she said. “What you make of life is always your
choice, but helping those choices move in a positive direction
The other project she has
embarked on is shooting photos of dogs who ride shotgun in
the car. “This is a really fun adventure,” she said. She loves
the unique bond she sees between people and their pets and
wants to capture it on film.
When her project is complete,
she would like to have a show and is presently looking for
a gallery to host it.
“This is a very happy time
in my life,” Duffy said. “I’m spreading my wings, and I want
to use my photographic skill in fun, interesting ways.” When
Duffy gets involved in a project, it is always in her head,
and becomes an important part of her life.
“Photography is a self exploration,
a personal history where your dreams come through. Pictures
are an expression of you.”
Duffy is teaching photography
classes at the Sedona Arts Center, among the other personal
projects she is involved with.
She is available for people
portraits, pet portraits, documentaries and her beautiful
Feng Shui photography.
To find out more or book a
sitting, call her at 284-9383.