15 Beautiful Moons

Kate Breakey's lunar images of love and loss are part of a great exhibit at Etherton

From her porch on the far northwest side of Tucson, artist Kate Breakey can see Safford Peak.

The mountain rises some 3,500 feet above the desert, jutting its hat-shaped summit into the sky. (It's sometimes called Sombrero Peak.) Breakey has photographed the mountain's drifting clouds and darkening storms, its sunsets and moonrises.

Lately, it's the moon that's gotten most of her attention. Her "Full Moon Setting over Safford Peak, Arizona," 2014, is a distant view of the white orb. It's tiny here, hovering over the right side of that jagged hat, floating downwards from a blue-gray sky. A pink-yellow light breaks through the clouds.

Breakey zooms in for a close-up in "Moon Setting on Safford Peak, Tucson, Arizona," 2008. This time, though the moon is in the crescent stage, it's huge. And you can see the faint, shadowy outline of the full sphere. This delicate moon is coming down to earth: it seems to be alighting on the desert floor, dwarfing the saguaros that cling to the dark mountain's sloping left flank.

These two gorgeous moons are part of what amounts to a lunar installation at Etherton Gallery; 15 hand-colored photos picture the moon in its many moods. "Full Moon, Tucson, Arizona," 2014, is full and golden, but slightly shadowed by a dark cloud passing over its face. "Lunar Eclipse, Marana, Arizona," 2001, captures a tiny moon high in the sky; the mountains are far below, a minuscule strip of peaks and glittering electric lights. Breakey's also included moons casting their light over her native South Australia, over Lake Erie, over the Grand Canyon.

In a recent lecture at the Center for Creative Photography, Breakey explained that the moons form a kind of emotional lunagraphy that expresses her grief at the break-up of a long marriage. The moon, she said, is a symbol of love and loss. "The moon can transform you, tug at your heart, like it does the oceans."

But Breakey's 15 beautiful moons are only a small portion of the dozens of works she's put into the exhibition Without and Within, which she shares with Texas photographer Keith Carter. She grew up by the sea and her ocean images are spectacular. "Patch of Light, Coffins Bay," 2008, is a lovely seascape, with a sky filled with cottony clouds and a luminous sea as shiny as glass. "Ocean, South Australia," 2005, has a high horizon line, with only a small strip of sky and clouds at the top, with the rest of the space devoted to the churning waves. "Moonlight on Ocean, Arno Bay, South Australia," 2002, combines her two loves; it's a classic photo of moonbeams glimmering on the water.

Breakey shoots her images in black and white, and then colors them with subtle but dazzling strokes of oil pastel. There are no humans in these pictures, only the beauties of the natural world: silver moons, pink and amber clouds and pale yellow light on water.

She's best known for her monumental photos of hand-colored dead birds, and in this show she's included flocks of black swans, sand cranes and ravens, flying across dark skies or congregating in shallow bay waters. In their elegance and simplicity, in the heartbreaking curve of their necks, the black swans especially conjure up great sorrow.

Carter, of Texas, does photograph humans, sometimes as dreamy figures. More often he represents them by the objects they own, in still lifes that radiate with emotion: an open book, a monkey sculpture. And like his friend Breakey, he's riveted by animals and nature: his suite of black and whites even includes a raven and a moon.

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