Photographer’s impressionist style on view in new book

Stars of Bethlehem

BY ROBERT A. COHN, Editor-in-Chief Emeritus

Heidi Lopata Sherman was a gifted and acclaimed photographer who was strongly influenced by the impressionist painters’ understanding of light. In her own words: “While exploring light’s influence and effects upon the landscape, I produce prints whose shimmering whites and rich, warm, dark tones describe and document the serenity and beauty of the land.”

Many stunning examples of Sherman’s distinctive impressionistic style grace the pages of her recently published book, “As I See It: The Photographs of Heidi Lopata Sherman” (Bluebird Publishing, $30).

Sherman, a native of St. Louis, died in 2014 after many years struggling with multiple sclerosis. The words and photos in the book are all hers, and together they are a fitting tribute to her dedication to her craft and her contributions to the art of photography.

In his introduction to the book, Leo G. Mazow, associate professor of art history at the University of Arkansas, praises Sherman’s incorporation of her influence by the French impressionists in her work.  

“Her work indeed portrays the natural world with heightened attention to cascading sunlight, cramped forms, varying atmospheric effects, and other themes and devices found in paintings by Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir and (the Jewish impressionist) Camille Pissarro,” Mazow writes.

New Mt. Sinai Cemetery advertisement

When photography burst upon the cultural scene in the mid-19th century, it was at first considered a severe threat to representational artists. Why would one be interested in an artist’s rendering with its inevitable flaws when one could have a “picture perfect” photograph? It was not until the great American photographer Alfred Stieglitz (1864-1946), who was married to painter Georgia O’Keeffe, that photography gained legitimacy as an art form in its own  right.

Certainly, Sherman’s photographs in this splendid compilation are both artistic and photographic. The first photograph was taken in 1990 in the Berkshires in Williamstown in western Massachusetts. At the center of the image is a single tree with light-toned bark mottled with darker shapes. The single tree is juxtaposed with a large cluster of trees that are darker in tone. The wintry landscape gives the scene a poignant, solitary ambience.

Another lovely example of Sherman’s artistry is her 1989 photograph of Lakeside Creek in Dallas, Tex. Closest to the viewer’s perspective is a volcanic-looking outcropping of rocks adjacent to a more muted view of the lakeside creek. Prickly bushes and helter-skelter trees bring together harsh elements of nature in a scene that is nonetheless serene.

This superb volume should be kept handy for frequent viewing, for escaping into the tranquility of nature after a stressful day, or to simply lose oneself by taking the “roads less traveled” through a gifted artist’s eyes.

Sherman was acutely aware of the preciousness and ephemeral quality of the images she was preserving.

“As we consciously or unconsciously participate in the deconstruction of our universe, it becomes even more important to capture and preserve what precious beauty remains,” she writes. 

Admirably, she has done just that in this satisfying collection of examples of her photographic gifts.