Many of Emma Ressel’s photographs are inspired by the Dutch tradition of still-life paintings. She poses here with one titled “Eggplants.” PHOTO COURTESY OF EMMA RESSEL

MDI photographer blends the beautiful and grotesque

BAR HARBOR — The fall fashion issue of “New York Magazine” includes three photos – each spread over two full pages – by Emma Ressel of Bar Harbor, who graduated from Mount Desert Island High School in 2012 and from Bard College in New York this spring.

The photo spread is titled “Still Life with Shoes and Rings and Handbags.” The seven items of jewelry shown in one photo include a $10,000 ring and a $1,550 necklace.

The “shoes” page features the work of five footwear designers, including “feather heels” by Jimmy Choo, priced at $1,195, and a $1,030 pair of “velvet flats with Swarovski crystals” by Dior.

The four handbags featured include a “gold crystal box clutch” by Dolce & Gabbana, priced at $7,395.

But it’s not just the fashion accessories that stand out in these photos. It’s Ressel’s artistry in arranging them with food – grapes, figs, lemon slices, a whole fish, broken crackers, peaches – as well as crystal bowls, forks, a stuffed owl and odds and ends of all sorts.

One of the Jimmy Choo shoes – bright red and festooned with feathers – is shown precariously balanced with its toe in a wineglass. Another designer’s shoe is lying on its side with strawberries and cherries spilling out of it.

“I basically do still-life photographs with food, drawing on the Dutch tradition of still-life paintings,” Ressel said. “I read a lot about food history. And some of what I do is take passages that I read and translate them into photographs.

“I also like playing with the idea of excess and decadence. I kind of like teetering on the edge of beautiful and grotesque.”

She said the New York Magazine photo editor wanted her photos of fashion accessories to be in that style – both elegant and quirky.

How does someone so young – Ressel is 22 – and with no professional photography experience manage to land such a plum assignment?

“One of my professors suggested I send a portfolio of my senior project photos to an editor at the magazine, who is a Bard alum,” she said. “I didn’t expect anything to happen, but he showed the portfolio to the senior photo editor, who called and asked me to come to a meeting in New York.”

The meeting was two days before she left for a month-long photography residency in Italy.

“A week into my trip, I got an email from the photo editor saying they would like me to do something for their fall fashion issue,” Ressel said. “They ended up sending me the fashion accessories, and I did the photo spread while I was in Italy.”

Each year, a member of the senior class in the photography program at Bard is chosen to spend a month with two professional photographers in the northern Italian town of Lugo. This year, it was Ressel.

While in Italy, she added to the portfolio she had created as her senior project. Now, the Italian photographers are helping her turn the portfolio into a book.

Meanwhile, as a result of the New York Magazine spread, an artist in New York has hired Ressel to photograph her work.

“I’m hoping to move to New York within the year and either work for a magazine or work freelance,” she said.

Eight of her photographs were recently shown at the Artemis Gallery in Northeast Harbor.

“They still have the photos there, so they can still be seen,” Ressel said.

Dick Broom

Dick Broom

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Dick Broom covers the towns of Mount Desert and Southwest Harbor, Mount Desert Island High School and the school system board and superintendent's office. He enjoys hiking with his golden retriever and finding new places for her to swim. [email protected]

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