For years, Chris Ochadlick has made her own photo cards for family and friends, capturing seemingly insignificant slivers of daily life that many of those recipients have gone on to frame as art. Time and again, she’s been encouraged her to share her work in a public arena.
But the Bucks County artist and New Jersey native has always hesitated — until now. Her debut exhibit “Through My Eyes” opens in our farmhouse on July 22.
“When it comes to my photography I’m kind of shy,” she says. “I’m not afraid someone won’t like my work. It’s more that when an artist shows their work, especially for the first time, they are vulnerable. Photography for me is very personal.”
It’s why so many of her photos emerge from a story or an emotion that fills her, often before she looks through her lens. Consider her photograph of a single chair, discovered in the abandoned Scranton Lace Works, which closed in 2002.
“The chair, for me, evokes a time that is no longer. I can’t really describe it adequately but the way the light hits that chair is amazing. There is an eeriness in that photo but it’s also a beautiful photograph,” says Ochadlick.
“Through My Eyes” will feature favorites, including that chair, from her decades as a photographer.
“I hate themes because I don’t want to be ‘stuck’ doing the same photo or the same type of photo over and over and over again. It’s probably why I’ve never gone for professional training because I don’t want someone telling me how I need to or should take a photo. Finding this out for yourself is part of the photographic process and it’s an important one,” she says. “It’s how you find your style.”
Not that she’s completely untutored. Her father was a photographer whose interest in the art form inspired him to build his own darkroom in their home when she was growing up. He taught her almost everything he learned, and Ochadlick has also taken several workshops over the years. But she’s always preferred learning on her own.
“Part of the fun of being self-taught is you are free to do what you want without the rules of art getting in the way. You’re free to explore, which is very important to being creative. Although there are a few rules I absolutely adhere to when taking photos.
“The first is the ‘rule of thirds’ — I rarely deviate from this but there have been a few times I’ve shot something front and center. The second rule is I also edit in my camera … Before I click the shutter, I make sure all four sides of the photo are free of extraneous stuff — think of a tree coming out of the head of Aunt Mary — that shouldn’t be in the photo. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard, ‘Oh, you can fix that in Photoshop.’ I do very little post-processing, nothing more than tweaking the color and cropping the photo. While it’s fun to work in Photoshop I don’t want to spend too much time on post-processing. I’d rather be taking photos.”
Though she appreciates the photographers who create collages or use other digital techniques in their art, she wants the viewer see what she saw, even if their experience of that image differs from her own.
If there’s anything she hopes her subject matter does inspire in people it’s a desire to slow down and take in the small moments that make up the everyday.
“Most of my photos in the early years were landscapes and flowers,” says Ochadlick, who grew up 20 minutes from the ocean in Toms River, N.J., and has featured aspects of the beaches she frequents in many of her photographs. “I now focus on things that most people don’t see on a daily basis. Not because those things aren’t there but because we’re all — I am also guilty of this — always in a hurry to get somewhere or to do something and we miss the everyday, often mundane, things in our lives. Things like the sky when a storm is approaching, or that beautiful light that occurs when the sun bounces off of a low layer of dark clouds that produces a golden glow. Or the chicory by the side of the road. Or the tall yellow tickseed that grows wild in the fields as fall approaches. Every fall, around where I live, there are fields and fields of these yellow flowers and they’re beautiful.”
She keeps a camera at the ready wherever she is, a small point and shoot for spaces like restaurants where she wants to be inconspicuous, or her larger DSLR.
“Anything is fodder for my camera. Unless I’m going for a specific reason like a heavy frost or snow or dew on the open field in our backyard, anything is game,” she says. “More often than not I don’t have an agenda when it comes to taking photos and I’m open to anything that catches my eye.”
Though her love for what she does is obvious, Ochadlick has no interest in going the professional route, even as she concedes to her art being farm more than a hobby. After a long career in education, working in administration and technology, the former would-be librarian — she has a master’s degree in library science from Drexel University but quit her first stint as a librarian after a year — is happy with the simpler, more relaxed pace of her life. She is currently the office administrator for the Carversville Christian Church.
“My definition of success is doing something you love and doing it well,” she says. “I take great joy and satisfaction when someone sees my work and loves it.”
She would love to paint and draw — her mother was an oil and watercolor artist and Ochadlick herself took numerous art courses in college — but finds the immediacy of photography, especially in the age of digital cameras, more compelling.
“When I get the chance to spend quality time with my camera everything else in my life, be it worrisome or not,” she says, “falls away.”
“Through My Eyes” will be a pop-up exhibit running through Aug. 3 at the Scatter Joy Center for the Arts, 305 Horsham Road, Horsham, Pa. The opening reception will be from 5 to 7 p.m. July 22. For more information, call 215-672-3140 or visit www.chrisochadlick.com.