Peter Moriarty celebrated his 65th birthday in Rochester the other night with a group of friends. Beaming with good cheer and gratitude, Peter counted his blessings: an 89-year-old mom holding her own in spite of recent heart-related woes; two daughters, Mirah and Ella, dancer and lawyer; good health; his bicycle; and most importantly—what makes his eyes light up—the prospect of finishing a beloved project begun more than thirty years ago—the publication by David Godine of a book of his photographs of 18th and 19th-century greenhouses from around the world.
If you saw the gallery’s show of Peter’s work in 2016, you know what I’m talking about. These are gorgeous black and white photographs taken with a film camera. Odd at first to realize that a photographer would choose black and white instead of color to capture a greenhouse whose very name explains its nature, a riot of shades of green punctuated by the vibrant colors of flowers, and lit up by the abundant unfiltered concentrated light that a greenhouse collects.
But Peter’s photos are not meant to capture color. That would be an altogether different purpose. Instead, Peter is interested in iron and glass, light and shade, form and surface. Great swaths of light cut across his photographs, enormous leaves drip, and giant—what are they, trees?— loom. We can’t always identify the plants Peter includes in his frame, but it doesn’t matter. We are enraptured by the interplay between substance and air, shape and line, dark and light, man-made architecture (the greenhouse) and botanical form. These photographs are dreamy, I would say, exotic, ethereal, stunning. Catch your breath. Exclaim.
How did Peter get from here to there? No big surprise that he was a philosophy major in college, one of the best preparations for life there is, and for a photographer in particular. Philosophers ask, how do things exist, how do they interact with each other, what is it important to do in life, short as it is, unexplainable as it is, wonderful as it is? Photography asks the same questions, and answers them, Peter might say, by looking at the world from a particular perspective and capturing it in all its mystery and beauty.
We look forward to a show of Peter’s work in the gallery next year, and the splendor of his forthcoming book. Happy birthday, Peter.