Betsy Karel: Conjuring Paradise
My friend Honey Lazar told me I needed to see Betsy Karel’s new book, Conjuring Paradise, recently published by Radius Books. And she was right. Conjuring Paradise is not only a great collection of photographs that celebrate the illusory nature of paradise, but the book itself has some unique features. The cover wrap is a turquoise plastic that smells just like a beach ball or a swim mat and after every ten images or so, there are spreads of summer colors like turquoise, golden yellow, and bright pink that enliven the book experience. The book ends up being a sensory, visual, and emotional journey, that has humor and pathos with all the splendor of a summer vacation.
Betsy was born in New York City and now lives in Washington, D.C. Her first book of photography, Bombay Jadoo, published in 2007 by Steidl, was short-listed for the Deutscher Fotobuchpreis 2008. Her work is included in the permanent collections of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; the Corcoran Gallery of Art; the Yale University Art Gallery and the John F. Kennedy Library. The United States Department of State bought a set of the images from Bombay Jadoo for the US Consulate in Mumbai.
Betsy Karel first visited Waikiki in 2009 with her husband, who was dying of cancer. He loved the place and while there, the ravaging symptoms of his disease seemed to vanish. Waikiki was his paradise. His exuberant spirit and his wry sense of humor were in full bloom. She promised him she would try to capture the happiness he felt in a new series of photographs. The work in this book, which continued over the next four years, is dedicated to his memory.
Karel’s photographs resonate with contentment and tongue‐in-¬cheek humor, yet underlying many of them is the illusory nature of paradise. Depicting a manufactured dreamscape that oscillates between the real and imaginary worlds, these photographs testify to the intensity of our desire to experience our dreams. Karel’s vision of “paradise” is kaleidoscopic, like nature on steroids. Her view of space is ambiguous and often complex. Flattened and reduced to elegant planes of jellybean color, it is inhabited by throngs of visitors in search of that same sense of well-¬being. The people she pictures are relaxed in their own skins and revel in the sensuous pleasures of a sun-¬‐drenched destination resort.
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