As Others See Her

June 17, 2010

Finn Curators Visit Ostapeck Collection

By Greg Sorin
The Freeman’s Journal, Cooperstown

Benjamin Deer / The Freeman’s Journal

Usually on the other side of the camera, Lady Ostapeck pauses to pose with her visitors from Finland at her Fly CreekValley home.

Noted photographer Lady Ostapeck, now 92, is gone to Oneonta. but hasn't been forgotten in the Fly Creek Valley — or the Finland of her parents' birth.

Two curators and architect from the Vapriikki Museum in Tampere accompanied Lady in recent days back to the Greek revival cottage
The trio, Katri Tyysalo, Liinu Lampi, and architect Pimo Lehtinen are preparing an exhibit that, in addition to her celebrated photographs, will include the props she's used to capture her sitters' personalities.
So far, 19 crates of material have been sent back to Tampere, population 200,000, Finland's third largest city after Helsinki and Espoo. The exhibit will open next March.

"That's the secret of my photography — it's the props," Lady said of her work. "I don't want to make a lot of money. I wanted the photographs how I wanted."
The photographer speaks Finnish fluently and has visited many times.
Her first exhibit was in the city where her mother went to college. An attache at a local embassy noticed it and soon she had a showing in the embassy as well.

Her popularity there prompted the interest of the Vapriikki Museum, which is also the repository of the Finnish Hockey Hall of Fame and its Shoe Museum.

Despite the 19 cartons already sent, her house was still full of props and cloth- ing during the visit the other day.

Lady Ostapeck was born in Brooklyn, N.Y, in 1918, and as a baby was sent to stay with relatives a Finnish community in Brooklyn, Conn., then moved back to New York.

It was there that she started her photography career, working as a negative retoucher for many of the best studios in the city. She did so for decades, but it didn't quite excite her the way capturing a moment, whether natural or artificial, with a camera did.

So in 1960 she left that life behind and moved up to Otsego County. She'd grown tired of living in a city, dealing with the constant noise, speed, and clutter of everything. She was seriously considering photography as an artistic means of expression.

She found an 80-year- old Corona 4 x 5 camera with a broken shutter in a Salvation Army thrift store in Utica and started taking photographs of people in her small, cluttered old farmhouse in the Fly Creek Valley.
Her method of portrait photography involved seeking the hidden personalities of her subjects, and dressing them as an Indian warrior, a princess or a scholar.

"You can do something if you've got nothing and you have imagination," said Lady Ostapeck.

Close this window