As Others See Her

Using Photo Press Photo

Bill Gates / Cooperstown Crier Photo    

Lady Ostapeck uses a vintage piece of photo-pressing equipment — something she acquired at a garage sale.

November 3, 1985

‘Lady’ wants no part of hi-tech

CoopersTown Crier

FLY CREEK — “I make sure I don’t know anything,” Lady Ostapeck says of her approach to the technical side of photography.

It is a bit of an overstatement for the woman whose easily recognizable style has made her portraits among the best know photographic work in Otsego County over the past quarter century.

She knows composition and she is precise in printing. But she wants no part of the high-tech world of modern photography — fast film, huge lenses, 35mm cameras with motor drives that click off multiple images in a fraction of a second.

Ostapeck prefers the slow pace of another time, both in the equipment she uses and the image she produces.

She uses a 4 x 5 studio view camera of a vintage older than herself (she was born in 1918) and a lens dating back to 1901. When doing the stylized, period portraits for which she is best known, she may take only five or six pictures.

Individual shots are even maddingly slow. They are taken in natural light. Her exposures are always done on a 20-count, requiring subjects to sit still for a third of a minute.

Not that absolute stillness matters all that much to her: “Sharp pictures, they kill you,” she says. “Sometimes my pictures are not good but they are gentle. They’re covered with a gauze of love.”

Photographs in sharp focus capture everything, often showing too many flaws, she says.

In planning a portrait, she spends a great deal of time in viewing the subject, drawing out dreams and fantasies. (“What did you want to be when you were growing up?” “What is your favorite time in history?” “What country would you want to visit?”).

Together, they decide on a costume from the elaborate collection from her crowded studio, which is filled with beads, gilded chairs, elaborate hats, bird cages, and all manner of oddities.

Her black-and-white portraits are done in a rich sepia tone, which contributes to the flavor of another time. Don’t ask her to do color. She resists that and other attempts make her work more “commercial.”

And what person and time would she chose if she were sitting for a Lady Ostapeck portrait?

“I have no idea,” she says initially, but quickly revises with a tale of her long-standing fascination with Eleanor of Aquitaine, the strong-willed 12th Century woman who was at various times, queen of Louis VII of France and Henry II of England.

“She went on the Crusades for fun,” Lady Ostapeck says.

The similarities begin to come into focus.