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The Elusive Eye of Felicia Murray

Ghost Dog, Arles
Ghost Dog, Arles
Felicia Murray

“I seek to impose as little as possible on what passes before my eye” ...

Felicia Murray
Elizabeth Murray

It is clear by looking at Felicia Murray’s photography that she possesses a soulfulness, an appreciation and respect of the solitary; that she is a spiritual being. She likes shooting in the dark, using the changing light for eerie juxtapositions and transpositions.The phrase that the French use to describe the changing light (twilight) is ‘entre chien de loup’ – between dog and wolf. She loves that transition from tame and predictable to wild and threatening.

Murray‘s technique of using a flash and long shutter speed gives the sense of several moments compressed into a single image, blurring the lines between time and space giving a frisson of movement.

Born at St. Vincent’s Hospital in New York City, Ms. Murray became a Vineyard resident at five months old, spending summers with her grandparents and remains in the family home to this day. When just a tot a Kodak camera was given as a gift and thus began a lifelong love affair with the camera.

She followed in her mother’s footsteps to The Brearley School and continued on to Lugano Switzerland to finish her studies. Largely self-taught she has been in the art world all her life learning by osmosis.

She had the good fortune to be exposed to the arts at an early age. Her earliest memory of an interest in photography was looking at her parent’s copy of Henri Cartier Bresson’s “The Decisive Moment.” Her Uncle Terry started taking her to museums and galleries at just three years old. When asked what she liked about a picture she would inevitably reply ‘the light’.

Her work is autobiographical, familial, spiritual and animal oriented. In her words: “I find another dimension in the obvious and the not-so obvious and turn it in a non-verbal intuitive expression. There is often a time warp in my photographs and many of them look like they were made 50-70 years ago. I work with light and energy and try to capture the spiritual, all within the magic moment of pressing the shutter.”

From 1978 – 1981 Ms. Murray ran the studio of world-renowned photographer, Milton Greene. She spent a year going through his archives with Gene Moore, the Tiffany window director, selecting pictures for Greene’s book, ‘Of Women and Their Elegance’. She credits that time as great training for her ‘eye’. She repped Greene for the last year until he moved to California in 1981. By the end of this time she was seriously interested in photography.

The next nineteen years were spent working with Marilyn Bridges, Walter Chappell and Jill Freedman as a fine-art photographer’s agent, all the while making her own pictures. In 1999 she turned her attention to promoting her own work with solo exhibitions in New York, Arles, France; Pennsylvania; Germany and Venezuela, and branched out to global group exhibitions.

A curator in the ‘90’s noticed that Murray’s work had a very European sensibility, in that it is not project- oriented but rather an on- going autobiographical reportage. Summers are spent photographing on Martha’s Vineyard and Arles, France, where she’s spent part of the summer for the past thirty years, winters in New York and wherever she and her camera happen to be.

During her first two trips to India in the winters of 2003 and 2004 Murray chose to photograph in black and white without the distraction of color. In spite of the turbulence and chaos her photographs hold a duality of sacred and ceremonial.

Of her 2007 Sacree Inde! Exhibition in France, poet and writer Tom Briedenbach wrote “In Felicia Murray’s photographs the sacred is encountered in a nighttime cityscape, in the gestures and expressions of people and animals, as well as in holy places and ceremonies. Dualities like light and darkness, the hallowed and the mundane, time and eternity, combine in her art as they do in life, charged with the aura of primal mystery, where we sense the hush of the divine.”

Murray was particularly taken with the animal life in India, especially the cows which are everywhere. She feels they are very old souls, reincarnated as cows.“They have the most beautiful and expressive eyes, and a very mellow but conscious way about them.” Cows are sacred beings in India and never killed.They are left alone to sleep by the side of the road or wander wherever they like. In some ways they have more freedom and better way of life than many of the village women. Respect for animal life is a central theme in Hindu life.

A pivotal relationship in Ms. Murray’s life was with her dog Sakya, whom she considered a spiritual being in the form of a dog who taught her the spiritual qualities of all animals. A Tibetan Buddhist practitioner studying in the tradition of Ati Yoga, Murray tells of Drukpa Kunley, one of the great teachers in this lineage, who never went anywhere without his dog. Animals gather around and are protected by spiritual masters.

Night photography manifests inherent luminosity opening the portal to unseen worlds. Ordinary vision is expanded; one sees beyond the eye and is confronted by a world that transcends perception conditioned by the physical. Animals see this way without design or intention, it is their natural state. With the slow flash technique Ms. Murray uses ‘it is like making time, energy and other dimensions visible’.

What does the future hold for this independent, brilliant and beautiful photographer? Hopefully the future will hold a trip to Goa, Mumbai to photograph the nearby Buddhist caves in Ajanta and the rock cut temples at Ellora. In the United States she’d like to spend more time in Monument Valley and the Navajo reservation, continuing to photograph on horseback.

“My work is where I am at the time with my camera.”

Alluring, evocative, transcendent and hauntiing, Felicia Murray’s work stands the test of time.



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