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LAKE PLACID – Pamela Karaz quit her job 30 years ago to become a wildlife painter. Yesterday she celebrated the opening of The Curious Otter, her new wildlife photography gallery on Main Street.
Karaz, a Lake Placid resident, worked in marketing for International Business Machines Corporation. But deep down, she had a creative drive.
“I never really entered the business world” Karaz said. “I could do it, and I did it, but it wasn’t me. It wasn’t who I am. I’m a very creative person and I need to create.
Karaz grew up in an artistic home that encouraged a connection with nature. Both of his parents had an affinity for birdwatching; they made a list of all the birds they saw each year. Karaz’s father painted wildlife as a hobby, a talent Karaz inherited. She decided to leave IBM to pursue a career in wildlife painting.
She used to take her own reference photos for the paintings, which she says is key to understanding the experience and feeling the emotions of seeing wild animals in real life. The photos weren’t artistic, just snapshots. But in 2014, there was a big increase in the snowy owl population where it lived. She said about 10 of the owls hung around her area and she photographed them every day for almost three months.
After that, Karaz said she was hooked. She invested in a better camera body and longer lenses, and she hasn’t stopped shooting since. She said that’s when her focus shifted from painting to photography.
Karaz moved to Lake Placid with her husband from the Utica area a year ago. They did some work in town, but Karaz said they were walking their dogs down Main Street one day when they saw the “For rent” Sign in the storefront Green Goddess Market had recently vacated. The couple’s wheels began to spin.
Karaz felt there was a void in local wildlife photography and the couple thought the high tourist traffic on Main Street would benefit a wildlife art gallery. The couple decided to rent the storefront and decided it was perfect. After a fresh coat of paint, the gallery was ready to go.
The Curious Otter is open at 2419 Main St. from noon to 7 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday. Karaz’s photos can be found on the gallery’s website, www.thecuriousotter.com.
Karaz had the opportunity to observe and capture wild animals living in their natural habitat, such as a young family of gray foxes that lived under his friend’s barn. Karaz perched in the second story hayloft of a nearby barn and photographed the family from a small hole, unnoticed. She was able to photograph the mother fox and her kittens for two weeks.
“You Get Addicted To It” Karaz said. “You get hooked when you see wild animals in front of you. It’s like, how can you not just stand there and watch them, and potentially capture these amazing, magical moments? »
Karaz said watching and capturing the family of gray foxes was one of his most memorable experiences throughout his time photographing animals. She enjoyed watching the mother spend time on a rock, which Karaz dubbed “Mom’s Rock” near the barn where the foxes lived. She said that’s where the mother would spread out a bit alone. The kittens approached her one by one, with respect and love — otherwise, Karaz said, the mother would get upset and laugh at them.
“So those were really, really well-bred kits,” Karaz said.
Karaz captured other wildlife such as a family of blue herons, a gray owl, loons, bison and Canada geese. She says she has had some magical moments.
“And it’s the magic moments that really speak to my soul,” she added.
Karaz said she only prints photographs that have a story and meaning behind them.
“These are the moments I choose to print, because I hope they will touch the souls of others and make them care about the animal, and realize that we are not alone in the world”, she says. “There are wild animals all around us, and we have an obligation to be kind to nature and not destroy nature, because these animals live there.”
His origins as a painter are evident in his photographs. A great woodpecker’s feathers can easily be mistaken for brushstrokes, and rich colors interact with deep shadows to create an almost three-dimensional painted look. Karaz said that the “pictorial” aspect of his photographs is intentional.
“I am looking for this aspect of a photograph”, she says. “Those who speak to me like an old Renaissance painting.”
All of the photographs on the walls of The Curious Otter are printed by infusing ink into metal, which Karaz says gives the photos a luminosity that paper cannot.
Artists and works
The gallery also represents Lake Placid bronze sculptor PJ LaBarge, whose sculptures of various animals complement Karaz’s work on the walls. Each sculpture comes with a short story to familiarize people with the work.
Two Montana artists, Sandy Sisti and Zack Clothier, also have photographs in the gallery. Karaz said she wanted pieces of animals like moose and bears in The Curious Otter, and Sisti and Clothier’s work features those and other animals.
Karaz said the gallery may have two special exhibits this year — one on wild horses from Montana and Wyoming, which she says will go up during the Lake Placid Horse Shows, and another undecided exhibit this fall.
Karaz co-owns The Curious Otter with her husband, Rich. She said Rich has extensive retail experience that will serve the gallery well. The couple plan to split their time at the gallery, so they don’t need employees. However, they have two unpaid furry volunteers – their golden retrievers, Amber and Lily, who spent opening day dozing around the gallery and greeting visitors.