LAKE PLACID — Pamela Karaz quit her corporate job 30 years ago to become a wildlife painter. She yesterday celebrated the opening of The Curious Otter, her new wildlife photography gallery on Main Street.
A Lake Placid resident, Karaz used to work in marketing for International Business Machines Corporation. But deep down, he had a creative drive.
“I never really fit into the corporate world,” Karaz said. “I could do it, and I did, but it wasn’t me. It wasn’t who I am. I am a very creative person and I need to create”.
Karaz grew up in an artistic home that encouraged a connection with nature. Both parents had an affinity for bird watching; they would make a list of all the birds they saw each year. Karaz’s father painted wild animals as a hobby, a talent that Karaz inherited. He decided to leave IBM to pursue a career in wildlife painting.
He used to take his own reference photos for paintings, which he said is essential to understand the experience and feel the emotions of seeing wild animals in real life. The photos were nothing artistic, just snapshots. But in 2014, there was a spike in the snowy owl population where she lived. She said about 10 of the owls were hanging out in her area and she photographed them every day for nearly three months.
After that, Karaz said she was addicted. She invested in a better camera body and longer lenses, and she hasn’t stopped shooting ever since. She said that was when her focus shifted from painting to photography.
Karaz moved to Lake Placid with her husband from the Utica area a year ago. They’ve done some work around town, but Karaz said they were walking her dogs down Main Street one day when they saw the “In rent” sign in the storefront that Green Goddess Market had recently vacated. The couple’s wheels began to turn.
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 signed up 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 12:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday. Karaz’s photos can be found on the gallery’s website, www.thecuriousotter.com.
Karaz has 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 her friend’s barn. Karaz sat in the second-story loft of a nearby barn and photographed the family from a small hole, without anyone noticing. She was able to photograph the mother fox and her pups for two weeks.
“You get addicted to it,” Karaz said. “You get addicted when you see wildlife in front of you. It’s like, how do you not stand there and watch them, and potentially capture these incredible, magical moments?
Karaz said seeing and capturing the gray fox family is one of his most memorable experiences during his time photographing animals. She enjoyed watching her mother spend time on a rock, which Karaz called “Mom’s Rock”, near the barn where the foxes lived. She said that’s where her mother would lie down for some time alone. The cubs would approach her one at a time, with respect and love; otherwise, Karaz said, her mother would be angry and yell at them.
“So they were very, very well-behaved kits,” Karaz said.
Karaz has captured other wildlife including a family of great blue herons, a gray owl, loons, bison and Canada geese. She said that she has experienced some magical moments.
“And it’s the magical moments that really speak to my soul,” she added.
Karaz said he only prints photos that have a story and meaning behind them.
“Those are the moments that I choose to print, because hopefully they will touch other people’s souls and make them care about the animal and realize that we are not alone in this world.” she said. “There are wild animals all around us, and we have an obligation to be good to nature and not destroy nature, because these animals live there.”
Her origins as a painter are evident in her photographs. The feathers of a Pileated Woodpecker can easily be mistaken for brush strokes, and the rich colors interact with the deep shadows to create an almost three-dimensional painted appearance. Karaz said that “pictorial” appearance of his photographs is intentional.
“I go after that aspect of a photograph,” she said. “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 is accompanied by 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 that she wanted some animal pieces like moose and bear 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 of wild horses in Montana and Wyoming, which he said would be on display 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 come in handy for the gallery. The couple plan to split their time at the gallery, so they won’t need employees. They do, however, have two unpaid furry volunteers: their golden retrievers, Amber and Lily, who spent opening day dozing in the gallery and greeting visitors.