By Katie Nartonis

“I love the weather, color and space of the desert”
– Paul Ivanushka

Paul Ivanushka (b. 1950, Highland, New York) is a fine art photographer currently enjoying the challenges of macrophotography using native desert wildflowers as his models. Ivanushka’s work brings to mind the luscious botanical paintings of the Northern European Renaissance. It’s quiet presence and its capture of luminous color and light evokes the still-photography of modernist master photographers such as Karl Blossfeldt or Robert Mapplethorpe’s flower images.

Paul was born “an Army brat at the West Point Military Academy,” and as the son of a career soldier, was raised in various cities across the United States where he was exposed to the diversities of cultures, people, and nature. This was a major influence on his photographic direction. He spent his career in the printing industry, “managing tone reproduction on offset presses,” as well as implementing the first stages of digital technology into commercial printing and publishing.

Paul notes, “As a result of a trip to the Grand Canyon when I was 9 years old, I was fascinated by the canyon photographs taken by the Kolb Brothers who ran a photography studio on the rim of the canyon. My father bought me a simple book on photography from them. After reading this book, I developed my first roll of film (in a coffee can no less) when I was ten years old. The process of being able to capture a moment, any moment, of time was most amazing to me – the immediacy of it! I was hooked.”

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Largely self-taught, Paul took courses at the junior college in San Bernardino. From there he went on to study at Brooks Institute of Photography and Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo. He spent several years photographing equine events, and in 2010, started exploring the world of fine art photography. He is retired as a software business analyst and currently resides in Yucca Valley. His focus now is to create images of the California desert that are related to contemporary photography.

He notes this about his creative process: “I enjoy the technical end of photography. I still shoot film for landscapes, both medium and large format. I like the fidelity it provides but most importantly it slows me down. When shooting film, I find that I pay more attention to the elements of the subject that I am photographing. A stronger connection with the subject can then be made, which is something I find hard to do with a digital camera.”

“Cat Claw Acacia Pods”
Photograph of pods from my Catclaw Acacia. This photo was shown in the 2023 Joshua National Park Art Exhibition. was one of my first photographs of wildflowers shot in a studio with portrait lightning.

He continues, “I now have a darkroom and studio in my garage. Here I can finally focus on alternative process printing (gum bichromate, carbon, and cyanotype). I like the hands-on approach and challenges that these 100+ year old processes provide. There is nothing like listening to Miles or Coltrane while mixing watercolor pigments and gelatin for an emulsion that you will use to print on a hot-pressed water color paper. I tell you – life doesn’t get any better!”

“Paperbag Bush Inflorescence”
Macrophotograph of a Paperbag Bush inflorescense. Using Darkfield Lighting. I was amazed at how fast this species blooms. Was fascinated by the details of this plant.

While taking a Biology course at Copper Mountain City College (CMCC) he was having difficulty memorizing the names of various parts of plants and he thought photographing them close-up would help in his understanding of them. This became his first body of work out here. He recalls, “It was great! I found them (plants) all in my yard and ended up photographing them in my garage using portrait lighting and strobes and a macro lens and bellows. For 2024, I am planning to travel the roads in the back country of the desert to view it on a larger scale.”

“Sage Flower”
Photograph of a Desert Sage. The Desert Sage photographs were my last ones for 2023. I was pleased with my progress in compostion, acheiving focus and good lighting. This own is my favorite piece to date.

Paul recently became the moderator for the Critique Review group at the Artists Council at the Galen and has also been asked to jury the photography category for the La Quinta Art Festival for a second time. He is making his mark on the local arts community, and his work is raising the bar for excellence.

His vision for the desert community is simple and persuasive. He notes, “My hope is that we can achieve a balance between growth and preservation. Art plays a big part in showing the beauty of the desert and making people aware of all that is worth preserving. It will be important for the art galleries and us as artists to maintain this awareness.”

“Buckwheat Inflorescence”
Macrophotograph of Buckwheat beginning to bloom. Its actual size is about the width of your thumbnail. First experiment with Darkfield lighting.

Katie Nartonis is a writer, curator, film maker and specialist in art and design. Her most recent documentary film, “Jack Rogers Hopkins: Calfornia Design Maverick,” about the late San Diego based mid-century designercraftsman, premiered during Palm Springs Modernism Week in 2023. She is currently writing “Glimpses of The Joshua Tree Dream,” a book on the way we live in the high desert.

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