by Len Lear
“My parents bought me a Kodak Brownie as an 8th grade graduation present,” recalls Geri Dibiase, “and the manager of the local camera shop encouraged me to ‘keep snapping,’ offering tips each time I had a roll of slides developed … My mother complained that ‘You never take pictures of people.’”
One of the area’s most acclaimed artistic photographers, Dibiase, now 66, is still taking amazing pictures of sunsets, landscapes and animals. Currently you can see an exhibit of her stunning works, “Mostly Amalfi,” up until the middle of February at Roberto’s Trattoria, 700 Bethlehem Pike in Erdenheim (which for many years housed Fingers restaurant).
The exhibit, which began with an artist’s reception on Nov. 9, highlights works from Dibiase’s recent trip to the Amalfi coast in Italy as well as from Philadelphia, Cape Cod and the Delaware coast. All of Geri’s current work is printed on canvas, which has been gallery-wrapped on kiln-dried wood. One piece of hers, “Sunset Over the Manayunk Canal,” was recently chosen as the poster image for the 25th annual Manayunk Art Festival.
Geri was born in Manayunk and grew up in Delaware County. She attended Archbishop Prendergast High School and Delaware County Community College, but she was hooked on photography since her early teenage years when she received that beloved Kodak Brownie.
But making a living in any of the creative arts is almost always problematic, so Geri worked as an insurance adjuster before opening the Main Street Studio in Manayunk, an art, fine crafts and framing gallery which lasted from 1984 to 1999. She was working for an insurance company when she participated in her first art show.
“I sold three pieces and quit my job,” said Dibiase, who has enjoyed a successful career as a professional photographer ever since. While exhibiting at art shows on the east coast in the early ’80s, Geri needed a place to frame her work. At that time Main Street in Manayunk was just beginning to bloom, so Geri opened the Main Street Studio as a store front and gallery.
“My customers became friends,” she said. “The women who worked with me were the best ever; the Main Street retail community became family, and I loved going to work every single day, but after 15 years there was a craving to take my work to another level, and it was difficult to both run the store and get out to photograph.”
At Christmas holiday time, Geri would buy ornaments to sell in her studio, but the images were generic. The ornaments were manufactured in China using eglomise, a centuries-old art form in which artists use a small, curved brush to paint an image backwards on the inside of a pane of glass. (A French word, “eglomise” means “gilded glass.”) One day, however, Geri decided to use her photography skills to incorporate images of Manayunk onto Christmas ornaments.
“That’s really what sustained the business for many years,” Dibiase said. Residents would buy glass ornaments and candleholders with pictures of local landmarks and schools delicately painted on the inside. “I’m told they make the brushes out of the hair on their heads, but I don’t know if that’s true,” Geri said amusingly in an earlier interview.
Other photographers whom Geri most admires are Georgia O’Keeffe, Andre Kertesz, Imogen Cunningham and Ruth Bernard. One thing that an observer quickly notices about Geri’s compelling photos of nature scenes and animals is that they look more like exquisite paintings than photographs. How on earth does she create that effect?
“I like to think that I am an artist who uses a camera instead of brushes,” she explained. “Photoshop tools provide ways to manipulate my images into the artistic look I want. The aesthetics and emotion of photography appeal to me much more than the technical side. Like Annie Leibovitz, much of my newer work has been taken with my iPhone.”
In 2005 Geri moved to the Lewes/Rehoboth area of Delaware because “there really isn’t anything like living at the beach. The nickname ‘Lower Slower Delaware’ is well deserved. The quiet of the off-season has a way of stirring one’s creative juices.”
Geri’s work has been exhibited throughout the U.S. as well as in Europe, South America and Australia. She has exhibited at the Maine Photographic Workshop summer show in New York City and the William Penn Museum in Harrisburg. She has also had numerous solo shows in both Pennsylvania and Delaware.
“I am very grateful to Roberto and Anne (owners of Roberto’s Trattoria) for this opportunity,” said Geri. “I am delighted to be sharing the proceeds with North Light Community Center in Manayunk, which provides a wonderful service for the community. Reconnecting with friends and former customers while here would be a bonus.”
For more information, call 215-233-9955 or visit www.geridibiase.com.