May 18, 2020

Get to know Paulette Tavormina, the photographer behind A Handel Celebration


We chatted with Paulette Tavormina, the photographer behind the aesthetical image for A Handel Celebration. In keeping with our 2019/20 Season theme of “old meets new” we are thrilled to share the work of some of Canada’s and the world’s most exciting contemporary artists as part of our season campaign. These stunning images were chosen to complement both the season theme and the theme of each individual concert.

Get to know more of Paulette and her work with our Q&A.

Tafelmusik: Tell us a little about yourself, and how you started in your field of art? 

Paulette Tavormina: I was born in Rockville Centre, New York. I am largely a self-taught photographer and most known for my work creating painterly still-life photographs. My initial interest in the medium stemmed from my time in the 1980s working on corporate advertising campaigns, researching, creating, and styling props for photographs. Becoming intrigued by the medium, I enrolled in courses at the International Center for Photography in New York in 1986. I moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico and it was my dear friend, Sarah McCarty (a still-life painter) who introduced me to the work of old master still-life painters.

Now I live and work in New York City. Amidst the bustle that defines the city, I can often be found at one of New York’s many farmers markets searching for the perfectly imperfect flora that characterize my photographs. My arrangements of flora, fauna, and antiques, captured in photographs, often recall the sumptuous detail of 17th century old master still-life painters, and serve as intensely personal interpretations of timeless, universal stories. 

I have long been drawn to the 17th-century old master still-life painters. Standing in front of paintings by Giovanna Garzoni, Francisco de Zurbarán, and Adriaen Coorte at The Metropolitan Art Museum in New York or The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, I am struck by their strong emotional resonance, their ability to transcend time and place.

Peaches and Hydrangeas After G.G. by Paulette Tavormina
Peaches and Hydrangeas After G.G. by Paulette Tavormina

TM: Tell us more about the artwork featured in our season campaign and your concept behind it. What was your process in creating it?

PT: Peaches and Hydrangeas, After G.G., is part of my Natura Morta series. "G.G." is a nod in homage to the old master Giovanna Garzoni. The natura morta images are intensely personal to me as they tell universal stories of the fragility of life and love, the fine balance of emotions, passion, sorrow, and the vulnerability one feels that life and beauty are fleeting—tempus fugit

When I work on a photography shoot, I spend a lot of time at the flower market here in New York. I am looking for colours, shapes, and sizes that will nestle in with all of the objects and that will help tell a story. The essence of the old masters' paintings lingers with me as I gather my own flora, fauna, butterflies, and treasured antiques to create the romantic vignettes within my photographs.

Peaches and Hydrangeas After G.G., (detail) by Paulette Tavormina
Peaches and Hydrangeas After G.G. (detail) by Paulette Tavormina

TM: Tafelmusik's 2019/20 season theme is "Old Meets New." How do you feel your art fits with this theme?

PT: By using photography as a medium, it becomes contemporary. I love photography in that it captures a single moment of time in the click of a shutter button. That intrigued me, because I can keep that memory as a visual. Years from now, I hope that the photographs I create will affect someone as deeply as the old masters' paintings have affected me. In one of these paintings, the artist included the words "Eram quod es." The translation resonates within me: "Once I was where you are now.”

Beyond just the beauty, I want the viewer to see as I see, to feel the emotion I feel when a leaf balances just so and points the eye to the next little narrative that is part of the larger work. This beauty all around us is fleeting, and yet can be embedded forever in the perfect moment that is a photograph. Creating these heartfelt vignettes allows me an avenue to explore the intimate moments of my life, to tell stories of love and loss, of joy and sorrow, all the while feeling grateful for the rich abundance of life, and somehow seizing that beauty.

Collaborating with Tafelmusik this season is a dialogue between art and music, and to have my works in conversation is the realization of my greatest artistic aspiration.

Peaches and Hydrangeas After G.G., (detail) by Paulette Tavormina
Peaches and Hydrangeas After G.G. (detail) by Paulette Tavormina

TM: What is your favourite music to listen to when making art? Doesn't have to be classical!

PT:There isn’t one genre of music … but anything from Motown, Broadway musicals, and Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No 2.

TM: What shows or exhibitions have excited you recently? Is there an artist or organization you'd encourage our followers to explore?

PT:There is an organization named CODART that is very informational about all the Dutch old master shows and events around the world. I was excited to see Treasures from Chatsworth at Sotheby’s last summer.

TM: What's the best piece of advice you've been given?

PT:When I began photographing my series Natura Morta, I was working at Sotheby’s in New York. On weekends I would photograph, and I would show my images on my iPhone to the head of the Photography Department, Denise Bethel, who saw what I created and said, “this is beautiful … keep going …” and I did. I spent all my weekends and free time devoted to and immersed in creating the images which led me to showing my work to galleries … and voilà … I was asked to be represented. A dream come true.

See more of Paulette's work at and follow Paulette on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Peaches and Hydrangeas After G.G., (detail) by Paulette Tavormina
Peaches and Hydrangeas After G.G. (detail) by Paulette Tavormina

A Handel Celebration
Paulette Tavormina
Old Meets New
2019/20 Season