You can find her work hanging in the homes of some of the world’s greatest artists and on the refrigerator doors of men and women of whom you’ve never heard. The artists include Frank Stella and Alex Katz and Levon Helm. The strangers on the fridge were caught by her on the fly: the men, women and children whose lives photographer Dion Ogust’s roving camera captured in the pages of Ulster Publishing newspapers for years.
Ogust, perhaps more than anyone, has captured the visual life and times of the Woodstock community memorably and thoroughly. She has never limited herself to a single photographic approach; one day, she’s shooting formal portraits of Elie Wiesel, the next day she’s at the school board meeting.
Ogust has followed a circuitous career path that has just taken another public turn: multiple shows not only of her photography, but also of the prints and oil paintings that she has been studying and working on for the past eight years.
Ogust grew up on Manhattan’s Upper East Side (“before it was what it is”). She was a 16-year-old high school student when she spotted a pitch for volunteers willing to work (“for free, of course”) at a weekly paper called Our Town (“It still exists!”).
Her first assignment, she believed, would also be her last. She was told by her Lou Grantlike editor to take her Nikon F downtown and shoot Little Italy’s annual San Gennaro Festival. She got down there only to discover that the camera’s light meter was broken. “I was sick. Just sick.”
But fate – perhaps destiny – took a hand. A complete stranger noticed her difficulty and advised her how to set the camera manually. Ogust finished shooting and turned in her film, convinced that she’d have nothing but embarrassment to show for her efforts. The next week’s paper featured her shots on the front page. She hasn’t looked back since.
Before long, Ogust was apprenticing as a studio assistant, learning and loving the ways of the photographic portraitist. In recounting those days and how her life in photography led her to Woodstock and, once there, the life that she now enjoys, Ogust pauses for a moment and casts her eyes to the ceiling of her spacious studio. It’s as if she’s about to break into song. “It’s a fabulous life. I love meeting people from so many different places, seeing them open up.”
Her portraits, be they formal or fleeting, draw on the full range of her interests and abilities: being hyper-aware of the person or people to be photographed, the environment in which they find themselves, getting them to relax if the situation allows or calls for it and, above all, she said, “getting out of my own way and just observing.”
“I feel like I kind of created my life, my career, from all these pieces I picked up from people I worked for.” In speaking of it, she said that it was also the way her late father, Harold Ogust, put his life and career together. Her father was deeply involved in the world of contract bridge, a friend and colleague of bridge popularizer Omar Sharif and himself a champion of the game. He parlayed his knowledge and love of the game into a business that included onboard workshops on cruises around the world, sometimes in the company of his young daughters.
She remembers those cruises as being at first terrifying, then tremendously exciting. “I feel that way still, just before a new project.”
Her first local influences were members of the Woodstock music scene in the late ’80s. She remembers being hired to take some shots of an outfit who appeared to be playing some pretty good versions of songs by the Band. Partway through the set, she realized that’s exactly whom she was shooting.
She signed on with Image Works and learned the ins and outs of the stock photo business. The cavalcade of characters and friends who have influenced her personally and professionally as staff photographer at Ulster Publishing is too long to list here.
The pre-cruise anxiety from her youth has recently reasserted itself. Ogust is about to embark on a new path: one on which she has worked and studied for nearly a decade. She’s going to “get messy” – start coloring outside the lines that photography virtually mandates. “As photography’s gotten more digital, I realized I was missing tactile things. So I’ve embraced printmaking and painting to fulfill my creative life by getting away from the desk and computers.”
Ogust said that she has always had a love of painting and felt that she’d always come back to it eventually. She credits Kate McGloughlin, director of printmaking at the Woodstock School of Art, for showing her the way out of the studio and into the wild.
The experience has allowed Ogust to lay claim to a title that she has always resisted. Photojournalism, portraiture, painting, printmaking – “I can’t pick one thing,” she said. But she said that she’s gradually coming to accept the possibility that a single word might indeed describe who she is: She has very cautiously become not-quite-comfortable calling herself an artist.
“All I know is I need to make stuff – to look at reality and interpret it. I don’t know why, but from the beginning, it’s always what I’ve wanted to do.”
Dion Ogust’s photographs, paintings and prints will be on view at several locations during October. Oil paintings will be on display at the Woodstock Framing Gallery from now until October 2. Her photo show of Halloween portraits (“Say Boo”) will open at Oriole 9 on October 8. She’ll have a print in the Woodstock School of Art’s Monoprint Invitational Show opening on October 15. And she’ll be photographing portraits of Halloweeners at the Center for Photography on October 31. In addition, Ogust is launching a new website featuring her paintings and prints at www.dionogust.com.