The first time you ever saw a photo of the Shawangunk Ridge included in an artsy, high-end calendar, it was probably a picture taken by Hardie Truesdale. In these days of lightweight digital cameras, landscape photographers roaming the spectacular outskirts of New Paltz are a dime a dozen. But there was a time, not so long ago, when Truesdale was the only go-to guy for those gorgeous, heart-stopping large-format panoramas of stormy cliffscapes that everybody wants to hang over their couches.
The photographer is based in Orleans, Massachusetts now, drawn both by a great liking for windsurfing and the lure of the famous big skies and golden light of Cape Cod. But from 1979 to 2011, he lived in New Paltz. Like so many outdoorsy types working in New York City, he discovered the Gunks as a convenient place to go rock climbing.
Photography was a hobby that started in high school for Truesdale. His first experience of having his work published was a series of shots of people’s hands that his father used to accompany the poetry that he published under the New Rivers Press imprint.
The younger Truesdale went on to formal studies at the Banff School of Fine Arts and the International Center for Photography. He apprenticed for a couple of years to Mike O’Neill, a commercial “tabletop” photographer who did liquor ads for glossy magazines and the like. It was there that Truesdale learned the techniques of large-format photography, which would eventually become his medium of choice. But, he says, “I got really sick of the commercial world, of art directors and deadlines and not being in the out-of-doors where I really wanted to be.”
It took a while after his resettling in New Paltz for his photo work to become his full-time source of income. “I got into the medical field through rock climbing,” he recalls. “I’d get to the scene of an accident and didn’t know what to do.”
So he signed up for a two-year nursing program at Ulster County Community College, got certified as a registered nurse, became an EMT for the New Paltz Rescue Squad, and eventually started working at Benedictine Hospital, where he met his wife, an intensive-care nurse. He would do nursing shifts on weekend nights and be out on the Shawangunk Ridge on weekdays, scoping out viewpoints, snapping away and trying to get his photography business off the ground.
“I would go to bookstores, look at the backs of calendars, write down their addresses, and send for their submission guidelines,” he says, hearkening back to a time when such information was not yet available at the touch of a smartphone. It was another highly reputed landscape photographer, Carr Clifton, who got Truesdale his first calendar gig, with a company called Trout Calendars that needed photographs from every state. Soon he was making road trips to Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Maryland as well as capturing the ever-changing light and shadow, frosts and mists of the Gunks.
Truesdale credits fellow artist Marlene Wiedenbaum, who was working at the Gay ’90s restaurant (now known as the Bistro) and coordinating its art displays in the early 1980s, for giving him his first exhibition, as well as for putting him in touch with Mark Gruber, who “took me under his wing.” Truesdale still has what he calls a “strong working relationship” with the Mark Gruber Gallery, and a new exhibit of his recent works will go on display there on Saturday, October 15 and remain up through November 19. The opening reception will take place from 5 to 7 p.m. on the October 15. Photos from both the Gunks and Cape Cod will be included in the show, as well as images from a recent trip to Baja California.
The artist will have to stick around an extra day on that return visit to New Paltz, though. On Sunday, October 16, the Wallkill Valley Land Trust (WVLT) will be holding its annual fundraising dinner, at which it conducts a ceremony for the bestowal of its annual Conservation Award. This year’s recipient will be Truesdale. The honor will recognize the environmental activism that has long accompanied his photography work.
Going back as far as the battle to save Minnewaska from being acquired by the Marriott Corporation and covered with condos back in the late Seventies, the artist has been outspoken about the need to protect local wilderness areas. He often donates prints of his works for charity auctions for land preservation organizations. He has a long-running relationship with the Mohonk Preserve, has assisted the WVLT in its efforts to preserve the Wallkill Valley rail trail and was involved in the “Save the Ridge” campaign to prevent the Awosting Reserve development in Gardiner.
“I was very honored that they chose me,” says Truesdale, adding that an important part of his artistic vision is helping people appreciate wild places more fully and be motivated to protect them from environmental damage, visual clutter and overdevelopment. “It’s a labor of love – I really do love the natural world.”
The WVLT’s annual fundraising dinner and Conservation Award ceremony will take place from 4 to 7 p.m. on Sunday, October 16 at the Pavilion at Garvan’s at 215 Huguenot Street in New Paltz. Tickets to the special event cost $125 for WVLT members, $135 for non-members.
To reserve your seat or obtain more information about the gala, visit www.wallkillvalleylt.org. For more on “Hardie Truesdale: The Art of Photography” at the Mark Gruber Gallery, opening on Saturday, October 15 from 5-7 p.m., visit http://markgrubergallery.com.