Cathy Kelly’s Realism

As we make the leap from Cathy Kelly’s photography in New England to explore more distant locations around the globe, I thought it would be helpful to choose a theme to give our journey some continuity. We can begin with this theme: the fisherman and the farmer and the people in the market place – men and women who have worked close to the land and the sea, making an honest living, providing food for their communities for centuries.

I chose this theme, because I was often inspired by this theme while traveling in the Far East. I saw fishermen, men and women working on a Chinese tea plantation, women working in rice paddies in China and Vietnam, and men and women bringing vegetables, fish and meat to market in China, Vietnam and Thailand.  I felt these images before my eyes were timeless.

Living my life in 21 century America, I also found these sights refreshing, but the sights also reminded me of 19 century Realist paintings that I studied at Mount Holyoke College.  Specifically, I thought of Frenchman Francois Millet’s The Gleaners (1857) and The Sower (1850), which I have copied below for your reference. Millet elevated the peasant to hero in his depictions, and in my photography, I try to do the same.

Here is what WikiPaintings says about the Gleaners:

By far the most recognizable of Millet’s works, The Gleaners depicts a trio of women gleaning the last bits of wheat from a field. Millet found the theme of women gleaning the last bits of wheat an eternal one, linked to stories of the Old Testament. The painting was received by the public with open scorn. It presented what at the time were the lowest ranks of society, taking advantage of the age-old right to remove the last bits of grain left over from wheat harvest, in a sympathetic light. During his lifetime, this painting garnered naught but notoriety from a French upper-class that feared glorifying the lower ranks of society, and it was not until after the artist’s death that it became more popular.

Millet’s Realism made such a splash, that Van Gogh honored his work with this painting:

And here is a compassionate yet realistic portrait of a fisherman by Van Gogh.

Let’s begin our photographic journey. Here is a Cathy Kelly photography (2004) of a lobster man in Marblehead, Massachusetts. It appears that American culture has boosted up the contemporary fisherman. He seems young and happy in this depiction.

The following year (2005), we look upon a Chinese fisherman in the Yangtze River.

Author: cathykellyphotography

Independent photographer based in Pittsburgh PA and Naples FL. Nature, landscape and portrait photography. Portfolio includes international work in USA, Europe, Asia, Australia and New Zealand. Email to review work in your area of interest. Nature portfolio includes flowers and wildlife. Prints and digital files for sale. See website:

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