Soul of the Whole

Paul Caponigro


Photographs: 1957-2013

September 14 thru October 26, 2013

Opening Reception: September 14, 6-9 pm



"All that I have achieved are these dreams locked in silver. Through this work it was possible, if only for brief moments, to sense the thread which holds all things together." Paul Caponigro


Smith Andersen North is pleased to present masterworks by Paul Caponigro, one of America's preeminent photographers. Caponigro is renowned for expressing the spiritual by means of film photography, using the medium to maintain contact with an unseen, mysterious dimension. This retrospective exhibition of gelatin silver prints includes work from a career spanning over sixty years. 

            Nature has always been Caponigro's primary world of exploration and discovery. "I saw isolated objects - stones, trees, blades of grass, hills - as individual worlds relating to a larger whole, the landscape. As I looked further into nature, I began to catch glimpses of mysterious depths. Boundaries of separate objects lifted and opened, the land seemed charged with potent force and magic, alive and moving.”

            Sound, another aspect of the natural world, is integral to Caponigro's life and work. He is a gifted pianist, and he understands that, mystically speaking, sound and light coalesce. "I'm trying to make sound out of my silver prints and light with the tones of the piano. I'm trying to pull the dimensions of sound and light into the process of both making prints and making music."

            Caponigro's artistic roots are intuitive; nevertheless, he studied and worked hard to master technique. When he was drafted in 1953 and assigned to the photo lab at the Presidio 6th Army Headquarters in San Francisco, he met Benjamen Chinn, who taught him Ansel Adams' zone system and introduced him to Adams, Minor White, Imogen Cunningham, and photographers of the West Coast tradition. After his release from the service, Caponigro made his way back to the East Coast, where he studied with Minor White and explored philosophical theories underlying emotional expression in photographic prints. Caponigro eventually realized that he had to free himself from the restrictions of both the zone system and the "Zen system," as embodied by Adams and White, and open up to messages received at a subconscious level, free from preconceptions. "Photography can do a lot more than it thinks it can - if you just get out of the way."

            Caponigro has sustained a long and fruitful career, photographing, exhibiting, and teaching throughout the world. He is the recipient of two Guggenheim Fellowships and three National Endowment for the Arts grants. His work resides in the permanent collections of major art museums, such as MoMA, Whitney Museum of American Art, and Guggenheim Museum. He has written eloquently about his ideas and experiences in publications released throughout his career.

            Paul Caponigro resides in Cushing, Maine.


We live in succession,

in division, in parts, in particles.

Meantime within man is the soul of the whole;

the wise silence; the universal beauty;

to which every part and particle

is equally related; the eternal ONE.

And this deep power in which we exist,

and whose beatitude is all accessible to us,

is not only self-sufficing and perfect in every hour,

but the act of seeing and the thing seen,

the seer and the spectacle,

the subject and the object, are one.


Ralph Waldo Emerson,

from The Over-Soul




Top: Fungus, Ipswich, Massachusetts, 1962. Gelatin silver print, 13 5/8 x 10 3/4 inches.

Bottom: San Sebastian, New Mexico, 1980. Gelatin silver print, 10 x 13 7/8 inches.


  • Suggested reading and viewing

    ·      Paul Caponigro, Landscape. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1975.

    ·      Paul Caponigro and Marianne Fulton. The Wise Silence: Photographs by Paul Caponigro. In Association with the International Museum of Photography at George Eastman House: New York Graphic Society, Boston, 1983.

    ·      Paul Caponigro, Seasons. A Polaroid Book: New York Graphic Society, Boston. 1988.

    ·      Paul Caponigro: Masterworks from Forty Years, essay by David Stroud. Photography West Graphics, 1993.

    ·      Oral history interview with Paul Caponigro, July 30, 1999 - August 12, 1999, Smithsonian Archives of American Art. www.aaa.si.edu/collections/interviews/oral-history-interview-paul-caponigro-11968

    ·      "Paul Caponigro: A Special Portfolio of Unpublished Work from 1959-2009." View Camera Magazine. Special issue: September/October 2010.

  • ·     WCSH Portland video interview with Paul Caponigro, 2013. http://www.wcsh6.com/video/2176606498001/49452227001/207-Paul-Caponigro