Paul Caponigro American, 1932-
Throughout his career Paul Caponigro has retained a formal, introspective approach to his photographs of flora, fauna, religious monuments, and landscapes. Working almost exclusively in large formats, he often makes close-cropped abstractions of light, form, and shadow as a way to discover and reveal hidden or symbolic meanings in his subjects.
Like Ansel Adams, Caponigro (born in Boston) was a talented pianist who abandoned a career in music but never its fundamental principles -- such as rhythm, harmony, and counterpoint -- as fodder for creative expression. He attended the College of Music at Boston University (1950-51) but left when drafted into the army. Stationed in San Francisco, he met Benjamin Chin, who was working in the same photography lab on the base and who introduced him to the teachings of Ansel Adams and Minor White. Caponigro continued his study with Chin and Alfred W. Richter at the California School of Fine Arts (1956) and studied with White for six months at the Rochester Institute of Technology (1957-58). In 1958 photographer Walter Chappell organized Caponigro's first one-person exhibition, In the Presence Of, at George Eastman House, Rochester.
Although Caponigro gradually moved away from White's teachings to pursue his own pictorial ideals, the two artists found shared inspiration in the philosophies of G. I. Gurdjeiff. Emphasizing Eastern religious thought and meditation, Gurdjeiff encouraged the extended study of ancient religious sites as a means for obtaining inner harmony. Following these ideas, Caponigro traveled on a 1966 fellowship from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation to Ireland and the British Isles, photographing medieval churches, Celtic crosses, and the prehistoric monuments for which he is so well known.
Upon returning to the United States, Caponigro moved to New Mexico and began photographing the West. During this time, he also taught numerous seminars and workshops at various institutions across the country. He has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts (1971, 1974) and returned to Europe in 1971 to continue photographing the megaliths of Stonehenge. He received a second Guggenheim fellowship in 1975 and with the award traveled to Japan to photograph the country's gardens, Buddhist temples, and Shinto shrines. In the fall of 1987, Caponigro photographed the Cistercian abbeys and cathedrals of France. His published works include Portfolio One (1960), The Music of Willem Nyland (1963), Paul Caponigro (1967, rev. ed. 1972), Portfolio Two (1973), Sunflower (1974), Landscape: Photographs by Paul Caponigro (1975), Portfolio Three: Stonehenge (1977), and Megaliths (1986). Caponigro lives in Rockport, Maine, and lectures and conducts workshops around the world. A.W.