A woman wearing a bright, flowing gown runs across landscapes and inhabits the rooms and courtyards found in Ruthie Moccia's black-and-white photographs.
The same model keeps showing up in photograph after photograph, and viewers come to suspect that Moccia must use the same woman perpetually. Then, when Moccia shows up for an interview at the Gallery IV, where her photographs are on display, one discovers the model is Moccia herself. Instead of using a surrogate for her feelings, Moccia takes the rather daring step of placing her own image into her photographs.
"I've discovered that self-portraiture was a way for me to have a lot of fun,'' said Moccia, whose show, "Exposures: Images from a Woman's Life,'' runs through this month at the gallery, 17 E. Seventh. "I like to play around with the camera until I'm satisfied with what I get on film.''
MOCCIA HAS 19 photographic prints on display, featuring her in a variety of poses. The sites for the photographs run from buildings in the Kansas City area to Martha's Vineyard off Massachusetts and Alaska. The black-and-white images suggest a dreamscape where Moccia is the sole inhabitant; occasionally she uses props, such as a teddy bear or a dog.
She began taking photos of herself after a workshop in self-portraiture in Rockport, Maine. Unlike Cindy Sherman, a conceptual artist who photographs herself in a variety of costumes and poses, Moccia said she goes for a more natural, spontaneous image. She drives to a spot with a particular piece of clothing, then she puts on the costume, sets the automatic trigger on the camera and lets go.
"I find a setting that I think is pleasing, and I set the camera and play around,'' she said. "I have 10 seconds to get in front of the camera. Then it's anybody's guess if I'm going to get a picture I can hang.''
MOCCIA WAS born in Pittsburgh and moved at age 13 to the Midwest. studied English and art at Central Missouri State University during the 1960s; she later taught and worked as an artist for Hallmark Inc. She began taking pictures in 1978 when she borrowed a Nikon F2 camera and went off on a European vacation.
She eventually came to Lawrence in the mid-1980s; she had intended to move to Florida, but she came here instead. She now has a studio at Eighth Street Artists.
"It's easy to be an artist here,'' she said. "I think artists are respected here in the community, and there are a lot of facilities to help artists.''
SELF-PORTRAITS make up the bulk of her work now on display, but her photographic work extends beyond that theme.
"The others are hard to categorize,'' she said. "I like buildings. I like flowers, I like life. I like to find these things and show them to people.''
In addition to her photography, Moccia has a psychology practice in Kansas City and works part-time at the Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center. She said she keeps the analysis she uses in her psychology practice out of her photography, but that separation doesn't stop her peers from coming in and forming their own opinions.
"I don't mind it,'' she said. "I've gotten to the point where I find it interesting to listen to them. These images suggest so many different things to different people.''