Diamonds in Rust |

Diamonds in Rust

"In looking at things that are deteriorating, I'm looking to find esthetic value," says Mona Esposito. "And I'm exploring this metamorphic change how colors and textures and lines change." Aspen Times photo/Mark Fox.

Mona Esposito might be ready to stop getting excited over aging dumpsters, abandoned mining sheds and spots of rust on car doors. But for much of the last five years, the 34-year-old Aspen photographer has been getting uncommonly intimate with such things.Since her high school years in Brooklyn, Esposito had been involved with photography. And beginning with a 1990 trip to Italy, during her junior year at Los Angeles’ Occidental College, Esposito had been guided by the late Henri Cartier-Bresson, and his edict to capture on film “the decisive moment.” She also worked in portraiture and architectural photography, devoting various amounts of time to her art as she took a variety of bills-paying jobs (barista, babysitter, framer, photographer’s assistant) and earned a series of degrees (bachelors in art history, masters in applied linguistics) as she and husband Richard Betts set up shop in a wide-flung array of locations (Tucson, Montana, Italy).Esposito’s own decisive moment came during a 1999 trip to Telluride, while she was caretaking a 2-year-old. Stopping in at an art gallery, Esposito’s eye was drawn to an old, abandoned truck that went with the gallery. It was hardly Cartier-Bresson’s idea of the decisive moment, which usually meant capturing spontaneous moments involving people on the street. Instead, Esposito had spied the way rust and corrosion created instances of color, shape and design on the truck.”It had great red and green and amorphous shapes the rust had made,” she said. “That got me starting to look at things that had rusted and decayed.”

Esposito photographed the truck – though not in the extreme close-up manner that has become her signature. “You could still tell it was a truck,” she noted. “You could see a side mirror, or a door. It was still an object. I wasn’t ready to see the color, the shape, in the decay.”The next piece of decrepit junk in which Esposito saw artistic possibilities was a construction dumpster across the street from her parents’ house in Tucson. This time, she pulled in on the tiny bits of visual activity going on amidst the larger object.”The more you stay with a subject matter or an idea, the more you flesh it our or refine it,” she said. “I must have looked at it a hundred times before I went and photographed it.”Esposito moved to Aspen five years ago, just before giving birth to a daughter, Bella. With motherhood, she switched her focus from rotting metal abstractions to baby portraiture, and kept on clicking.”That’s the interesting thing about photography,” she said. “It has this utilitarian side to it. You can use it for all kinds of things, so you always have it in your hands and can work on your technical side.”

Esposito’s more artistic side reawakened as she started peeking at the bottom of Smuggler Mountain. “I could tell there were some amazing rusting things in there. Because there’s all these crazy signs, saying ‘Do Not Come In Here,'” she said. Last year, she made some large prints from the Smuggler shoot, blowing up small details of rust spots and metallic decay into large-scale, glossy prints. Around this time, Esposito’s husband, Richard, the wine steward at the Little Nell, was making the acquaintance of a part-time Aspenite named Dennis Scholl, who happened to be one of the country’s foremost collectors of contemporary photography. Scholl’s encouragement was significant for Esposito.Esposito’s latest series of works were selected for the Aspen Art Museum’s current Aspen Valley Biennial. The pieces glow with color and mystify with their almost tactile surfaces and abstract shapes. It is impossible to tell that the images are in fact small details from another construction dumpster, sheds at the entrance to Smuggler Mine, and a house panel at Scholl’s Aspen residence. Hardly the typical objects of beauty, until you get close enough and blow them up large enough that they become something else entirely.”In looking at things that are deteriorating, I’m looking to find esthetic value,” said Esposito. “And I’m exploring this metamorphic change – how colors and textures and lines change.”The other thing about this body of work is exploring what is photographic and what is painterly. The display and presentation is very painterly. A lot of people don’t know these are photographs. It’s color and texture and finding emotion and power in that experience.”

Esposito may have reached the end of the artistic road with the rust spots, even if she still feels an attachment to rotting autos and falling-apart dumpsters. “I think I’m done with this kind of exploration. But I don’t know how long it’ll take me to stop pulling over and looking at junked cars and saying, ‘Oh, that looks cool.’ Which I still do a lot.”But Esposito still expects to get close-up and personal with her subject matter. She even has ideas of what kinds of things she’d like to focus in on. One idea is the glow that television sets give off in a dark house: “That glow, at night, that TVs give off in a living room. But you wouldn’t see the house, just the glow,” she said. Another idea is skin; “Scars, veins – real close-up.”Mona Esposito will give a talk on Thursday, Nov. 11, as part of the Aspen Art Museum’s weekly Artist Chat series. The Aspen Valley Biennial runs through Nov. 28.Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is

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