Canine cards Picturing
bulldog a snap for photographer By Cate Terwilliger Denver Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 19, 2001 - Jan Oswald took flight from the known world on the
back of the most Earth-bound creature, an English bulldog with a willing attitude
and a face only a mother could love. Oswald's ability to find beauty in the
beast resulted in VivyLand, a line of greeting cards featuring her 6-year-old
pet in humorous fine art portraits, from ballerina and gargoyle to teacher,
bride and party girl. The cards are available locally at the Tattered Cover
Book Store in Cherry Creek and online atwww.vivyland.com.
"In the back of my mind,
I had always wanted to have a greeting card company," says Oswald, 54. "That
and a coffee shop: Cafe Vivy."
But walking away from
her acclaimed and lucrative work as an advertising photographer was no mean
feat. During a 26-year career in San Francisco and, since 1980 in Denver,
Oswald had accumulated all the trappings of success: a swank house, her own
studio, a black Porsche, a sterling reputation and plenty of well-paid assignments.
But the commercial work
was slowly sapping the soul of a woman who had long wanted to be her own artist.
"I didn't want to go to
work anymore," she recalls. "I'd done so many things and wound up doing so
many things over and over - I just didn't want to do it anymore. I thought,
"There must be something more.'"
So Oswald did something
many people dream but few dare: She threw off the traces. She sold the house,
the studio, the Porsche - everything connected with her success as an advertising
"When she decided not
to do it anymore, it was a bit of a shock to everyone," says Bunny Martin,
a longtime friend and San Francisco food stylist who has worked with Oswald
for 21 years. "That was a big leap of faith, and I think there was a time
when some of her friends wondered what she was going to do
"But it was obvious she
really loved fine art photography. Jan is very intuitive; she works from within,
like all good artists do And you really can't do both. You either have credibility
as a commercial photographer or you have credibility as a fine art photographer."
So Oswald walked away
from her career and everything that went with it. "I just wanted to dissociate
from everything and find out who I was without all those trappings," the photographer
says. "I didn't have an agenda. I didn't have to go into the office, so I
traveled a lot. I told a friend, "I feel like I fell into a void,' and she
said, "People spend their whole lives trying to get into that void.'
"My intent was to get
rid of all of the old stuff and see what fell in."
In dropped 391/2 pounds
Oswald had been photographing
Vivy since adopting her as a puppy in 1995; the dog always accompanied her
to the studio and, during slack moments, became the focus of Oswald's creativity.
In a spoof of the ubiquitous Raphael angel image, Vivy donned feathery wings;
her natural resemblance to gargoyle statuary inspired Oswald to create Vivy
as gargoyle. Oswald learned Photoshop, allowing her to digitally meld the
dog's image with items photographed separately - the gargoyle's cement wings,
for instance. Clients who visited Oswald's studio were so enamored of the
results that the photographer produced T-shirts of the Vivy angel and gargoyle
images to promote her business.
So it wasn't entirely
surprising, some years later, that Oswald's new life as a photographer should
take a certain muscular, low-to-the-ground shape.
"Vivy enjoys getting into
character," Oswald says. "Whenever the lights are set up and the background
is rolled out, Vivy just trots on over and waits for her picture-perfect moment."
The dog's cheery disposition and comical mug birthed VivyLand's slogan: "happy
all the time."
And the future looks bright
indeed for woman and dog. The VivyLand line of 24 cards was a hit at the National
Stationery Show in May, where a mind-numbing volume of new products are rolled
"People were looking
at thousands of booths; they get this sort of glazed look," Oswald says. "I
had huge graphics of Vivy - the gargoyle at 7 feet tall, and two others at
5 feet - and they'd spot them and just start laughing." Compliments and orders
followed, leaving Oswald with her current challenge - expanding the line with
new images and finding effective distribution routes.
At the same time, her
reputation as a fine art photographer is spreading: A retrospective of Oswald's
work recently was exhibited at The International Photography Hall of Fame
and Museum in Oklahoma City - an honor that surprised and thrilled her. The
recognition bodes well for life beyond VivyLand; Oswald is savvy enough in
the ways of the marketplace to know her current success won't last forever.
But she has her own artistic vision - and experience reinventing herself.
"I'm not sure where she'll
go from here," Martin says. "But I think she has faith that whatever else
comes along, she can do that, too."