Lavender graces the hillside. Copper pots hang in the kitchen. Proven’al-inspired fabric brightens the antique wooden chairs. One could easily be describing a domestic scene in France, but this home sits squarely in the Palisades. It belongs to Francophile Helena Ruffin and her partner, Rose Greene. The couple’s thirst for everything French is quenched by two annual treks to their favored country, sojourns they’ve ritually made for the past 14 years. But the most evocative celebration of French culture is found in Ruffin’s photographs, hundreds of which she’s composed during her travels. A selection of these images is currently on view at Congregation Kol Ami in West Hollywood, an exhibition that will continue through September 30. Her range shifts from the iconic’vibrant flower markets, dramatic rooftops, the Eiffel Tower’to the enigmatic, especially with snapshots taken on the Paris Metro. These images’essentially happy accidents’capture “the decisive moment” Henri Cartier-Bresson so famously exalted. The Frenchman’s influence is clear, with one of his renowned prints hanging in Ruffin’s living room together with a collection of other notable photographs. “My goal is to transport the viewer, not just to another country, but to another time and another emotional state,” Ruffin explains. This is Ruffin’s first exhibition, marking a turn from serious hobbyist to full-fledged artist. Her creative growth spurt was prompted by the worst of circumstances. Earlier this year, Rose, her partner for the past 12 years, was diagnosed with cancer. Ruffin poured herself into preparing for the exhibition partly as a way to cope. “I’m happy to say she’s doing terrifically well,” Ruffin says. “It’s a lesson for people who are caring for loved ones suffering from cancer. Caregivers also need a break.” The “big break” came to Ruffin through her friend, Rabbi Denise Eger of Congregation Kol Ami, who encouraged Ruffin to take her art to the next level by organizing an exhibition. She also provided the venue: the lobby space of her temple. “She saw that I needed some kind of outlet. It really was a gift,” Ruffin says. Ruffin, a native of Detroit, first began taking pictures in college as a campus photographer for Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan. While she continued on as an avid shutterbug and traveler, her career took a different turn. She held a variety of marketing and sales positions for companies such as Arbitron Ratings and CBS/Viacom, living in Ann Arbor, Chicago and New York City before finally landing in Los Angeles in 1988. Currently, she heads the insurance division of Rose Greene Financial Services. “I wanted to make money; I didn’t listen to my passion,” Ruffin says with a smile. While she still shoots film, Ruffin is slowly making the conversion to digital. Her last trip to France was an all-digital occasion. “I’m happy enough with what I’ve seen in terms of density of color and richness that I’ll probably continue with it [digital],” she says. Both film and digital come into play with “Monet’s Garden,” for which Ruffin imaginatively combined images taken at Giverny over a two-year period to create a monumental collage (the large-scale print measures 23″ x 35″). In contrast to this precisely manipulated composition, “Voyeur,” an award-winning shot taken on the Metro in Paris, happened entirely by chance. “I looked up and just snapped,” recalls Ruffin. “I guess someone was looking down on me.” All the works in the show are limited editions and are for sale. Prices, including frames, range from $375 to $950 depending upon size. Congregation Kol Ami is located at 1200 N. La Brea in West Hollywood. Contact: (323) 606-0996. Ruffin’s images can also be seen on her Web site: ruffprints.smugmug.com.
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