Where the wild things are

Images courtesy of Dutesco Art

Gallery photograph by Zoë Zellers

“I did not go there with the idea that I was going to photograph pretty pictures or take only a certain type of photograph, you see?” Roberto Dutesco says. “My travels to Sable Island were really a true exploration of a place without prejudice towards it.”

A prolific artist, Dutesco, stepped away from his role as an in-demand fashion photographer to dedicated 18 years of his life to photographing the legendary wild horses of Sable Island, a pristine place some 190 miles off the coast of Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Although Sable Island is sometimes referred to as the “Graveyard of the Atlantic” – it’s the site of about 350 shipwrecks – Dutesco embarked on a mission to document this wilderness and in turn discovered living beauty and a new home.

Where the heart is

The charismatic photographer, who also counts sculpting, painting and poetry among some of his many interests, is preparing to release “The Wild Horses of Sable Island,” a limited edition, 14-pound book of his experience. In the book, Dutesco offers his poignant musings on the island, nature, art and humanity, including the meaning of home.

“Home is a feeling. You cannot really pinpoint it. You cannot grasp it. If somebody tells you that it’s home, you either feel that or you don’t,” he says. Leaning into a brown leather chair, Dutesco sips lemonade as he fights jet lag after just arriving from Brazil to entertain celebrities in his new gallery at 64 Grand St. in SoHo.

Brazil is the birthplace of his beautiful wife and they, with their two young children, split their time between their West Side dwellings and São Paulo. But is Brazil home to Dutesco yet?

“Yes, Brazil is home but I am not talking so much about the country. I mean, I can tell you, for example, Rio felt like home immediately, São Paulo did not. It is becoming home, because we live in it and it’s a different type of nuance. But the feeling of Rio was very much there when I saw it for the first time.

“We talk about large places or large countries or large continents, is that home or is this home? I do not know. I’m more specific in terms of which routes you’re going to take, what streets you’re going to walk on and some, perhaps, will remind you of something that brings you closer to the place that you call home originally.”

It was in his homeland of Romania that Dutesco took his first photograph – a family portrait – at age 6 in 1967. The juxtaposition of the cosmopolis and the wilderness would become a theme in his personal story and his professional work.

“I’ve been fortunate to be touched by two different types of places. Bucharest, being the capital of Romania, is a beautiful city. They called it for many years, ‘the Small Paris.’… In Romania, we had quite an affluent lifestyle and that was my fortune to be part of a family that had traveled and had a lot of curiosity towards many areas of life, not just one….The other side of Romania was very much about my grandparents’ place, which was quite raw, wild and extremely beautiful with nature undisturbed by man in the forests that have been growing there for hundreds of years.”

Later, Dutesco would explore another form of beauty – models and high fashion – when he moved to New York City and earned industry attention with his spreads in Elle, Vogue, Flare and Rolling Stone. But there was still that natural beauty tugging at his sleeves and after watching a TV program on Sable Island in 1994, he prepared to enter the unknown.

“It’s simple. Cities of the world, as much as you get inspired, also make you spend a lot of energy. True inspiration, from my perspective, comes very much more from nature than from walking the streets of New York.

“But, of course, inspiration exists everywhere. …When I think about inspiration and creativity, it’s a space that exists in between things and it’s unseen but it’s very much there and that’s where everything resides.”

Sharing with the world

Dutesco said he sees creation in a way where “it has its own mind, too.” Of his book, 15 years in the making, he says, “We have arrived at the book that basically wanted to exist in its own way… Ultimately, the journey to Sable Island was more than just a photographic journey. It was an exploration.”

One that continued to lure him back for years as he found familiar faces in the horses he encountered and named, sometimes after supermodels like Naomi.

“Home,” he decides, “is like love, or like and dislike. It’s one of those things where the feeling, if it’s genuine, comes before your thought.”

“I think that nature in its naked self… is very kind. It’s very precious and attractive and it welcomed me into that world. I think that at that level, nature is very much aware that it’s being explored or documented or photographed.”

Dutesco is determined to share his special love of Sable Island – in celebrities’ homes, galleries like Greenwich’s Samuel Owen, major retail spaces like Sony and Ralph Lauren, and such international venues as the United Nations and the World Expo in Japan.

“I’ve seen all kinds of reactions. I’ve seen a lot of silence. I’ve seen a lot of laughter. I’ve seen a lot of crying. I’ve seen a lot of exuberance. So, whatever you think of emotion to be, I’ve witnessed it in the gallery.”

Dutesco is also happily consumed with creating a mobile museum about Sable Island for an atypical crowd, now already three years in the works. Actually, his next international audience will be primarily kindergarteners, whom he wants to encourage with his images of natural beauty – horses with flowing manes, exotic sandscapes, dreamy oceans and full moons uninhibited by city lights. The project was partially inspired by his partnership with supermodel Petra Nemcova, a friend, and her Happy Hearts Fund organization. In 2007, his wild horses were printed on surfboards that were auctioned off, with the money used to build the Sable Island kindergarten school in Indonesia.

“It’s kind of interesting to have kids going to school because of a place that exists on the other side of the world, Sable Island.

“With that idea in mind, that’s the future of the Sable Island Project and the Sable Island Museum – to take what I have found on Sable, which is unique and precious in so many different ways and to share it with the world in a truthful way.”

For more on The Wild Horses of Sable Island Gallery, 64 Grand St. in Manhattan, call (212) 219-9622 or visit dutescoart.com.

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