Abstract Seascape, as Fred Ballet Sees It

Retired Surgeon Focuses on Creativity
By MARIA SCANDALE | Jul 11, 2018
Courtesy of: Frederick Ballet

Frederick Ballet used to be a hand surgeon. That somehow makes his retirement endeavor a more captivating contrast. He photographs the ethereal ocean and creates its abstract alternate reality – in endless variations.

For the North Beach resident, an image starts with a trek to the same beach at the same time, every pre-dawn. The elusive is captured. “You hear artists talk about the ‘golden hour.’ To me it’s the ‘golden 20 minutes,’” he said.

His online artist’s statement articulates his mission:

“The beauty of the natural world has always filled me with an existential fascination. As a young boy I would often go down to the sea, never disappointed in her embrace of peaceful solitude. I now revel in capturing her special moments of equanimity, movement, color, light, power and immortality. In these works I seek to balance realism with abstraction, at times capturing the surreal. My favorite images give the viewer the smallest anchor of realism, leaving the rest to the imagination. My goal is for you to leave with a meditative sense of beauty, peace, and timelessness.”

We found him at Artifacts & Company’s Birdland Gallery in Beach Haven. His exhibit there, that runs through September, will feature a book signing and official opening on Sunday, July 1 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

The art education director at Philadelphia Photo Arts Center, from where he is on track to earn a Contemporary Practice Photography certificate in September, once advised the student to “develop a technique, a style that says Fred Ballet,” he recalled. “So, my mission for the last two years was to develop my own style, and that is what this is all about.”

The $50 book, Frederick Ballet Photographs, has 43 images, most taken in Barnegat Light, North Beach, and Holgate.

Ballet’s photos speak to viewers as a vision beyond what they would see if they stood at the beach themselves. In fact, this artist wants the viewer to see what he sees in a scene.

“If you’re walking down the beach and you see a setting, when you look at my image, you won’t see that presented the way my image presents it,” he elaborated at the gallery one Sunday.

For instance, in “Beach Obstacle” a ghostly walker encounters a jutting rock on a jetty shrouded in watery mist, as morning breaks in rose tones. Yet, the sun glances from an evening angle, not morning. It illuminates where he has been.

Nature itself reveals something different every day.

“I’ll go down to the same beach, the same time of the morning, and say, ‘what can I possibly take a picture of; I’m shooting the same thing at the same time of day?’ And I’m always surprised.”

Next is what he does with what he sees.

Camera movement and long exposure create effects. So does balancing contrasting colors, emphasizing lights and darks, obscuring parts of a subject, say, a jetty.

“I also strive to create a dreamy, painterly, ethereal effect ... that’s my inspiration,” Ballet said.

“I feel that an artist should do what inspires. I get my inspiration from the ocean, the beach, the environment, and that’s part of myself I’d like to have people see when they look at my images.”

Yet another element of an otherworldly image is Ballet’s technique that he calls “in-camera composing.” He said, “A lot of people compose in Photoshop, but this is not a Photoshop composite. This is an in-camera composite. Sure, I use Photoshop to enhance my pictures, every photographer does, but the composition is in-camera; these people are not Photoshopped in.”

An observer at the gallery noticed the distinctive mounting of the photographs.

“The particular technique that I chose to show these images is a technique called acrylic face mounting,” Ballet said. “The image is developed on paper, in this case it’s a photo-metallic paper, and it is bonded to the low-glare acrylic. There is a product called Dibond, it is an aluminum composition, which is on the back of that. I didn’t want to use any frame. I didn’t want to use any matting. I wanted the image to stand on its own.”

He doesn’t sign his works -–not on the front, anyway.

“I didn’t want the viewer to see that. They turn it over, they know Fred Ballet did it. That’s not what I’m about. I want the viewer to have some emotion. When I see these images, I don’t want it to be polluted, if you will, by names and extraneous stuff.”

Accomplished Surgeon

Behind the Camera

So, there’s the interesting fact that the photographer’s other life was as a hand surgeon. The practice he founded in the Cherry Hill area, the Hand Surgery and Rehabilitation Center of New Jersey, later merged with the Virtua Health System. In May 2002, he was voted a “Top Doc” by Philadelphia magazine.

“Yeah, we didn’t talk about that yet,” he observed in the interview. “I retired Feb. 1st and didn’t look back. I have time to spend full-time on my photography, which I love.”

Is there common ground between the two occupations? Not really. “You can’t be artistic in medicine, for the most part,” Ballet said, “although, there is some subjective evaluation in what you’re doing, but you have very strict guidelines.”

Born in Brooklyn, Ballet as a teenager was limited to taking pictures of landscapes and zoo animals on an Olympus film camera. “My dad had a passing interest in photography and we worked in the darkroom together. Family and work commitments took their toll on my available time and so here I am retired, able to commit fully to my renewed passion.”

During his career he had married, had twin boys, became a grandfather, built a wooden sailboat and earned a third degree black belt in karate.

Ballet received his B.S. cum laude from Brooklyn College and his M.D. from the New York Medical College. He was an intern/resident in general surgery at Long Island Jewish-Hillside Medical Center in New York.

He completed his orthopaedic surgery residency at the Hospital for Joint Diseases/Orthopaedic Institute in New York. He was awarded the H. Frauenthal Traveling Fellowship Scholarship, and received his hand surgery training at the Connecticut Combined Hand Surgery Fellowship.

He has held teaching appointments at the Cooper University Medical Center and the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey-Rutgers Medical School at Camden. He has published articles, and presented at national and international meetings.

Today his retirement workplace is the beach, and the resulting images are on display at Artifacts in a variety of sizes. Special-order commissioned prints in custom sizes are available, as well as prints that are on his website not displayed at the exhibit.

In addition he has four images on display at Pyour Core and two at Pyour Pour in Surf City.

His website is frederickballetphotography.com.


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