Laudizen King Banner gathered along the way
long road home Signposts and Junctions      

Sylvian Ofiara


Sylvian Ofiara

Christmas through the years with
the Artist and Photographer, Sylvian Ofiara

Yes, I suppose that I am a biased critic. Sylvian Ofiara, his friends call him Sinch, is my uncle, my Mother's younger brother. As a child, I always awaited his visits with great anticipation. He was kind and generous to my brothers and me, and I enjoyed his company. Back in the 1950s, when I would visit my grandmother’s house in Manchester, Connecticut, one of the great places of mystery was the darkroom in the cellar of the old house, the place where he honed his art. He was a handsome young man, smoked a pipe, and possessed and cultivated an air of sophistication. He married Mary DeCarlo  in 1960 and I can remember attending the wedding as a child. Mary and Sinch never had children, but they were life-long companions and seemingly inseparable.

He made his living as a photographer. To sustain and prosper as a creative and dedicated artist is no small feat, especially during the last half of the twentieth century in the Connecticut world that I knew. He worked as a staff photographer for a newspaper, the Manchester Evening Herald, for twenty-three years. Following that, he taught the photographic arts at Manchester Community College for twenty years as Associate Professor of Photography. Today, he teaches the finer points of photography to various groups of senior citizens.
Long before the advent of the PC and the availability of personal software for every conceivable endeavor, he produced his own Christmas cards. I received them throughout my adult life: in the Army years, in the years I lived in Connecticut, and out in the West after I had relocated from the East Coast.
Somehow, against all odds, I managed to hold on to a few of the old ones through all of the life changes and relocations that I experienced over the years. My wife in California, Shirley (who has never met Sinch or visited New England), lovingly created a wall-piece that featured four of his seasonal cards. They are mounted and framed within a shadow-box type of display, each print sitting two inches below the glass face.

Sylvian Ofiara

Now the Christmas season is close upon us once again, and I want to celebrate by visiting the past. It is the story of the four holiday cards displayed within this wall hanging, and what I see captured within their images, that I want to share with you. Two cards are very old and fragile, and I did not want to dismantle the structure to reach the cards as they sat in their mounting. Rather, I did my best to take a picture of each card through the glass of the frame, to capture the image two inches below. Please forgive the reflections and angle that are evident in my photos. It is the image of the card and its content that I want to share, and you will understand my point after viewing my inferior copies. The prints that make up the images on the cards are of the highest quality.

These cards all celebrate the season, yet the message and emotion changes with the passage of time.

Sylvian Ofiara

The first image is representative of the best cards from those joyous Christmas years of youth and innocence long since gone. There is an ‘S’ and an ‘M present in the picture (for Sinch and Mary) and the cards are infused with color and gaiety. There is garland and tinsel, ribbons and simple toys, and a classic old-style glass ornament. Over the years, I saw many cards based on this theme, all of them unique, colorful, and alive with feelings of joy for the holiday.


Sylvian Ofiara

The second card is one of my favorites. Part of the beauty of this print is in the execution. Ansel Adams said that the photographic negative is like a musical score, and that the final print is the performance. There is an exquisite clarity within this print, from top to bottom and throughout its depth. Sinch created this card during the years when small Christmas tree lights had become the dominant tree illumination in the home, and ubiquitous in outdoor Christmas displays. The image of these large old-style lights touched a chord within those that learned the joys of Christmas past in the soft light of their glow. There is a colorful joy and yearning for Christmas yet-to-be within this skein of lights, an idea of preparation for the future and the endurance of the things we love.

Sylvian Ofiara

The third card reminds us of the painful march of time and the impermanence of all things. Sinch’s beloved wife of so many years, Mary, has fallen victim to the ravages of Alzheimer’s disease. In this card, Sinch is the lone ornament fallen from the tree. The ornament, once a proud and golden object of finery, sits alone in a harsh glare of light, and the forlorn hook hangs uselessly behind it in the shadow. Color dominates the image to be sure, but it is not the red of the holidays, it is the glaring red of anger. There are no ribbons, tinsel, or garlands; there is just a man alone with his pain. The one thing that kept Sinch connected to the color and joy of the holidays, the tree of his life, was Mary, and that connection was now broken. Mary would finally succumb to her affliction in 2004. 

Sylvian Ofiara

The fourth card is an acceptance of life and of the season. It is in color, but the color depicts a harsh windblown snow-scene in New England. It is winter now, Mary is gone, and the artist is now past the autumn of life. There is a natural almost heart-shaped depression in the snow on the left side of the image, and barren stalks from the good earth below poke through the snow to rise up into the winter air. The setting sun tries to form an ‘M’ out of the shadows of these stalks, but it does not quite appear. There is an austere, Zen-like quality to this print, and it bids the viewer to look closer, to contemplate the composition of the image, to grasp the meaning hiding there within it.
I hope you have enjoyed my observations and appreciation for Sinch’s gift, and the images of the four Christmas cards that played a part in its telling. In some small way, I hoped they would encapsulate and celebrate an artist’s life and work.

As with other gifted photographers, when we look into Sinch’s work we not only gaze into the life and mind of the artist, we see and experience a manifestation of our own being, a reflection of our own time and place. 

(In memory of Mary DeCarlo Ofiara)


Below are two additional scanned images (noticeably inferior to the prints) of Sinch's Christmas Cards that I have been lucky enough to save over the years.







(Both of these images will strike a chord in anyone lucky enough to remember the fine old glass ornaments of years past. Each was stored lovingly in a partition based on the size of ornament in the original box and wrapped in fine tissue paper.)



December 1, 2008
Los Angeles, CA