Finding fine art at the Laundromat

Exhibit of photos taken ‘Through the Porthole’ at Monmouth Beach Cultural Center


When Dee Ann McCarthy turns on her washing machine, it is not to wash clothes. It is to conceptualize her ideas about the beauty found in everyday things.

McCarthy at work in a Laundromat. McCarthy at work in a Laundromat. It takes a finely tuned visual imagination to walk by clothes agitating in a washing machine and see art. But that is exactly what McCarthy, a photographer, saw when she walked by a Laundromat in her New York City neighborhood and noticed the clothes spinning around in the front-loading washing machines. She didn’t see soiled clothes rinsing, she saw a kaleidoscope of colors and shapes.

“One day while I was on a walk down the street in New York’s Greenwich Village, I noticed some washing machines in a Laundromat window spinning with their contents, and it struck me that the patterns were captivating and that they could make interesting photographs. For my first set of photos, I used towels and sheets. These produced some wonderful photos,” she said. But that was just the beginning. Intrigued, she expanded on her creative vision and began to use items other than clothing.

Images from Dee Ann McCarthy's series "Through the Porthole." Images from Dee Ann McCarthy’s series “Through the Porthole.” “As I refined my process, I stopped using typical laundry materials. I am currently working with flowers and other objects,” McCarthy said, noting that she has been photographing flowers by themselves for years.

“I have a passion for my garden and the beauty of flowers, which I deem to be God’s paintings. So it was only natural I combined my love of flowers with my interest in the effects the laundry machines could produce,” she said.

McCarthy lives and works in New York City and Shrewsbury. Her conceptual and painterly photographs have been exhibited and published internationally.

“Through the Porthole,” an exhibit of her digital photographs, will opened July 18 at the Monmouth Beach Cultural Center on Ocean Avenue, where it will run through Aug. 2. Photographs by her husband, well-known photographer Tom McCarthy, are also on exhibit.

“I approached the cultural center three years ago with my portfolio. I thought it would be a great place for a summer exhibition,” McCarthy said.

Although McCarthy spent 15 years in Miami, she grew up Allenhurst, went to Asbury Park High School and then on to Monmouth College.

She has worked as a commercial photographer producing shoots for national advertisements with her husband, whose credits include work for Life magazine and The Saturday Evening Post as well as Eastman Kodak, Eastern Airlines and other corporations.

“I photograph ideas that I conceive. I actually loved the idea of placing objects in washers and letting the movement of the water and soapsuds interact with the objects and letting motion and chance come together to produce one-of-akind moments that I can capture,” she said.

Photography has been her full-time work for more than 20 years, both fine art and commercial.

“My photographs are digital these days. I do very little manipulation besides cropping and some color adjustments. My control is in the objects I place in the machines and the cycles chosen. I carefully choose my colors and forms and the amount of detergent used,” she said.

McCarthy’s photographs are both sensitive and evocative, sensual and delicate.

“Through the porthole, I photograph motion and chance. By focusing my camera’s lens into the glass windows of washing machines as they cycle, I am able to capture those defining moments when objects and movement meld into captivating visual symmetry. The chamber of the washing machine with its contents of hand-placed objects transforms into a kaleidoscope, producing infinite textures and patterns,” she said.

McCarthy calls her work “photographic painting.” She says that the photos are studies of order in chaos, beauty in randomness, and surprise in the unexpected.

“If my photographs were a symphony, the score would be written by John Cage and the conductor would be Georgia O’Keefe.”

McCarthy studied photography at The New School in New York and has taught photography for the Miami-Dade school systems. Before moving back Northeast to her roots, she had been a photographer for the Coconut Grove Playhouse in Miami and on staff for Miami magazine.

She has had a number of solo shows in Florida, where she lived for a number of years. They include the Boca Raton Museum, the Miami Children’s Museum, and the Art Space Gallery.

Besides solo shows, she has also shown in a number of group shows: the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens, the National Arts Club, and Cork Gallery at Lincoln Center, all in New York, the Fort Lauderdale Museum and the Boca Raton Museum in Florida, and the Shore Institute for Contemporary Arts (SICA) in Long Branch. Her work can be viewed on her Web site,