Denise Cicuto Reveals the Elements

An Alameda acupuncturist uses the seasons and the elements to help patients heal.


Denise Cicuto poses in front of her work at InkBlot Gallery.

Photo courtesy of Jean Chen

Denise Cicuto spoke cheekily of her beginnings as a photographer with a woeful tale of losing her first disc camera. “It was swiped from me at McDonald’s in New York City,” she said. The Alamedan went a without a camera, until her mom replaced it with a solid upgrade—a Pentax K1000. The camera-less year made Cicuto realize how enamored she was with photography, and she spent many hours subsequently developing photographs in bathrooms and darkrooms from New York to Boston to Paris.

An amateur photographer for over 20 years, she has been an acupuncturist in the Bay Area for a decade with practices in Ballena Bay and San Francisco. An exhibition of Cicuto’s work, Living With the Five Elements, showed recently at InkBlot Gallery in Alameda. It displayed a fascinating and seamless melding of her two passions: photography and Chinese medicine.

“The show is my interpretation and experience of living with the five elements and their corresponding seasons: water/winter, wood/spring, fire/summer, earth/late summer, and fall/metal,” the artist said. The imagery connected Cicuto’s experience as a healer with her surroundings throughout the year via a series of snapshot-style photographs, collages, and images that have been altered by the elements. Her intent is to relay her observations on the connection between the seasonal cycles of nature and its effects on everyday lives. The images plunged viewers into the elements, elevating their familiarity and everyday abundance while showing how they changed the subject. For instance, a vibrantly blooming dahlia snapshot was charred on a barbecue to depict the unpredictable nature of fire/summer, and a sparse, snowy landscape was immersed within a snow globe to represent water/winter.

The impetus for the exhibition was a memorable year that began with a harsh East Coast winter, Cicuto said. In 2016, she undertook a yearlong alchemical healing program to channel the spiritual principles of alternative medicine into her physical healing and spiritual counsel practice. Mother Nature immediately and rather unexpectedly dictated the mentorship.

“I showed up to the first class in upstate New York, camera in hand, on the weekend of a blizzard that shut down Manhattan. Welcome to winter!” she exclaimed wryly. Cicuto photographed over four weekends spanning several seasons in New York and one weekend in Maine. She has since placed some of the images in her treatment rooms. The images lead patients down a path of understanding of how the seasons and elements influence their own course of treatment, she said.

Cicuto’s intends to expand Living With the Five Elements into a deck of inspirational cards. Each card has a photo from the collection and a relevant poem. One selects a card daily, an act meant to inspire patients to seek personal, meaningful ways of applying the seasonal elements to their everyday lives.


Learn more at Cicuto Photography at and Cicuto Acupuncture at 

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