interviews, news and photographic musings...
through the eyes of fine art photographer & journalist susan burnstine

In Focus: Gina Kelly

I first saw Gina Kelly’s enchanting imagery in Shots Magazine years back and instantly loved her work. Gina’s whimsical and frequently humorous approach seamlessly combines a delightful sense of childlike wonder with an acute perspective.

Recently, I saw an exceptional image of Gina’s online so I contacted her and she generously agreed to an interview. Here’s an excerpt from a chat that Gina and I had this week. 

SUSAN BURNSTINE: What were your beginnings as a photographer and when did you realize it would become your chosen form of expression?

GINA KELLY: My love of photography began at a very early age, maybe 8 or 9. In the earliest days I would use my mom’s Kodak Instamatic to take pictures of the pets and of my family – the same things I photograph today!  I also spent hours at a time looking at family photo albums, something I noticed my siblings and friends didn’t share the same enthusiasm for. As a child, each time I would visit my Grandma, we had a ritual of pulling out her old trunk full of photos from the closet and looking at each and every one as she told me about the people and places they contained. I would spend an entire day pouring over them.  I think she enjoyed it as much as I did. I loved those old black and white photos, I thought they were really beautiful.

In my early 20s I finally took my first photography class, and the moment I printed my first photo I was hooked.


SB: Did you study formally or are you self-taught?

GK: I took every photo class available at the University where I lived (Emporia State University in Emporia, Kansas) and then did several semesters of Independent Study under photographer/teacher Larry Schwarm, who enthusiastically supported and encouraged the work I was doing.  I also took classes in drawing, design, art history and art appreciation, all in an effort to become a better photographer. But I never did get a degree.

In my late 20s I moved to California and met Jock Sturges who became a friend and mentor and was instrumental in helping me to develop my eye.  He also taught me to be a really solid printer and I gained a great deal of confidence in that area with his help.

I shot black and white film solely for 20 years, then around 2006 when it became more and more difficult to find the papers and chemicals that I preferred to use I made the switch to digital and color.  From a technical perspective, I’ve had to learn so much since I made this change.  I’ve taken classes here and there to help along the way, and thankfully there is a lot of information to be found on the internet.  My husband, who is a software developer and is very computer savvy, has also played a large part in helping me to navigate this new territory.

SB: Do you split your time between editorial/commercial/portraiture and personal work or do you consider all of the images personal work that can be used as the former?

GK: I consider most of my work to be personal work that can also cross over into editorial, portraiture and in some cases, stock. I’ll occasionally deliberately shoot something that I might not consider personal work, but that I recognize would be a marketable image. In the past I wouldn’t have done that, but I feel more OK about it now.

SB: Can you tell me a bit about your series Dreamlife? What was your personal impetus for creating this series?

GK: The Dreamlife series didn’t come about intentionally, but rather was the result of sorting through my work and noticing all these images that had a similar introspective or reflective feeling to them.  I love photographing people with their eyes closed! So a lot of these images are simply that – people with closed eyes, which creates a moody tone that I’m really drawn to. In some cases, the photos are of people literally sleeping.  And some of the photos in this series are simply someone in a setting that feels like a dream to me. This dreamy feeling is the common thread that runs between all of these images.  I love the way this series is happening intuitively, without effort, and like a literal sleeping-dream, it’s just fun for me to watch it and see what happens.


SB: How did you select your subjects for Dreamlife?

GK: The people I photograph are almost always people I am around on a regular basis – family and friends.


SB: Have you photographed yourself in any of the Dreamlife images?

GK: I don’t do very many self-portraits, I’m not that comfortable having my picture taken.  However there is one photo of me in this series – it came about one day during my first full winter in Minnesota when I was going crazy from what I felt was my inability to be out in the elements and tolerate the cold (I’ve since learned to love and appreciate shooting in Minnesota in winter.)  But on that day, for lack of any other options, I took my camera to the basement where there were all these great textures and tones and was just playing around with it all.  Not having a model to work with I crawled underneath a crusty old work table, and with eyes closed and hand reaching out opening a drawer, I ended up with a shot I really liked.


SB: When viewing your animal imagery it is clear that you are enamored by the animal kingdom, especially canines. These exceptional images are frequently whimsical, touching and/or humorous. Can you discuss your passion for photographing animals and the thread that connects these images?

GK: Thank you, and yes I welcome the opportunity to discuss this passion.  I love dogs, and animals of all kinds, I always have.  My relationship with my dog, Simon, is a continual source of awe and inspiration to me.  To love and be loved by a dog is one of the most touching and deeply moving experiences of my life.  Simon continually demonstrates unconditional love and forgiveness, and I feel that he teaches me to be a better person.

Besides Simon, I also take care of two beautiful, awesome, and funny greyhounds that belong to friends of mine, and I trade dog-sitting with various other friends as well, so at any given moment there could be any number of dogs in my house.  Part of the reason for so many dog photos is simply accessibility.  But beyond that, I am so in love with these creatures that I just naturally want to photograph them.  I’m interested in shooting what moves me, what I love, what makes me feel something.  When photographing dogs or animals of any kind, I’m totally present in that moment and having the best time. I hope that it is reflected in the photos.


SB: What are you working on now? 

GK: I’m working on a personal project that I’m tentatively calling “Kindred Spirits”.  It’s a series of portraits of people with animal companions that they’ve had a lifelong or nearly lifelong relationship with (lifelong meaning lifespan of the animal).  This started last summer when I found out that the mother of a friend of mine has a pet tortoise that she’s had for 50 years.  She let me come to her home and photograph them together and I was so moved by the experience that I started seeking out other people with long-term relationships with animals.  I’ve been meeting the best people and animals through this project; it’s been a lot of fun, and also very emotional.  It sounds naïve, but when I started out I hadn’t thought about the fact that many of the animals in this series are at the end of their lives (two have passed already since being photographed) so that has added some poignancy to the project that I didn’t anticipate.  I don’t have any plans yet for this series; right now I’m just doing the portraits and will see how it evolves.

To see more of Gina’s work pop over to her website.  

On The Walls: Doug Ethridge @ Lightbox Gallery

Doug Ethridge is a photographer who refuses to get pigeonholed into one style, process or approach. He’s constantly reinventing his visions and has most recently created a body of work entitled 27 Mornings In Winter which is on view from January 14- February 7 at Lightbox Gallery in Astoria, Oregon. 

Doug first gained notice with a series that he shot with a Hasselblad Xpan entitled Solitary Voyagers.

I first wrote about Doug’s platinum series Waypoints in my April 2010 column for Black & White Photography.

I then wrote about Doug’s color series Primordial Seas for F-stop Magazine last year.

Here’s an excerpt from a conversation we had a few days ago.

SUSAN BURNSTINE: What were your beginnings as a photographer and when did you realize it would become your chosen form of expression?

DOUG ETHRIDGE: My first year of college, I borrowed a friend’s Yashica 124 and created a book of b&w prints as a gift for a friend. It seemed like a good idea at the time even though I had never been in a darkroom before. In the process I had to teach myself how to process film and make prints, and I think this really is what got me going. Since then the idea of using a series of images to tell a story has been with me every step of the way. 


SB: You were once a professional jazz musician. Can you discuss how your musical talents have informed your visual talents?

DE: Professional is probably a stretch but at one point I was actually good enough to play in public. I started music lessons when I was five. To me, the entire process of learning music is directly applicable to photography. From seeing patterns, the obvious rewards of practice, utilizing a mechanical device for artistic expression, listening and thinking, and ultimately getting to the point where you are flying on instinct and experience without conscious thought. All these things apply.

The other similarity to music is the performance aspect. If we can agree that music and visual arts are sort of non-verbal languages, then you need a reality check once in a while to see if you are communicating anything. If you just practice in your room all day, then you really have no point of reference. So showing or performing the work is a critical component. Not that we have to value our selves entirely on the response or opinions of others, but if you put a body of work out there and nobody at all responds, then it’s an indication that maybe you need a little more practice. What excites me the most is when I get a spectrum of responses; that tells me I’ve put enough emotion into the work to stimulate some emotion back, even if it’s an entirely different emotion that I put in.

SB: Your recent series 27 Mornings In Winter recently opened as a solo exhibition at Lightbox Photographic in Astoria, Oregon. What was the impetus for the still series and also the original video?

DE: In the Northwest we have these long and sometimes very depressing winters. At some point, it gets to be too much. So a few years ago I decided to embrace that moment and get out every morning to make a little film. Those miserable days turned into magical moments of discovering the uniqueness of each day, even if it was simply a different texture or smell of the rain. As I was editing the film, I kept seeing these lovely new images coming about from layering multiple layers of video, dissolving and so on. I began exporting some of those frames and playing around with making prints from them. It took about two years off and on to find the right way to print them. 


SB: This is your second series printed in platinum. Can you tell me a bit about your history with this process and the creative genesis for these particular images?

DE: I am always up for learning something new. A part of me was really missing the darkroom, and a good friend, Ron Reeder is a master of the digital negative and platinum/palladium process. He also loves to share this knowledge. So it was pretty much a no brainer to sit in with Ron and learn the workflow. The digital part of it is all the same skills I already had after a decade of Photoshop, and the rest is simply being meticulous. I love the sort of Zen quality of tearing the paper to size, hand-coating the sensitizer, tweaking contrast, the whole deal. These particular images were printed with several other methods before I tried them in platinum/palladium and that seemed like the right answer. 


SB: Is there one image with this body of work that you are most proud of or perhaps one that embodies the complete spirit and intent of your imagery?

DE: One any given day I might choose one or another, but they are all favorites or I wouldn’t show them at all. There are many, many more that will likely never see the light of day.

SB: You have shot in a number of your series in digital, some with film, some in color, some in black and white. Can you talk a bit about the variety of work you’ve created over the course of your career and how your process has transitioned from using state of the art digital technology to applying different alternative processes in your work?

DE: It is really important to me to change it up, to grow, to learn. I experiment constantly with different cameras, films, digital approaches, papers, presentation methods, even print sizes. Each informs the other and I rotate through these methodologies based on what I think will work best for specific content. All of my work usually starts with a question, “can I make a picture of …” and the … can be an idea, an emotion, whatever. Then I try to make that image. If/when I am successful, I try to make another one, and then another, and eventually, there is a body of work (or not!). Sometimes the answer is in color, sometimes b&w, sometimes video, sometimes a still. But whatever it is, I have to be able to prove to myself that a particular body of work is best presented in a particular way by testing it out in several different possible methods.


SB: You mentioned that you will be working on additional videos for this body of work. Can you tell me a bit about the approach and concept for future videos for this work and how it may grow or change from the first video? 

My friend John Scanlan at Verve planted the bug in my ear to make 27 Mornings In Winter into a “four seasons” project. I was too busy with commercial work during the summer to shoot then, but I spent a lot of time thinking about the idea. When fall came, I was ready to roll, and I have shot all the footage for a new film. The rough cut is done and needs to marinate a while before I look at it again. I have already made a handful of still that I quite like. The concept expanded from essentially my immediate neighborhood on out to the coast and the rain forest. So far it is more dense, more textural. 


SB: What are you working on now?

DE: I’m working on the second film and the accompanying prints. Thinking about another chapter of the winter film. Working out ideas for a long-standing question about water and clouds. I have some technical experiments to work on for a mixed alternate process printing concept I have. Off to Cuba in February and France in June and new work will come from those trips. The content will be location-driven and probably some combination of digital and film. 

To see more of Doug’s work pop over to his website.

In Focus: Traer Scott

Traer Scott is a wonder. Not only is she a talented photographer, she’s also an active animal activist who donates portions of her book proceeds to the ASPCA… A woman after my own heart.

Her series Natural History was a favorite of mine in Photolucida’s 2010 Critical Mass competition. That series inspired me to feature her black and white work in my column for Black and White Photography (UK) last August 2011, which also earned her the cover shot.

Here’s an excerpt from a conversation we had late last spring. 

SUSAN BURNSTINE: What were your beginnings as a photographer and when did you realize it would become your chosen form of expression?

TRAER SCOTT: I spent my teens and early college years sampling just about every creative media possible. I started college as a theater major but soon switched to Mass Comm and became heavily involved in audio production which lead to an early career in professional radio and voice imaging. I also dabbled in painting, singing, film making and playing music but nothing seemed to fit. 

Photography was one of my very first interests as a child and I took my first darkroom class at 10 and used to stage fashion photo shoots in my house when I was 13, 14. All the teen mags always had model searches and I would enter photos of my friends. In college, I picked up photography again and really began to develop it when I moved to Seattle for a semester. Sitting on the steps of a dormitory facing Mt. Rainier, I had a bit of an aha moment, and suddenly knew that I meant to be a photographer.

As a junior, I won a fellowship grant in radio, The Dick Clark Broadcasting Award where I was also awarded a Radio Mercury Award in NYC. A few days after, I was offered my own national syndicated radio program with the ABC Radio Network. I was flown to Dallas where I sat in the Network President’s office and told him thanks but no thanks, I was moving to Boston to become a photographer. I think my father died a little bit that day. It took almost 10 years to prove to him that I made the right decision. Even I was beginning to wonder… 


SB: I read that you began your journey at age 10 and worked in the darkroom, then owned an SLR by the age of 11? Did you study photography formally or are you self-taught?

TS: I have had lots of random instruction, from my first darkroom classes in 5th grade to Master classes in NYC and a one year program at the New England School of Photography but I do not have an art degree. I actually have a BA in Mass Communication which has served me remarkably well in this profession. In college, I had extensive training in both creative writing and journalism which has armed me with the ability to write all of my own book text, articles, speeches and endless proposals. Years of public speaking and professional radio experience have been invaluable too. Those first book signing speeches weren’t as daunting as they might have been and I didn’t panic when the CBS Early show came calling-although I was still insanely nervous before the taping. I used to lament not having gone to art school but now I’m actually grateful for having a well-rounded liberal arts education.

SB: Am I correct in assuming that you are primarily a commercial photographer, but you have successfully ventured into the fine art and documentary arena with many of your series/books. How do you balance both worlds? Does one feed the other? Or does the commercial work support your passion?

TS: Quite the opposite actually. I am, for better or worse, a fine art photographer through and through and that is where I earn 95% of my humble income. I actually do very little commercial work at all but am actively trying to change that. Even though I feel that I can offer a unique vision and fill a very specific niche, I have found the commercial realm difficult to break into. 

It is definitely my goal to be able to support myself and my more personal photographic visions with commercial work. My struggle with the books has always been to curb the ‘fine art’ enough for them to be commercially viable. If I were to do publish a monograph for The Hungry Ghost say, I would want it as pure as possible even if it meant a tiny print run but all three of my books with Merrell were cause books that we specifically designed to crossover from fine art to commercial. I could have approached the subject matter differently and made really dark books with intensely personal images and the message might have wowed all five people who would have bought it. As it is, Shelter Dogs has over 60,000 copies in print with a new paperback edition and a Japanese edition. The success of the book undoubtedly launched my career but it has also raised tens of thousands for the ASPCA and hopefully delivers a powerful but palatable message. 


SB: You are also balancing a career in the gallery world with print sales and exhibitions? And you teach also? Where do you teach and can you discuss some of your ongoing involvement in the gallery world?

TS: Every day I feel like I am trying to balance about a dozen vaguely incompatible aspects of my career, each needing its own special set of skills. It’s exhausting. My involvement in the gallery world thus far has been rather schizophrenic and disappointing. My name is somewhat known, but I appear to be stuck in limbo. The book portfolios are too commercial for the galleries and my fine art work is too personal for the publishing world. I assumed that the success of the books would inevitably lead to success in the gallery world, but it has not.  I have had a lot of wonderful responses to The Hungry Ghost as well as my new color series Natural History but only sporadic, group exhibitions so far. Gallery representation has always been a primary goal of mine but so far it has remained elusive. I sell prints directly through my website and now in the case of Natural History, through Photo Eye’s Photographer’s Showcase. I teach an animal photography course of my own creation at Rhode Island School of Design.


SB: The Hungry Ghost is somewhat of a departure from your work with animals, but is strongly linked to your breathtaking color series Natural History. If I were to try and connect all of your work, I’d say they were touching on the metaphorical desire for freedom of spirit, regardless if human or animal. Does that ring true? If you were to summarize your work… What do you think links all of your series?

TS: The Hungry Ghost actually represents my photographic origins far better than any of my other work. For years, I shot exclusively with infrared film; very dark, dramatic narrative portraits with a theatrical bent. The Hungry Ghost is an evolution of that early work with better technical skills, water and a deeper context.

I think there are several things that link all of my work including our innate and inextricable connection with the animal kingdom. I also always seem to seek a certain lyrical, romantic grace in my images. I really like your interpretation best though!


SB: What was the impetus that inspired you to begin shooting your first series Shelter Dogs?   Did you always intend for it to be published in book form? 

TS: Shelter Dogs was born directly from my volunteer work at Providence Animal Control shelter where I am still heavily involved. At the time, it was my job to photograph all of the dogs for internet adoption sites and as the months went by, I would sit at night and stare at the growing number of images I had of dogs that never made it out of the shelter. It was devastating. Those photos seemed to be the only record of their existence. These dogs were completely innocent victims who had suffered one bad turn after another until their lives were abruptly ended. I couldn’t delete them and began wanting to put together a project which would memorialize their short lives. I aspired for it to become a book but never thought it would happen so quickly or be so successful. I have Joan Brookbank, my former editor at Merrell and current agent to thank for that. I met her in portfolio reviews at Review Santa Fe. Fortunately she saw potential in the project (which was only a handful of photos at the time) and took a chance on me. After the boom and strong sales of Shelter Dogs, I had a lot of freedom to choose and mold my next project which I felt absolutely had to be Street Dogs. It was an project I had been aching to pursue for years and finally has the backing to do it. 

SB: What was the impetus for Street Dogs and Wild Horses? Did you shoot the series first, then pursue a publishing deal. Or did you complete the body of work then get a book deal? 

TS: Street Dogs met with a lot of critical acclaim and great press but has in no way been the commercial success that Shelter Dogs was. It’s harder to digest and more harsh in its visual reality. It is my favorite of the three books -perhaps because of the epic journeys that I underwent to shoot it and the intense emotional toll they took on me. 

Wild Horses was a different kind of struggle for me because I had to rely on other’s expertise. Where I consider myself extremely knowledgeable about almost all aspects of dogs and their behavior- I am not in any way, experienced with horses and I think that comes through in the book. It was also the first time I had to “stalk” my subjects. I soon learned that all horses spend about 99% of their lives grazing so you have to be unbelievably patient in order to capture that exciting 1%. I spent many, many hours driving through all imaginable terrain trolling for horses and then many more hours sitting in half frozen Nevada fields, mosquito riddled marshes and sand dunes with howling 25 degree winds waiting for movement. 


SB: You are an avid animal welfare activist. Can you discuss your personal and ongoing involvement as an activist?

TS: I’m not sure that I can even separate activism from my life anymore it has become so ingrained in my every thought and action. This dedication started when I was a child and my passion (as well as anger)  has only grown with time. When I was younger, I felt very hopeless and overwhelmed by the amount of suffering and cruelty that I saw and learned about- but photography has given me a powerful voice.

On a personal level, I have been a strict and fairly militant vegetarian for 25 years now. When I was a teenager in the south, I was literally mocked for not eating meat, but the world has changed quite a bit since then and now we are seeing things like animal welfare ratings in the butcher case at Whole Foods. It’s a small thing that represents a slight but significant shift in public consciousness. My hope is that people are slowly beginning to realize that perhaps animals are not just here to be used and exploited by us. 

I am also huge advocate of volunteerism whether it is with animals, children, a food bank- anything. It is so crucial. The actual work that you do while you are volunteering is only one part of it. Volunteer work inspires empathy and perspective. It’s so easy for all of us to become tragically enveloped in our own individual micro-dramas. Stepping out of that for a little while and doing something purely altruistic is like a breath of pure oxygen. It isn’t just productive for the cause but for our own humanity. If every single person in this world donated just one hour a week of their time, think what we could accomplish.

SB: What is your personal link to water in this body of work?

TS: I am so much happier in water than I ever am on land. It seems to vanquish all of my insecurities and inhibitions as well as bring about a kind of quiet that is usually very elusive in my mind. I think it has a similar effect on my models because they seem to transform in the water. These photos are not just about creating a successful final image but experiencing the reality of the art if even for a minute - actually witnessing and/or respectively becoming the subject and the myth. I could create all of these in Photoshop but then I would be robbed of the incredible pleasure of seeing these characters come to life, completely formed, in front of me. That is what photography has always been to me- a way to make the world look like I want it to. I am an escapist and rarely interested in reproducing stark realities. 


SB: Can you discuss the technical beginnings of this series? I read you began this series while playing with your used canon underwater camera purchased for snorkeling. How did the visualization of this body of work come together? Is it film or digital? 

TS: The Hungry Ghost is digital but has been shot with a succession of inexpensive hobbyist underwater cameras, the most recent of which is a little Pentax Optio. I am often actually in the water shooting and also usually carrying a lot of props and supplies to semi-remote locations where we are able to shoot the models nude in a natural, clear water environment with no gawkers. Even if I had housing for my Nikons (my next purchase, btw) I’m not sure if I would use them for this series. There is a certain innocent, organic grassroots feel to the whole thing that I love. I don’t want to turn it into a Vogue shoot. Someone’s dog is almost always swimming through one of the shots- we leave with filthy, water logged costumes, cuts and scrapes and sunburns- but the images have this raw alchemical beauty. 

It really just started with a cheap little camera and a fascination with underwater photography and costumes. Water allows for endless body positions that are completely impossible on land without rigging or now, completely digital construction. I would go swimming with my friends and snap shots of them which eventually developed into this. All of the models are just my close friends and we make a day of it. I’m fortunate to have such gorgeous, transcendent friends who are not afraid to bare all. I, on the other hand, refuse to be photographed clothed or otherwise. 


SB: Looking back on all of your accomplishments, what are you most proud of today?

TS: I am immensely proud of my books because I feel that each one was a completely unique offering rather than a regurgitation of what has already been done ad nauseum. Hopefully each one also marks a small step forward for their respective causes. Most of all, I am very grateful that I had the blind determination to hang on and keep struggling when everyone around me was hitting 30 and giving up. This is a brutal profession and trading noble aspirations for security becomes almost irresistible at a certain point. I have been rewarded with an unbelievably fulfilling life but I’m very lucky, without the unyielding support of my husband, I would probably be selling insurance now.

SB: What are you working on now?

I have three book projects in the works. Two are about animals, but all are a surprise! Hopefully you will be seeing them on bookshelves soon! 

To see more of Traer’s work, pop over to her website

Highlights: 2011

Less than six months ago, I hatched an idea to begin a blog that showcased talented photographers discussing their work in their own words. Rather than rewriting source material or interpreting what has been said in the past, it was my hope to dig a bit deeper and create a compelling conversation with some remarkable visionaries. And so it was, Underexposed was born.

This blog would not exist without the artists who generously agreed to be interviewed. And it’s my hope to keep you in touch with what their doing yearly by having them report back with their highlights of the year. So without further ado, here are their personal highlights. 

(note: names of photographers are linked to their original features)

Antone Dolezal: 2011 was the year I made the leap of showing my work to the greater photography community and the support from so many others was much more than I had expected. I am naturally inclined to wander the landscape with my camera and watch the birds fly by rather than promote my own photographs. So between David Bram inviting me to show my work in Fraction, my pals at Finite Foto taking me under their wing, the emails of support from a few of my photographic heros, and being featured on Underexposed, my understanding and focus of my own work has certainly changed. A big thanks to my friends for continuously poking me with a stick and helping bring my work to light.

Jane Fulton Alt:  2011 was been a splendid year, one in which I deepened my spiritual life and rediscovered my love for encaustics (beeswax).  

S. Gayle Stevens: In 2011 i have found my voice. it sang out in, through my looking glass.

Leon Taylor: A short cold snap in October followed by a long and mild Autumn meant that I was able to continue my Wild Mushrooms project for much longer than I hoped this year. They were abundant in the woods near to where I live.

Jennifer Schlesinger: Collecting eggs one day in 2011 I thought about how we always have too many, and while my 5 year old’s egg business is booming, we are still left with a plenty. So as I was in a daydream, it occurred to me : ALBUMEN! I have spent the entire year honing the handcoated, 19th Century albumen process and I am excited to debut the beginnings of my new series, “here nor there” in 2012. (However, after losing 5 out of our 11 hens to a hungry, lurking, intruder last week - I will have to almost immediately start the hen raising process all over again come Spring - ah the life cycle). 

Michael Kirchoff: 2011 was an incredible year with solo exhibitions in Los Angeles and New York, as well as my first international exhibit in China. 2012 holds the promise of personal and professional growth that I look forward to embracing with open arms. 

Brigitte Carnochan: I’m happy to say that 2011 is the year I learned to print with platinum/palladium, a process that is so congenial to me I wish I’d started it much earlier. On the other hand, it’s lovely to come to it now because my enthusiasm for the process has charged a whole new body of work: Natural Beauty. The full portfolio can be seen here

Elizabeth Opalenik: I shifted gears in January 2011 and volunteered with a team of eye doctors in Colombia.  It was great to collaborate with two former students, Dr. Joe Fammartino, heading the team, and Rita Villaneuva, who photographed along side me and acted as translator. It is great to give back, especially around sight. Going back to the Amazon this January. More images here.  

Rania Matar: 2011 was a pretty important one for me. A Girl and Her Room received a Massachusetts Cultural Council Artist grant, and won the Legacy Award at the Griffin Museum of Photography.

Half the year was also consumed in producing this body of work into a book due to come out in the spring of 2012, published by Umbrage Editions and with texts by Anne Tucker and Susan Minot.  Here is the book websiteAnd I started a new body of work titled La Femme-Enfant. Above image titles: Lucy 13, Brookline MA, 2011 and Maryam 12, Beirut, 2011

Jonathan Blaustein: 2011 was a crazy year, one that I’ll certainly remember forever. If I had to pick one highlight, it would probably be dropping off a portfolio of my work at the Library of Congress on a great summer day in August. It was such a tremendous honor to have “The Value of a Dollar” project be included as a part of American history, and I got to spend a couple of fascinating hours chatting up the curatorial team as well.

Brad Moore: These three images visually sum up 2011 for me.

Michael Crouser: In 2011 I was incredibly honored to be included in Tim Mantoani’s book Behind Photographs - Archiving Photographic Legends.

Mitch Dobrowner: The personal highlights for 2011 for me would have to include:  

1. Two (2) new limited Edition books published by 21st Editions: Deluxe & Prism

I’ve always wanted to have at least one book published at the highest quality possible before I died (for my kids and grand kids to have). These 2 books are just that… my dreams came true. And note: I’m not planning on dying anytime soon!!
2. The acquisition of prints by 3 museums:  Santa Barbara Museum of Art; Portland Art Museum; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
3. Four solo exhibits: Blue Sky Gallery, Portland; John Cleary Gallery, Houston; Wall Space; Santa Barbara; GADCOLLECTION, Paris
4. Being published by Time Magazine 
5. Having Google (Creative Labs, NYC) create a 2 minute spot for their Search Stories Series. The spot is being shown on their Youtube Channels and broadcast/cable TV: 
6. Most important to me is the creation of new work. The two images that I capture 2011 for me are the shot of an F3 tornado in Regan, North Dakota and the super violent storm cell over Mobridge, South Dakota (images above). I feel very lucky.  

Damion RiceMy personal highlight of 2011 was the night I took this picture: 12th May 2011.

This picture has helped me out this year - it got accepted into the NYPF: Audio/Visual exhibition at the Brooklyn Powerhouse in October and also more recently it got featured in the Jan 2012 issue of B&W Photography (UK).   Beyond that  I love the image - it was from possibly the best gig I went to all year  Iron Chic & Bangers. When great music, friends, beer & Polaroid combine….its hard to beat. 

Lydia Panas:  It has been an exciting and busy year with the publication of my first monograph The Mark of Abel and the beginning of a new set of pictures (yet unpublished) that continue my exploration of relationships and love.  In pursuit of leisure, I found unexpected pleasure by turning my camera towards a piece of fabric and making a series of images about movement, dance and grace.  

Jennifer Shaw: This has been a wildly beautiful year with the release of my first book, Hurricane Story - a long time dream/goal realized thanks to the amazing team at Chin Music Press. And I am honored to have a second book now in the works through North Light Press. But community is really important to me, so I’d like to include the coming together of the photo community, both local and national, to create an amazing PhotoNOLA festival this December as one of my treasured highlights of 2011.

Ken Rosenthal: While 2011 has been a very memorable year for me, the release of my first publication, Ken Rosenthal : Photographs 2001-2009, has been the main highlight. I am very pleased that prints of mine have been added to the permanent collections of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and the Museum of Photographic Arts in San Diego.  

And I commenced work on and have begun releasing prints from a new series, The Forest (selections of which are currently on exhibit at Gerald Peters Gallery in Santa Fe.

Purchase Ken’s book  here or here

Polly Chandler: My highlight for 2011 was landing a spread in the PDN Photo Annual.

Lauren Henkin: This year has been one of freedom—to create, to see, to record, to share, and hope.  I couldn’t have asked for any more.

Susan Barnett: As the Holidays are upon us we are often told that the Holidays mean “family”. Sometimes a Holiday is in fact the absence of family. I found this gal in Union Square Park where she had set up camp as she was homeless and had been on the road for 6 months. Finding this image occurred at a crucial time for me as I was reevaluating my project “Not In Your Face” . It said to me if there are people out there like this they need to be in the series

Sara Jane Boyers: 2011 was a terrific year for me for it included the first solo exhibition at Craig Krull Gallery in Los Angeles (to great critical review!) of Finding Chinatown, my ten-year+ project photographing in the Chinatowns of the United States and Canada (and featured in Underexposed!) 

AND  the commencement of a new personal project: Detroit: Definition, an exploration of the city of my birth, Detroit, Michigan, a city that I do not know since I moved from there in infancy to Los Angeles where I continue to reside.  With Finding Chinatown, I am so pleased to honor the beauty of history, contribution and continued growth of a major immigration to the Americas and with Detroit: Definition, finding the beauty and energy of the place and the people who populate this oft-maligned city.

Finding Chinatown  blog  
Detroit: Definition  blog

Michael SebastianWithout question, the highlight of my photographic year was representing Fraction Magazine at the Lishui Photographic Festival in China. I’m only just beginning to process what I experienced there, and I hope what I saw and learned will be reflected in future work.

Tom M. JohnsonThere were two highlights in 2011, and it’s very difficult to choose between the two.  In October I had a solo show in Paris, however what was most exciting as well as a terrific honor was being featured in the New York Times Lens Blog.

Beth Dow:  I’m working on “Here, Nor There”, a 2-volume book project that messes with space and time, merging images of Greek and Roman antiquities with the local contemporary landscape. The first book, “Roam”, is finished, and I just returned from Greece a few weeks ago with images that will fit into “Polis”. This work is funded by the McKnight Foundation and the Minnesota State Arts Board, and I am deeply grateful for their generous support. When I’m not fabricating a classical history of Minneapolis, I’m distracting myself with several other artist books that I hope to complete this year.

Aline Smithson: 2011 was a wonderful year—some of the highlights included receiving the cover of PDN and being recognized for my teaching, and traveling to China to be part of the Lishui Photography Festival.

Loli Kantor: I was honored to have a solo exhibition last week at PhotoNOLA in new Orleans. The show is at Antenna Gallery at the By Water. The PhotoNOLA folks are all volunteers and are a fantastic and dedicated group of photographers/ artists. 

Tomorrow morning I leave to Ukraine for a solo traveling exhibition and a workshop I will be giving in Kharkov to local photographers in Ukraine during Hannukkah. I was asked after the Chernihiv festival. You can find more info here and here

Stella Johnson: I was honored to have work from Portrait of a Greek Landscape included in: Re-Framing The Feminine. Curated by Dinia Mitrani at Girls Club Collection, Fort Lauderdale, Florida from November 5 to September 30, 2011. I also had photographs exhibited from my monograph Al Sol at National Public Radio, Washington DC during Hispanic Heritage Month, 2011. 

Douglas Stockdale: 2011 was another wonderful year in which I was able to continue developing existing relationships, while making some new acquaintances.

My primary photographic accomplishment for 2011 is the publication of my first trade photobook, Ciociaria by Edizioni Punctum with the photobook launch at FotoGrafia Festivale Internazionale di Roma last September. In early 2012 I hope to have available a limited edition book and print set.

Pivotal for me in 2011 was a deeper understanding of an extended project that I have been working on since 2006. Although I initially developed this as an Aftermath project, I now realize that this project delves much deeper; to help explore memory and its preservation and how that concept relates to my family history.

Brian Kosoff: 2011 was not a particularly productive year for me when it comes to the creation of new images. It was a year of distractions and obligations that kept me from shooting as much as I like. However I did create a few images, and the one posted here relates to why I have chosen to shoot landscape work over other genres.

The image “Dixon Cemetery” was shot in October on a road in New Mexico. The image itself is not revelatory to me in any way but the experience of capturing it was a reminder of why I love landscape. As I usually shoot with a view camera it is necessary for me to arrive at a scene while there is still light sufficient to focus. Once I composed and focused I then waited, and waited, until the sky became dark enough for the stars to appear and for the Moon to provide some illumination of the scene. So I had the opportunity and time, some 9 hours of standing around, to look at the world around me, and better still, to look up at the unfolding sky full of stars, so clear from a 7000’ elevation, that I so rarely see from my sea level and light polluted home sky of New York. For all the travel I have done I cannot recall ever seeing so much of the Milky Way and with such detail. It was better than any planetarium show I had ever witnessed and I was thankful that I was no longer constrained by a life spent in my studio. That all the discomforts and inconveniences of landscape photography, were as insignificant as but one small star in a sea of galaxies.

Peter LiepkeI have had many highlights this year. But quite simply I’m just grateful for the opportunity to continue doing what I love to do, and being able to continue selling work in a very difficult economy. My family, my friends, good health, & doing what I love to do, those are truly the only highlights that really matter to me.

Bruce Haley: "I got to spoil my Australian kelpie for another year."

photo by Isa Leshko

Susan Burnstine: I’ll second Bruce’s highlight as I also got to spend another year spoiling the love of my life, my twenty year-old Australian Kelpie, Blue… who is the reason why Underexposed exists. Since she became so ill, I’ve spent countless sleepless nights awake caring for my girl. And as a means to keep myself awake in the wee hours of the night, Underexposed was born.

Two of my biggest highlights of 2011 were both firsts. The release of my first book,  Within Shadows which earned PX3’s Fine Art Book of 2011…  

And my first album cover & interior booklet for The Guillemot’s Walk The River. When I was a kid, I loved spinning 33’s in my room, reading liner notes, getting lost in cover art and dreaming of creating my own album cover one day. Thanks to designer Mark Tappin, Geffen Records and The Guillemot’s one of my childhood dreams came true.

Sincere thanks and a big hug to all the wonderful photographers who have allowed me to interview them for Underexposed and Black and White Photography (UK)

Wishing you all great light and happiness in 2012. 



In Focus: Brad Moore

Over the years, I’ve found that often I admire work by artists that I later meet and personally adore. And that’s precisely what happened with my pal Brad Moore.

Brad’s images always lighten my day, make me smile and help me see the world through his wonderful, off-beat perspective.  And with the news of the world mostly sounding grim, Brad’s images are a welcome reprieve. 

Earlier this year, I wrote a feature about Brad for F-stop Magazine which I’m reposting here in honor of Christmas as he has a rare and remarkable gift for capturing the personality of trees, pine and otherwise.  

Susan Burnstine: What were your beginnings as a photographer and what makes Brad Moore the photographer he is today? 

Brad Moore: When I was 12 years old, my mother gave me two old Kodak cameras she had as a child. Later in high school, I assembled a darkroom in the bathroom and learned to print black and white and color. I received a Bachelor degree in photography, then I continued school, attending Art Center College of Design. When I was 27 I started a company called Aperion, which made color calibration systems for photo labs. During this time I also had a commercial photography studio, mainly doing advertising work, and my personal work was primarily people. I sold Aperion in 2005, and now focus on fine art photography.

SB: You were born in Southern California and continue to shoot there. Can you discuss why you were personally drawn to photographing 1950’s and 1960’s post-war buildings? 

BM: I didn’t really set out to shoot buildings. About five years ago, I started driving around in some of the areas I had lived in my youth (mostly North Orange County, California). It was strange because my memories didn’t match what I was seeing, it was a bit surreal – so much had changed in the last 20 years. In this context, I started seeing things that interested me. At first, it was buildings, then I began shooting surrounding shrubbery in the same formal, symmetrical compositions. The buildings and shrubs seemed to work well together, and that’s how the project evolved. 

SB: What do you consider your first successful image in this body of work and why? What year was that image photographed and how did you come to shoot it? 

BM: There really isn’t a first single image. In the beginning I photographed aimlessly. I just shot whatever interested me, almost randomly. After I had a group of images, certain common ideas surfaced. I just built on those ideas. Some photographers get an idea first, and execute it. My work is about discovering rather than preconceiving. In this case, the ideas came afterward, from a collection of images. The first images were shot in 2006, primarily in Stanton, California. 

SB: Being a dedicated film user it strikes me that your work impressively appears to be shot on film by a 4x5 but in fact it’s either shot with a medium format digital camera and a DSLR. Can you discuss your technical approach to shooting these images? 

BM: Yes, my earlier images were shot with a DSLR with a shift lens. Later I moved to a medium format digital, which gives me about the same resolution as 4x5. I shoot everything deliberately, on a tripod, really no differently than if I was shooting film. I imagine if I did shoot film, my prints would look pretty much the same. My photographs are shot straight with no special tricks – no clever angles or dynamic lighting. It really forces me to find a great subject. I use Photoshop as a darkroom replacement. I dodge and burn, color correct, and do general image clean up. I don’t digitally construct images. I don’t like post production much, so I try to do as much as possible in the camera. Perhaps spending 20 years working with film curves had a little influence in the way I work with digital files.

SB: You formerly owned a company that created color calibration systems. Has your former professional life informed your present life as a photographer? 

BM: I’m sure it has. We spent a lot of time zeroing out film and paper curves, to get the best possible print from a given film. I suppose I still do this now, but digitally. Basically, I am just trying to get everything to a neutral place, in order to truthfully reproduce the subject. Even though it was highly technical career, it helps me today with non-technical thinking. By developing strong technical habits, there are less variables to worry about, and it frees me to concentrate on the imagery. 

SB: Your photographs almost always contain a humorous or offbeat slant. Some viewers may look at a single image for a moment and fail to see the irony and wit right away. It just sneaks up on them. Is this subtle twist intended or just an organic byproduct of your personal vision? 

BM: You’re right, some people see more than others. Well, any humor is completely unintentional. I think it’s something characteristic in the subjects I find interesting. It just happens, I don’t think about it, and it’s definitely not premeditated. I think it’s amazing to discover quiet subjects with a slight twinkle in their eye. 

SB: By returning to neighborhoods that represent the terrain of your childhood, are you are attempting to recapture or rewrite your romanticized or bright-eyed youthful views and ideals through these images or are you focusing on these neighborhoods for another reason? Can you discuss? 

BM: It’s not entirely clear why I ended up going back to areas where I grew up. Perhaps curiosity, maybe some submerged nostalgic feelings - I’m not quite sure. But, I definitely don’t set out to romanticize or judge the subjects. I never want to insert my past into the subjects – they already are part of my past, and I just want to show the way they are when I see them.

SB: When did you start integrating shrubbery into the terrain you photograph? 

BM: Very early on. Probably on my second or third day shooting I photographed the shrubbery next to a building I was shooting. Initially I thought the buildings and foliage might be two bodies of work, but as I added more and more images, it seemed stronger when the two subjects were intertwined.

SB: Do you scout locations before shooting or do you just drive around and find a location that speaks to you? 

BM: It’s a lot of random driving around. A lot. I shoot mainly on overcast days, so when the weather is right I try to get out to photograph. It’s kind of like surfing, you have to drop everything when surf’s up. Sometimes it’s possible to see something on a sunny day and revisit it when the weather cooperates. But things look and feel different on overcast days, so most often I scout as I shoot, on overcast days. The biggest problem is there are not enough cloudy days in Southern California.


SB: You have a unique color palate and use of light. Can you discuss how you achieve this? 

BM: Well, I do what I can to neutralize the camera and printer, so the palate is true to the subject. Since I shoot on overcast days, the white sky provides a simple background as well as a shadowless, giant softbox-like light. It’s a beautiful light and it helps isolate the subject. The colors are muted and everything appears flattened. Even though I shoot mostly with wide-angle lenses, this soft light gives the images a beautiful depthless quality. In Southern California, where blue skies and harsh shadows are far more common, seeing typical California architecture and foliage with overcast skies is experiencing it out of context, which I like.

SB: You’re working on new images now. Can you tell me a bit about them? 

BM: Yes, I am working on a new series. The project shares a common thread to my previous images, but they look and feel much different. The palette is completely new. However, I’m keeping things under wraps until it’s ready to show.

To view more of Brad’s work pop over to his website

Wishing everyone a very Happy Holiday. 

In Focus: Heidi Kirkpatrick

Last April I had the good fortune of meeting Heidi Kirkpatrick at Photolucida. I was enchanted by her one of a kind creations and featured her in my column American Connection for Black and White Photography Magazine this past October. 

Here’s an excerpt from a chat we had months back.

SUSAN BURNSTINE: What were your beginnings as a photographer and when did you realize it would become your chosen form of expression?

HEIDI KIRKPATRICK: I was a late bloomer to photography. My father in law bought me a “real” camera in 1992. He said he saw something in my “pictures” he liked. After moving to Portland in 1993, I threw myself into photography. I traded one addiction for another. I took every class I could get my hands on, spent copious amounts of time in the darkroom, I found myself. When the first image came up in the tray, I was hooked. 


SB: You live and work in Portland? Are you a full-time photographer? Tell me a bit about your life outside fine art photography.

HK: I am a full time photographer, meaning I practice every day. I teach high school black and white photography at The Northwest Academy. I love to walk, whether it is on the beach in the forest or in my neighborhood. I love to cook and garden, also creative outlets. I have an amazing group of strong women to call friends. I am lucky enough to have the greatest husband in the world, if it wasn’t for his love and support I wouldn’t be answering these questions. I also enjoy being active in the incredible photo community we are so fortunate to have in Portland.


SB: How did this body of work come to life? Did the images come first or the process? Was Specimens first? What are the titles for the other approaches for this work? Are there series titles for other bodies of work? Or do all the works fall under one series? Can you explain your technical approach for each body of work, including the materials that were used.

HK: The first three dimensional pieces I made with family imagery about 10 years ago, mostly my female relatives. I started printing on film instead of paper, I love working with film for its beautiful transparent qualities. I was placing the film positives on the same types of materials I am using in my work today, copper plates, books, blocks and tins.  In 2004 I moved away from the appropriated family imagery and began working with my own photographs. The overall title for this photo object work is “Lost and Found”. There are several series under this title; Souvenirs, women cramped in vintage souvenir boxes, Cigarette Butt, an image of a woman’s butt over a myriad of illustrations ranging from flash cards to cook books to music scores and biology books in souvenir cedar ashtrays, all complete with original glass ashtrays and some with lighters or cigarettes, Plates, reminiscent of 19th century tintypes, on copper and brass plates and Specimens, film positives layered over Gray’s Anatomy pages housed in small metal hinged boxes, referencing cased images of the 1800’s.


SB: Can you discuss the selection of images for this body of work and what they mean to you?

HK: I work with my friends and family for my models. A common thread in my work has been the female figure. Most of the images in this series are anonymous and a lot of times I use only part of the body. Hands, lips, the torso and extremities are recurring images in my work. Hands and lips are major sensory parts of the body.  Most of my pain is in my back and hips, therefore images of the torso and lower extremities are commonly used.


SB: Can you explain your technical process and also include details pertaining to the found objects you use to create your art?

HK: I’m not a big techie. I don’t have a lot of fancy equipment. All of my work is done in my studio, from shooting to assembly. I process and print all of my own work. I print on film, just like paper, open tray process in my darkroom. I love things, especially old things. I try to breathe new life into these found objects by turning them into playful pieces of art. I mostly work with metal boxes and plates and wood blocks, but nothing is sacred.


SB: What inspired you to dissect a copy of Gray’s Anatomy and layer it under your images?

HK: I have experienced a lot of physical pain in my life. Dissecting Gray’s Anatomy helps me work through that. The pages find their way under those closest to me. The images clothe, bind and wrap the body.


SB: Do you select the pages of Gray’s Anatomy for each image in a random or intentional fashion?

HK: Honestly, a little of both. The pages are selected after the image has been printed. I sit at my work table and “work my puzzle” until I find what works visually for me.


SB: What are you working on now?

I am currently working on Plates, Specimens and Mah Jongg tiles. I have some new negatives to process; we will see what comes next.

To see more of Heidi’s work pop over to her website

On The Walls: Michael Levin @ Photo Eye

I first met Michael Levin in 2008 while attending my first Fotofest. Michael was visiting Houston to attend the opening of his solo exhibition at Watermark Gallery, which represented both of us at the time. After getting to know Michael, I wrote a feature about him for Black & White Photography Magazine (UK) which also earned him the cover.

I thought it would be great to have a chat on Underexposed with Michael in honor of the opening of his exhibition Continuum at Photo Eye  this Friday December 16th from 5-7pm. So here’s an excerpt from a chat we had this past week. 


SUSAN BURNSTINE: What were your beginnings as a photographer and when did you realize it would become your chosen form of expression?

Michael Levin: I first picked up a camera in the summer of 2003 and it was at this point my focus shifted from classical guitar to photography. Until then I had spent 20 years diligently studying Flamenco and Classical guitar as a passionate hobby. Once I realized the possibilities of photography I was hooked and decided to commit to understanding the art form full time. Within a year of shooting I had a small portfolio of work that I started showing and this led to a number of galleries representing me. It happened quite quickly and it just seemed like everything aligned in just the right way…. with a lot of work. 


SB: Is there a particular element or aspect of long exposure work that continues to drive you to make photographs?

ML: The aspect of long exposure work that most interests me is the idea of the extended experience captured on a single negative. All the subtle shifts in the sky and water impress on the film over time and the results are never predictable. I also think long exposures elevate the literal translation of a scene into something more and unexpected. During the time that I’ve fired the shutter I have an elevated sense of awareness as I’m trying to anticipate the outcome of what will be impressed on the negative. It seems to me that long exposures have a way of capturing emotions in a given scene that appeal to my senses.  


SB: For years you were shooting with 4x5 film cameras, but you recently made the switch to digital. Can you talk a bit about the transition?

ML: Initially I was a little reluctant to even consider the possibility of shooting digital. I started in 2003 with a Canon D60 and within 6 months I had abandoned it for film. Since 2003 I’ve never had the inclination to explore the advances in digital camera technology. In January 2011, a Hasselblad dealer sent me one of their new H4D cameras to try out for a couple of weeks. I did some tests and I was simply amazed at the quality of the files that rivaled my 4x5 negs and surpassed my Hasselblad film negs. Since I travel overseas a considerable amount I always have to deal with the challenges of film and x-ray, which I no longer have. There are a number of other beneficial factors that working with digital has provided for me.  


SB: Your first book, Zebrato, earned a multitude of awards (IPA and PX3) and was a tremendous seller. Do you have plans to do another book in the future?

ML: I was very fortunate with the book Zebrato, as it seemed to resonate with quite a large audience. I think there were a number of factors that contributed to its success and I can only hope that my next book does as well. I’m just putting the finishing touches on the new book and we’re looking at a release in late 2012.  


SB: Can you discuss the collection of images that will be displayed in your exhibition at Photo Eye Gallery?

ML: The images in the show are a mixture of new and old. I tend to let negatives sit around and “mature” for a few years before I’m able to see their potential. In this show there are “new” old images in the sense that I shot them in 06/07 but am just getting around to printing them in 2011. Initially something pulled me to the water’s edge and this is where the majority of my images were shot. In more recent years that stage has expanded as I find my curiosity is taking me in different areas. For the past couple of years my images have taken on a more contrasty, graphic look, bold structures and industrial sites. These new images are balanced between some of my older images and will be exhibited at Photo- Eye.


SB: What are you working on now?

ML: For the past 6 months I’ve been working on a completely new body of work that I’m still developing conceptually. The use of the digital camera has enabled me to see the results immediately and this had lead me in a new direction, in terms of possibilities that I didn’t have with film.

In August I traveled to Berlin to photograph and explore the urban environment. While I was there the ideal changed into something else and became another project which is now my central focus. It actually started with one image that gave me a visual direction and a narrative to follow. Going forward these new ideas will take me through China, France and South America over the next 10 months.

Several months ago filmmaker Brad Kremer traveled to Japan to film me for a project that I was working on which also turned into something more. He released a short video on Vimeo http://vimeo.com/24665710 several months ago and we’re now going to expand on this idea and make it a much larger project. So, there are a number of interesting things to look forward to in the near future.

Continuum will be on display from this Friday December 16th until February 4, 2012. For details and directions pop over to photo eye

Purchase Michael’s book Zebrato at photo eye bookstore

And to see more of Michael’s work pop over to his website 

In Focus: Lauren Henkin

Last September, I featured Lauren Henkin in my column American Connection for Black and White Photography (UK). At the time, we chatted mostly about her newest handmade book release at the time, Silence Is An Orchard.  Since then, Lauren has been extremely busy with her newest releases, Deck of Chords and The Lookbook Series: Volume I: Growth. 

Our conversation below primarily took place last Spring, but Lauren was kind enough to update the latest details about her two newest projects. 

SUSAN BURNSTINE: What were your beginnings as a photographer and when did you realize it would become your chosen form of expression?

LAUREN HENKIN: I started photographing while studying architecture in college. That education afforded opportunities to learn a variety of artistic mediums—painting, drawing, sculpture, furniture design, graphic design—and photography. I had access to a tiny darkroom and was lucky enough to be able to work one-on-one with an architectural photographer, who, for some reason, saw a spark of talent, and took me under his wing.

I had been photographing casually on and off since college, but things changed when my dad took me to see a retrospective of Harry Callahan’s work at the National Gallery of Art.  I had given a presentation of Callahan’s work to a group of architects in college and, after learning so much about him, felt that he was the epitome of artistic ability. I knew, when I finally saw his prints in person, that I didn’t care how long it would take, but I wanted to make photographs that would equal his in beauty.  They left me breathless.  From there, I started taking intensive workshops and reading whatever I could find to hone my technical abilities, especially in printmaking.  I took intensive workshops with George Tice and Tyler Boley, both of whom are master printers, one with silver, the other with pigment.  Once I had the foundation and skills to be able to make the kind of prints I wanted, I began to build the conceptual foundation for my work—stories of impermanence, loss, and what survives.


SB: You live and work in Portland? Are you a full-time photographer? Tell me a bit about your life outside fine art photography.

LH: Yes, I’m a full-time photographer.  I’m also a full-time graphic artist.  I seem to work all the time.  Between making images, printing photographs, scanning, writing, speaking, interviewing for Photo Radio, and now publishing books, any pre-existing boundary between work and life is extinct.  My life is my work.  I grew up in Washington, DC, but moved to Portland nearly 3 years ago.  What little time there is outside of the arts is spent getting to know the Pacific Northwest.


SB: How long have you been creating handmade books? How did you learn the art form? Can you briefly discuss your previous books?

LH: I’ve now published three of my own books and two with collaborators.  My foray into book arts began in 2009 when I prepared a book dummy for Photolucida’s portfolio reviews.  I was presenting a body of work, Displaced, which was a series of photographs I took about coping with the end of my marriage.  It was an extremely personal series, and I knew, once I saw it in book format, that the book was the most effective presentation medium for the photographs.  I felt, from the beginning, that I didn’t want to publish a print-on-demand book.  I wanted my abilities as a printmaker to become part of the story and for the hand-binding and letterpress printing to convey the feeling of a personal diary more than a traditional photographic monograph.

With a boost from the feedback I received at Photolucida, I applied for, and received, a large grant to publish Displaced in an edition of 60.  From that point on, I spent a great deal of time figuring out the details by going outside the photography community and talking to other book artists and bookbinders.  Inge Bruggeman, a very accomplished printer and book artist in Portland was of great assistance to me as was John DeMerritt, an incredible bookbinder in the San Francisco area. 

I haven’t been trained at all in book arts.  But, I can look back, on the history of my working life and trace the steps I took, the jobs I worked, the books I studied, and see how they each offered some small skill that led to my current interests.  I used to be a book designer at a small museum in Washington, DC.  I designed mostly academic publications there, but the process of laying out text and images day-after-day, choosing appropriate typography, and preparing files for pre-press was invaluable.  As an architect, you are continually challenged with material considerations, scale, and problem-solving.  I have continually drawn on those experiences as well.

After a long production process, Displaced was completed in the middle of 2010. Between the grant, corporate sponsorship, and pre-sales, I was at a break-even point right when the book was completed which enabled me to start on my second book, Silence is an Orchard.


SB: How did Silence is an Orchard come to being? You mentioned that the first image was shot in Maine and you subsequently went back to shoot. Can you detail the origin of this project?

LH: This series was born in 2008.  I visited Acadia National Park in Maine and while walking on one of the many carriage roads, I found an unusually beautiful and sculptural tree (Silence 14), which is the last image in the series.  The image of that tree lingered, and I knew that I wanted to return.  I went back in the summer of 2009 and instead of photographing more images of that tree, I decided to study the field around it, I guess as a way of selecting one object and investigating it, to tell its story through its surroundings. Native American writer N. Scott Momaday wrote, “Once in his life a man ought to concentrate his mind upon the remembered earth. He ought to give himself up to a particular landscape in his experience; to look at it from as many angles as he can, to wonder upon it, to dwell upon it.” Silence is an Orchard is about my surrender to that land.

I’ve spent a significant amount of time in Maine. It is the place that, for me, most evokes the idea of “home.” It has been a place of personal growth and a comfort in times of despair. It was where I learned to see, and where I want to be consoled someday if my vision fades. 

It felt natural to go back there and photograph. It was extremely quiet, where the sound of reeds blowing in the wind was like a river—a burial ground but also full of life.  When I returned to the spot I found in 2008, I decided to build a small portfolio of images by documenting the perimeter of this solitary place. In and out of the light and grasses, a place for quiet. I knew that it would end up being my second book—I wanted to take others on the path I had followed.

For this book, I wanted to do something a little different from Displaced. Displaced is a novel, a long, slow-building story of loss and renewal. Silence is a short story.  I wanted it to feel more organic, less of a conventional case-bound photographic portfolio and more of an artist’s book, which led, for example, to my printing the images on Japanese kozo paper along with other design and aesthetic decisions.


SB: What does the series Silence is an Orchard mean to you personally?

LH: It means many things.  Personally, artistically, and even financially, it was a turning point. 

I make quiet work, photographs of the ordinary. If I can convince a viewer that it’s worthwhile to invest in looking at images of one field, to challenge them to see the beauty that I do, then there is great satisfaction for me in that, both for artistic growth, but also from cultural and environmental understandings as well.  

When I started publishing, I chose to make handmade books because I felt, conceptually, that it fit my work perfectly.  I have realized, since going down this path, that there really aren’t many photographers out there making handmade, fine press books.  Unbeknownst to me, I was doing something more unique than I realized and that has enabled me to widen my audience further than I anticipated.  The attention given to the books both from the photographic and fine press communities has brought my work more notice, more shows and access to other artisans working in this medium that I may not have had.

When I was in Nova Scotia photographing Displaced, I had in my mind that I was gathering materials for a book.  At that time, self-publishing was not as viable as it is today, so I wasn’t really sure if I was kidding myself.  With the publication of Silence is an Orchard, I have reached a level of certainty that I can produce books of my own design, my own imprint, and know that there will be an audience for them.  That knowledge, and security, now affords me more liberty to take risks and to publish more frequently.  There is no greater gift an artist can receive than that of freedom to do what they want, and this book has given me that.


SB: Can you discuss the involvement of the four other women in this project and how you all came to work together? 

LH: I am a strong believer that working with other artists, who share your design aesthetic and possess high levels of artistic capabilities, inevitably elevates your own art. At this point, after working with others so closely, I can’t imagine not collaborating in some way.  I know my own limits. I’m a good writer, but not a great one.  I’m certainly not a qualified bookbinder or letterpress printer.  I knew I wanted to incorporate the best of these disciplines and when the time came to enlist the four other women who participated in this book, it felt like a natural undertaking because I already had a clear idea in my mind of who these other artists were.

When starting, I didn’t know there would be so many artists involved. I definitely wanted to work with Inge Bruggeman again and she was the first person I requested be involved.  Then, I asked Sandy Tilcock to bind the books. Sandy is a phenomenal box-maker, binder and printer.  Kirsten Rian is a Portland poet, curator and a good friend of mine.  We’ve worked together on numerous projects and she offered to write a poem which became “Fieldnotes,” the only text in the book.

I struggled with what to do for the cover.  Something didn’t feel right about putting one of the images on the front.  What I wanted was to imply what was to come, but not give it away.  Inge had introduced me to the work of printmaker Sarah Horowitz.  I had followed her work for some time, and felt that she shared my love of the organic. I met Sarah, and after talking with her about the project, I felt comfortable about having her draw and print an original etching for the covers.  I gave her one image (Silence 14) as inspiration to work off of.  There were no proofs to see, no edits, no changes.  She had one shot to get it right as she was drawing directly onto the copper plate.  It was a risk and I’m sure some wonder why I would have a book of photographs with an etching on the cover.  But, I feel now, seeing what she printed, that it was the right decision.


SB: I have noticed a large amount of photographers making handmade books in the Portland area. There is even one of the few galleries dedicated to book arts (23 Sandy). Do you feel there’s a reason for this particular art form being frequently practiced in your area?

LH: I do, yes.  First, there is a large books arts community here and it’s growing.  In fact, I believe 23 Sandy is the only gallery in the United States showing book arts that has such an emphasis on photography, and Laura Russell, the gallerist, has been instrumental to educating us all on this art form. Second, Portland itself is large enough to have the resources to support it’s artistic community (Powell’s Books, the largest used and new bookstore in the world, is in Portland, along with wonderful independent book shops showing contemporary art books like Ampersand Vintage and Monograph Bookwerks), but small enough to where I’m pretty aware and know personally many of the other artists working in this medium.

Raymond Meeks, who has been very inspiring, helpful and encouraging to me, moved to Portland almost exactly when I did. Having him here, as available and giving of information and resources as he is, and having access to his books is a huge advantage to those of us who are trying to learn and push this medium forward. Our community is small, but talented and active, enabling us to talk, share and in many ways, push each other farther than if we were each working independently. 

Finally, I would add that much of the inspiration I’ve had has come from book artists that aren’t photographers.  I quickly ventured out of the photography world to talk to other book artists in Portland like Inge Bruggeman and Rory Sparks, both of whom have helped me tremendously.  There is a very active book arts community in San Francisco as well which adds to a wider regional influence and opportunity for education.


SB: What is the edition of the book? Do you offer individual prints for sale?

LH: Silence is an Orchard is an edition of 30.  Yes, I definitely offer individual prints for sale.  I treat my prints and books as almost two different mediums.  What works for the book (size, paper, toning) might not be appropriate for the prints.  For example, with Displaced, I printed the images in the book at 7” x 7”, but the prints start at 12” x 12” and go up to 30” x 30” which offers a very different viewing experience.


SB: Do you always photograph with a book in mind as the end result or do you create images for other purposes?

LH: I thought that after completing these two handmade books that I would inevitably photograph with a book in mind.  And that’s probably how most of my projects will be.  The more difficult question for me now isn’t whether a body of work should be a book, but what kind of book should it be. I think it really depends on how dependent the individual images are on being seen in the context of an entire series versus independently.


SB: What have you been working on since Silence is an Orchard?

LH: I’ve been working on a new body of work called Growth which recently showed at Newspace Center for Photography. Like my previous projects, this series, which began in 2009, connects an internal experience with the external.  It focuses more on the urban landscape, with images of trees, weeds, shrubs and other vegetation growing in places where they shouldn’t be.  At times invasive, at times, reclaiming, it’s hard to know whether to champion these subjects or whether to get out a pair of garden shears.  For the last eight years I’ve struggled with health issues related to invasive growths in my own body.  By photographing these plants growing, thriving and struggling to renew some part of the urban landscape, I’m finding an unexpected beauty and peace with the unwanted growths in me that have prompted two major surgeries over the last two years and most likely more in the future.

I just published the first of a new series of small books. The Lookbook Series will serve as an introduction to new portfolios as I intended them to be seen—in print. The first in the series, Volume I: Growth was just completed and I’m really happy with this format for presenting new work.

I also partnered with Kirsten Rian again to produce Deck of Chords, a playing deck of cards that combines my images from another unpublished body of work titled The Lines Between Us and her poems. This was an incredibly fun project to work on together and the response has been phenomenal.

In addition, for the first time I published the work of another artist.  Under my imprint, Vela Noche, I published a book of black and white images of Dale Schreiner’s titled Thereafter about his struggle in coming to terms with the unanswerable questions that follow a violent crime and the forced acceptance of events beyond our control.  This was a huge accomplishment for me.  I’ve never published someone else’s work before, so there was a different and exciting challenge to bringing that work to life, with the end result being something I am extremely proud of.


SB: Do you have any exhibitions, events or upcoming books/projects?

LH: I have a solo book show (my first ever) coming up in May of 2012 at 23 Sandy Gallery (http://www.23sandy.com/) here in Portland which I am preparing for. Hopefully, I will be able to present two new handmade books, one of an existing series called Still Standing, Standing Still, and another of completely new work. 

I will also be doing more teaching in 2012 which I really love.  I have two how-to self publish workshops coming up, a two-day version in April at Lúz Gallery in Victoria, BC and a week-long experience at the Maine Media Workshops in July.  I’m also teaching an intensive portfolio building workshop at Newspace Center for Photography which begins in January.


SB: Where or how can people purchase these books?

LH: Lúz Gallery, Wessel and Lieberman in Seattle, and Ampersand Vintage here in Portland have all of my books available for viewing and purchase. Carte Blanche in San Francisco, also carries Deck of Chords and The Lookbook Series Volume I: Growth.

Buyers can also purchase directly from my imprint, Vela Noche.

To see more of Lauren’s work pop over to her website

In Focus: John Cyr

John Cyr’s Developer Trays is a fascinating series that makes me long for those glorious days in the darkroom. When reviewing John’s portfolio in this year’s Critical Mass, I found myself returning to view it several times. What I found particularly compelling was that each tray symbolized a fingerprint as such, offering clues into the psyche of the artist that used it prior.

A bit about the series…

Developer Trays: From the mid nineteenth century until today, silver gelatin printing has been one of the most utilized photographic processes.  From classic reportage to fine art photography, the majority of it was performed in a black and white darkroom until the mid-1970’s.  As recently as 2000, black and white darkroom classes still served as the location for introduction to photography courses. The digital advances in photography over the past ten years have been remarkable.  I am photographing available developer trays so that the photography community will remember specific, tangible printing tools that have been a seminal part of the photographic experience for the past hundred years.  By titling each tray with its owner’s name, I reference the historical significance of these objects in a minimal manner that evokes thought and introspection about what images have passed through each individual tray.

Here’s an excerpt from a recent chat John and I had about the work. 

SUSAN BURNSTINE: What were your beginnings as a photographer and when did you realize it would become your chosen form of expression?

JOHN CYR: It all started for me as a freshman in high school.  I was fortunate enough that my school had a strong arts department that offered three photography classes. By the end of my sophomore year, I had taken all the classes and then continued with two years of independent studies.  This was in the late 90’s, and all the classes were taught with black and white film.  I had always been interested in creating art, but I was never as technically proficient as I wanted to be in the mediums of drawing, painting and sculpture.  This limitation drew me deeper into photographic explorations.  I quickly realized that I was comfortable creating work by picking up my camera and choosing my personal vision that I was then able to share with my peers through a photograph. The more I excelled technically and creatively, the more I wanted to continue photographing.  By the time I was in college, I knew that photography was going to the medium that I would pursue for the rest of my life.


SB: You are a master silver printer. Was this part of your motivation behind shooting this series? If not, can you discuss what your personal impetus for photographing developer trays?

JC: This was a major motivation for my project.  As we all know, most photographers today are working digitally.  I wanted to create a body of work that could represent the transitory state of photography over the past fifteen years: the shift from analog to digital.  I began this project while I was getting my thesis at the School of Visual Arts. While struggling to develop a strong concept to pursue for my thesis, I was spending a lot of time printing some silver prints in my darkroom for a few clients.  I found myself staring at my developer tray for countless hours.  I took my tray out of the darkroom and photographed it, first as a flat abstract, and then as the entire tray.  When I included the whole tray as opposed to just a fragment of it, I discovered that the image would take on an entirely different meaning.  The tray represents an important and conceptually significant tool that is used in the chemical process of silver gelatin printing.  After I had photographed my own tray, I decided to try and contact other photographers that have printed for many years in a darkroom.  As unique as the photographers that have used them, each developer tray that I have photographed has its own colors, scratches, stains and silver deposits that are present as a direct result of how the artist has handled them through the years.  I see each image that I have taken as a photographic fingerprint of the disappearing process of silver gelatin printing.


SB: Is this series ongoing or complete?

JC:  My Developer Tray series is near completion.  At this point, I have photographed 65 trays.  I have a few more appointments one the next month, but for the most part, I am working on putting together book proposals.


SB: You were able to photograph trays from some of the most notable contemporary photographers. How did you gain access to photographing all of these trays?

I started by using all the connections that I had to get as many emails, phone numbers and addresses that I could.  Then, nearly every visit to a photographer’s studio would end with me sitting down with the photographer for a conversation where they would often list off a few of their friends and colleagues that they may be able to connect me with.  I would not have been able to photography many of the 65 trays that I have amassed without the help and support of all of the photographers, historians and archivists that I have worked with.  Once I had gone through all of the readily available connections, I did a lot of research that led me to families of deceased photographers, the names of the last assistants that photographers worked with, and various obscure studio locations.  The deeper I got into this project, the more photographers agreed to be part of it.  Once I had a respectable list well known photographers that had allowed me to photograph their trays, I think that the photographers I was contacting realized the vast extent of the archive that I was creating and were generally enthusiastic about being part of it. 


SB: You photographed each tray much like a museum might catalog archeological finds of such (which I loved). Was this the intent? Or perhaps your aim to keep the images regimented in a manner to communicate a consistent typology?

Consistency is essential in this project.  I wanted to create an archive of historical trays that could be viewed either individually or in a group.  By shooting them under the same lighting  conditions and perspective, viewers are able to compare and contrast the similarities and differences inherent in each developer tray.  I also decided early on that I would make the size of the trays the same in my photographs, regardless of what the original size may be.  As a result, 8 x 10 inch trays are presented the same size as 30 x 40 inch trays.  

SB: Did you travel to photograph the trays or were they sent to you to photograph at your studio?

In my Developer Tray project, the production of the images is an experience unlike any other project that I have produced in the past.  While a few photographers have mailed me their developer trays so I could photograph them in my Brooklyn studio, all of the other trays have been photographed either at the photographer’s home or studio.  I have been fortunate enough to photograph Bruce Davidson’s developer tray by the natural light of his New York City apartment, Sally Mann’s developer tray in the backyard of her farm in Virginia, Abelardo Morell’s on the floor of his Massachusetts studio’s darkroom floor, as well as numerous others in various locations throughout the country. Nearly each visit came with an intimate discussion with the photographer or one of their surviving family members in reference to the importance of silver gelatin printing in regards to their work, creating unique exchanges that I have enjoyed thoroughly. 


SB: Was there a one image with this body of work that you are most proud of or perhaps one tray that embodies the complete spirit and intent of this series? 

JC: Each tray is important to me for for its own unique reasons, but the tray that I knew I had to get ahold of was that of Ansel Adams.  Early on this this project I was able to get in touch with Michael Adams, Ansel’s son, and he invited me out to his home in Carmel, California.  I subsequently set up a trip to California where I photographed the trays of ten West coast photographers in ten days. Setting foot in the house that Ansel lived and walking in his darkroom, which is still set up as it was when he passed, was a magical experience for me.  As far as silver printing goes, no one was more proficient than Ansel.  He is also one of the most well known american photographers.  I knew that being able to include Ansel’s tray could broaden my project’s appeal to those that do not have an extensive history of photography.  


SB: Was there one tray that you wish you could have photographed, but weren’t able to? Or if the series is ongoing, are there any trays you hope to photograph in the future? 

JC: There are a few photographers have said that they do not want to be part of my project. Other photographers or photographer’s archives have either thrown away their darkroom equipment or do not know of its whereabouts.  The latter is true for the trays of Richard Avedon, Diane Arbus, Irving Penn, Berenice Abbott, W. Eugene Smith and many more.  While I am in the process of finishing up the shooting aspect of my project, I don’t think that I would ever turn down the opportunity to photograph a historical tray whenever it may be. 


SB: What are you working on now? Can you tell us a bit about your personal works other than Developer Trays? 

JC: At the moment, I am not woking on any other photographic works.  I am just working on putting the Developer Tray project in a book.  I am excited about starting a new project, and have a few ideas, but it is just a matter of time.  In my professional life, I am making silver gelatin prints for an exhibition for the photographer Barbara Mensch that will be at the Robert Anderson Gallery in New York in January. 

I have always make photographic documents of subjects that interest me.  In my earlier work, I found an importance in focusing on what is close to me.  I documented the area around the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn, NY because I was living in the neighborhood and witnessed a historically polluted commercial zone unsuccessfully attempt to shift to residential zoning during the midst of the housing crisis.  I also created a project titled All the For Lease Storefronts on 14th Street on April 6th, 2009  while I was working a few blocks away during a time when my employer, a black and white photo lab, was forced out of a space they had for the past 15 years due an extreme rent increase.  This project also served as my first attempt to deal with the demise of analog photography.  Shot on expired film and printed on expired paper, this work referenced both the financial collapse of the time as well as what seemed to be the gradual disappearance of analog photographic materials.


SB: Do you have any upcoming exhibitions?

I have an exhibit at Connecticut College in New London, CT titled Distinguished Alumni that is in honor of the college’s centennial celebration and runs from January 27th to February 24th.  I will also be showing in Catherine Edelman’s booth at AIPAD from March 29th to April 1st in New York City.

To see more of John’s work, pop over to his website.  


In Focus: Lydia Panas

Late last night, I returned from teaching a weekend workshop at Luz Gallery in Victoria BC and was thrilled the new book by Lydia Panas, The Mark of Abel, arrived in my mailbox while I was away.  

I’ve known Lydia for many years and I adore her as a person and artist. Her exceptional portraiture is compelling, honest. timeless and powerful. And her first book delivers on every level. 

In celebration of Lydia’s wonderful new book, here’s an excerpt from a chat we had about her career and the recent release of The Mark Of Abel

SUSAN BURNSTINE: What were your beginnings as a photographer and when did you realize it would become your chosen form of expression?

LYDIA PANAS: After graduating with a BA in Psychology, I went back to art school for graphic design, hoping to work in the art field, and took a class in Photography.  I studied with a professor who helped me realize that I had something to say, and this changed everything.  I found that with a camera, I could express my vision with a directness that I had previously been unable to communicate. It was a sea change in how I saw myself, and my sense of worth as an artist. This also speaks to my interest in teaching. Students tell me that important changes happen for them in my classes. I imagine they feel something akin to what I felt.


SB: You created a number of series prior to your seminal body of work The Mark of Abel, which focused on portraits of family members and their relationships. What was your personal impetus for creating this body of work?

LP: I worked in Black & White photography for about twenty years and had no experience in color to speak of.  I wanted to spend less time in the darkroom and more time shooting, so I tried color film, mostly to get out of the darkroom, and to give myself a challenge. I had also recently seen the Diane Arbus show at the Met, which is where the title quote comes from, in which Arbus speaks to the idea of success and failure.  The series came together partially, because I was conscious of doing something that was frightening for me.  Namely, inviting people to pose for me, taking the time to look at them without a preconceived notion of what I was going for, and allowing myself the luxury of simply looking and shooting what I felt in the context of people who were not immediate family.  As simple as it sounds, this was a challenge for me at the time.  It was also exciting and I allowed myself to go for it.  Each time I got the film back, I experienced a thrill on many levels, so I continued.  It took me a while to understand exactly what I was doing. 

SB: You have written in your statement for The Mark of Abel. “The photographs ask that we look deeper than the surface for what lies underneath; that complex part of our own personalities we often don’t see.” What does family mean to you (or how do you personally define “family”) and how do you think your perspective about family orchestrated this incredible body of work?

LP: Family is important to me.  My parents came to this country from Greece, just before I was born, then we moved back to Greece for a number of years, and finally came back to the states. I felt like an outsider both here and there.  I did not fit easily into either culture.  These experiences taught me to watch to see who people were, and how they communicated. I became fascinated by how people choose to present themselves.  My mother often spoke to the importance of family, as did my cousins who watched us come and go every summer.  I think our move to the states was complicated for everyone. 

Family relationships can be complicated.  Sometimes loyalty puts us in positions that are not in our best interest.  I was often motivated by what was good for others, and not necessarily for myself.  I had to learn to do things for me.  This body of work speaks to how complex family histories are, and how we wear our devotions. The following series “Falling from Grace…”  speaks more directly to the idea of how deviating from someone else’s expectations can sometimes be our own grace.

SB: Is there one image in this body of work that speaks to you more so than others, perhaps because it cuts to the heart and soul of what The Mark of Abel means to you? 

LP: My images are like my children. I have the same amount of love for all of them. Each one however speaks to a different feeling, and together, they speak to a greater whole. When seen collectively they converse, and give the viewer a fuller experience of my vision.

The first image I made in the series is “Tatiana”.  I cherish that picture for how easily it came about and how it inspired me to begin this series about family relations. This image is ambiguous and telling, loaded and subtle at once. Another image that especially speaks to me is “Portrait of a Young Man”. It articulates how some members of a family wear the complexity of the family more explicitly than the others.  Another noteworthy picture is  “Aimee Lubczanski and her Sister”, which speaks to the things we close our eyes to.  One sister looks at us directly, while the other closes her eyes.  As significant as these specific images are to the series, all of the images work together to fill in the gaps and tell a larger story.


SB: Your newest body of work, Falling From Grace “presents a feast; fruit, vegetables, meat, fish, cake. It is not clear whether they provide nourishment or taunt us with the gifts. They appear to offer and withhold at once.” The tone and meaning has greatly shifted from your last body of work, which focused on relationships between individuals versus a single relationship with the metaphorical complexities of nourishment. Can you discuss the shift toward this quieter, more personal and secluded body of work? 

LP: The pictures from the  “Mark of Abel” series ask the viewer to interact with them, the  “Falling From Grace…”  series, even more so.  I not only look at the model, but I work out a relationship with them.  When there is only one model it becomes more personal, maybe more intimate.  I necessarily fall kind of in love with the person I am shooting, I feel very close to them.  I feel protective of them, careful not to abuse the power I have as photographer, but still remain true to my own needs.

This series is about connections, relationships, and trust.  The portraits have a tentative connection to the viewer.  This leaves the viewer in an un-comfortable position, not knowing how to respond to the serious person holding a strange piece of food.

The models seem to offer (when images are seen together they offer a kind of feast) but also withhold the food.  One is not quite sure.  Are they offering nourishment, or are they taunting us with the offer?

The series is called “Falling from Grace..” and seems to refer to forbidden fruit and what we are entitled to. 

This work moves more into the realm of conceptual work, like some of my earlier Black & White series.


SB: Congratulations on your much-anticipated release of your first book The Mark of Abel published by Kehrer Verlag and due out March of 2012. Can you tell us a bit about the design process, cover selection, sequence edit and choices you made for the book?

LP: I wanted to make a book about this work for a long time. It has a kind of narrative, My influences are more literary than photographic, and seeing this work in a book with 52 images, helps make sense of my vision.  The entire process was a lot of fun, albeit extremely stressful, with so many decisions that felt very final, and often not sure which direction to go with.  I had many sleepless nights worrying about if I had made the right decision, including title, cover image, selection of images to include, sequence edit, back cover image, and so on.  The designer at Kehrer, Katharina Stumpf, was wonderful, really sweet and a good listener.  She was patient and eased me through the process.

We thought  a lot about the typeface and layout of the essays, which are an integral part of the book.  The two essays approach the series in very different ways and help fill in much of the nuanced aspect of the work. I was very lucky to have both Maile Meloy a well known author, who writes very sensitively about families, speak to the work, and George Slade who wrote an interesting essay about the directness of the work, and how the models seem as empowered as the photographer.

SB: Did you work directly with the designer in Germany? Where you able to be on press? If so, do you feel it was a worthy experience for the process?

LP: I worked directly with the designer. We sent pdf’s back and forth and were in constant contact during the design process. I went to Heidelberg, Germany for a week to be on press. It was a great experience and the reproductions are beautiful.  Being there made a big difference. I highly recommend it.


SB: You have a trade and Limited Edition book available with a choice of three prints. You are offering the limited edition at a very affordable price of 150.00. Most limited edition books fall in the range of 350.00-750.00 USD. Can you discuss why you opted to offer the limited edition at such an incredible price? 

LP: The economy mostly, and the holidays coming up. It is a slow time for print and book sales these days, and I would like to make the set affordable to the people who have been so supportive of my work.  I did not opt for a box set at this time as it would have been expensive to produce, though it may be an option in the coming months if this edition sells out.


SB: You are offering a pre-sale of the book currently. Can you give me links and details about how long the pre-sale will be available? Will the price of the Limited Edition increase after the pre-sale is complete?

LP: Yes, the price will go up as the Limited Edition sets sell.  It may be before the pre-sale ends if they continue to sell the way they have so far. Pre-Sales are going through WallSpace Gallery in Santa Barbara, Fraction Magazine and through my website.

SB: You have a number of upcoming shows to support the book. Can you list the details?

The Mark of Abel, Allentown Art Museum. February 11 – April 15, 2012

(Lecture and Book Signing on February 24)


Falling From Grace… WallSpace Gallery, Santa Barbara, CA. March 1 – April 1, 2012


The Mark of Abel. Athens House of Photography. Athens, Greece April 1 – May 2012.

(Portraiture Workshop, Lecture and Book Signing)


Falling From Grace… Inter-Art FoundationAiud, Romania. August 2012

(Lecture and Book Signing)


The Mark of Abel. Rayko Photo Center, San Francisco, CA. September 2012


To see more of Lydia’s work pop over to her website