Gallery Talk

Gallery Talk - Jake Salyers

Jake Salyers is a photographer living in Brooklyn, New York. He won the prestigious World Nomads International Photography award and traveled to Oman to explore and capture the historic town of Muscat, its spectacular architecture, arid desert, and fascinating culture.

Tell us about your background and how you became a photographer. 

I’m originally from Atlanta, Georgia. During my junior year in college, I studied abroad in Tanzania. For this trip, and for my 21st birthday, my parents gifted me my first camera, a Canon T1i. It was there in East Africa that I became fully hooked on photography. The camera made me connect with the world around me in a way that I had’t experienced before and I became obsessed. My early work focused on documentary photography.

After college, I returned to the continent and lived in South Africa for a year. I worked at a local documentary TV show, Street Talk TV. We made short documentaries about Cape Town’s townships and the people that lived there. During the week we would go into the townships to produce that week’s show and in the weekend’s I would go back  to meet up with the folks I had met, and to photograph where they lived. I won the World Nomads scholarship with a photo essay that I made about my friend Waqa - a Gugulethu resident and township Hip-Hop star - and his group of friends.

After South Africa, I moved to Brooklyn and have been living and working there ever since. 

Winning the prestigious World Nomad scholarship contest and traveling to Oman must have been a pivotal moment in your career as a photographer. How did it influence the work that came after that trip? 

Winning the contest showed me that this was something I could be good at and make a career out of it. Discovering photography late in my college years was slightly unsettling as it side-tracked me from what I thought I’d be doing with my life. But winning the contest validated this new direction and was a huge boost to my confidence. The most rewarding aspect of winning the competition was to be able to work with Jason Edwards, a leading National Geographic photographer, as a mentor.  He taught me to slow down and focus on being in the moment. Many things we experienced and the events we witnessed, like an early morning camel race, had the potential to become quickly overwhelming and get out of hand. Working alongside him taught me that to remain calm and focused on the work in front of us was critical to being successful. 

This trip taught me what it would take to create images at a very high level and what I still had to learn in order to reach that level of consistency. It took me a few years to put all I had learned into practice, but the immediate effect of this experience was that it instilled the belief in myself that I could do this. 

Many of your photos have this intense richness with highly saturated colors and a razor-sharp subject matter. What type of camera or technique do you use to accomplish this result? 

When I’m shooting digitally, my process focuses on creating files that I can then take back to my computer for further processing. After the primary task of framing the composition is locked in, my exposure is then dictated by capturing the maximum dynamic range, which is the contract ratio between the darkest and brightest color tones that a camera can capture in a single exposure. 

My post processing work isn’t focused on altering the content of the image but rather in extracting maximum detail from the images and creating a tonal balance that is both true to the scene and the strength of the composition.

What inspires your work and how do you come up with new ideas?

What attracted me first to photography was that it involved travel. That feeling of excitement that comes from the newness of a place was all it took to make me want to pull out my camera. Broadening my view, and opening my world to something larger than the one I grew up in, really inspired me. 

As I mature as an artist, I’ve also learned to find inspiration in my immediate surroundings. During the pandemic, when travel wasn’t as readily available to me as it had been earlier in my career, I found inspiration in my backyard, at times literally. I still draw much inspiration from being out in the world but I also discovered that inspiration can come from things closer to home. Living in the best city in the world doesn’t hurt either. 

Can you share more about the creative process and what it is like to aim for a specific outcome? 

I put myself in situations that inspire me. Sometimes I will visit a place with a specific image or composition in mind, but most of the time my intentions are much more open-ended. I find that If I’m technically well prepared, and the circumstances are ideal, everything else falls into place, and the process and my experience just take over. With photography there will always be an element of luck but by being well prepared, and in the right mind set, you can greatly influence the outcome.

What makes a photo exceptional? 

The ability of an image to draw a certain emotional response from the viewer is what for me ultimately dictates a photograph’s exceptional nature. If an image I made can move just one person, I feel I’ve accomplished what I set out to do. The intensity of what that feeling exactly is will vary from person to person. The quiet calm sensation of a beautiful landscape can have as much impact as something more overtly emotional, like the anger and sadness felt with images of war and conflict. Photography is an art form with so many possibilities and that it will be difficult to find some universal standard of beauty. Styles change and technique evolves but as long as an image moves you, there is the promise of it being exceptional. 

Are there artists who inspire your work?  

Although they represent very different kinds of photography, my work is inspired by artists such as Steve McCurry, Vivian Maier, Sinna Nasseri, Richard Misrach, Sally Mann, and Ansel Adams, to name a few.

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Gallery Talk - Nicole White

You are using historical and contemporary photographic processes to investigate and document the American cultural landscape. You are currently living in the Bay Area but have also lived on the east coast and in the midwest. Do you seek out specific locations for your work or do you let yourself be spontaneously inspired by the moment?   

It depends on the scenario. I would say that I'm a much more reflexive photographer than I used to be. I intentionally spend time now wandering and getting lost in order to find whatever it is I'm looking for in that moment. That said, I do have specific projects that I am working on; I oscillate back and forth between spontaneity and strategy. It helps to keep me engaged.

In describing your work, you mention “the transformation of the world around us through natural and artificial illumination”. Can you say a bit more about how light and time influences your work? 

That quote is from a specific project entitled "Luminaries". Obviously, light and time are critical to all photographs, but that particular grouping of images is made with the intention of examining or highlighting the passage of time within an image. I think that most photographers become attuned to the strange power that the camera has: it is capable of condensing time in the most magical way. Those images try to play with that notion and embrace the unpredictability of the light I am working with. 

I love how you describe your time working in photography labs and the “second home” it provides to many artists who work there. Does the romantic notion of the artist working in the studio still exist? 

Maybe not in the Bay Area, but I'd like to think it's very much a part of an artist's practice. Having a space that is dedicated to work is critically important, even if you are relegated to a closet. I have a unique set of circumstances in that I oversee a college photography program and have access to a fully functioning lab. For photographers, a lab (not always the wet kind) is a critical element to finishing work. We cannot all house our own printers, monitors, lights, enlargers, etc. We require a communal space where we can produce our work. So, while the singularly-owned studio space is more rare, those shared spaces are very much needed. 

What cameras do you use and do you always carry one with you? 

I don't always have a camera, but if there's time in my day to make photographs, then I will bring one. I have everything from 110mm to large format (film or digital) and will work with whatever seems to fit the project. I'm not committed to one format.

What makes a photographic image exceptional? 

I don't know if this question can be answered; my personal relationship to images changes pretty frequently. Images I thought were exceptional ten years ago may no longer function the way I want them to anymore, while other images I may have discarded in the past take on new relevance. I guess that's one of the problems with photographs -- to make a very terrible photo pun -- they don't really stay "fixed". 

Which artists inspire your work and/or motivated you to become a photographer? 

I look at a wide range of artists and materials based on what I'm working on. Recently, I've been revisiting some Surrealist photographers and painters and also doing some research on instructional photographs (think illustrated textbooks). However, the things I regularly return to are situated in a dialog about place, land, and society. 

Your titles seem simultaneously playful and make you question the subject matter. What is the connection between your use of language and an image? Do you title an image while you shoot it or afterwards when you review the final product? 

Titles are tricky. First, I like, I am going to be fairly particular about my word choice. The words associated with images (either as a series or individually) set the tone for how the images are deciphered. There's a nice space between clearly articulating the meaning in text form and completely obscuring it. I generally leave things a little open ended, where interpretation is possible --- I could probably say the same for some of my photographs as well. :) 

For you as an artist and educator, the photography lab still plays an important role. Has digital photography influenced your creative process and how do you balance the transition between film and digital photography?

Of course it has; there's no way to avoid that negotiation....even if you only shoot film. I shoot what seems appropriate for the task I am trying to accomplish. For me, digital tools are almost always a part of my process to some degree. They give me another means to find photographic form; one that looks and feels different from a film-based image. Sometimes, I'm more interested in the conceptual negotiation of the image, "It should be shot this way because the medium expresses a portion of the meaning...." while other times I'm thinking about what process will make the image technically possible. I don't tether myself to one camera because I don't see one camera as an all purpose answer to the problems I design for myself.

Although film photography is making a comeback, many artists no longer develop or print their own work. Is it important for an artist to print their own work or do professional labs do an equally good job? 

Photographers can do whatever they want....whatever gets it done. I think it's important to have a comprehensive understanding of what it is you are producing (whether you physically made it or not), but beyond that, use the tools that are available to you. 

Has teaching photography influenced your work?

I am probably capable of breaking any obsolete "film loading speed record" thanks to my students. :)

Teaching has heavily influenced what I do in my own work. For nine months out of the year, I talk about what photographs do once they exist in the world. It makes me that much more cognizant of my own work and what it does. I also think about the capability of images to communicate ideas and information more than I ever have before. On top of that, teaching requires me to look at other photographers' work all the time; not that I wouldn't do that on my own, but it's a very different agenda that I have in mind when I am looking for new photographers to introduce in my classes. That process, in turn, brings new ideas and influences into my work.

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Gallery Talk - Alisha Hacadurian

Alisha Hacadurian, based in the Blue Mountains of Australia, is a still-life stylist and photographer whose aesthetic is influenced by everyday life whether it be sunlight streaming through a window and casting shadows on a wall, the shapes and textures of a vase, or the colour and form of a piece of fruit. 

Observing everyday objects in different lighting and settings inspires her to see past a commonplace item or moment to create something unique. In her signature style of minimalist aesthetic, Alisha experiments with different arrangements, lighting, and compositions to create balanced and visually compelling images. 

Can you tell more about your background and how you became an artist?  

I always had a love of drawing from an early age, however it was when I studied art and photography in high school it really developed and I knew that I had to have a career in the creative industry. I started out as a graphic designer specializing in branding, however my love of photography never wavered and I would always find myself taking photos at every opportunity. It quickly became clear that my true passion was still life photography and here I am today creating unique images for my clients and pursuing my own personal projects. 

How do you start a creative process? Do you write down ideas first, sketch them out, or use objects to create a 3-dimensional sketch?

I am constantly looking at things in my everyday life for inspiration and ideas for my shoots. This could be scrolling through Instagram, Pinterest and magazines or everyday objects found in my home and nature with unique shapes and textures. I do however typically put together a mood board of my ideas when I start a new project. 

Much of your work is derived from capturing everyday objects in natural light which perhaps leaves a small window to find the perfect setting. Is this a spontaneous process or does it require planning? 

For all my client work I definitely plan out my shoot, however for my personal projects I find that the majority of these are spontaneous. They may start out with a spark of an idea, but can turn into something completely different. I often find that this is when I do my best work. 

When is the moment you realize you shot a perfect image? 

It is hard to describe, but I always have a feeling when I haven’t quite got it right and will keep adjusting the scene or lighting until I just know. Sometimes I don’t end up pursuing the original idea and stumble onto something else. Something special. 

Do you have a favorite camera and do you use different cameras for different projects? 

I originally started out using a DSLR, but now I only use my mirrorless camera. On the odd occasion I will use my iPhone when there is a random opportunity and I don’t mind that because sometimes the unexpected can happen and you capture something special, even if it isn’t perfect. I think that adds something special to an image. 

Are there other artists who inspire your work? 

Yes! Carl Ostberg, Sophie Jane Kirk and Tom Baril just to name a few.

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Gallery Talk - Carole Rey

What drew you to photography? 

Photography has always been part of my life. My father is a keen amateur photographer and I grew up with images of Robert Doisneau and Steve McCurry on the walls of my bedroom. As a passionate young ballerina one of my favorite books was a book dedicated to ballet photography. I stared at it for countless hours, it felt like I could see the dancers move, like if I could hear their breath, and the sounds of their pointe on the floor. 

I began to photograph on a daily basis eleven years ago when I suffered from a severe burnout. I went from being extremely busy in my professional and personal life, sleeping an average of 4 hours a night to not being able to read a book, concentrate or express myself without stuttering. To photograph was the only thing that did not consume my energy but gave me a way to express myself without words. All of a sudden, I could see and create a world of my own, a world of beauty where flowers had the main role.

How would you describe your work to someone who hasn’t seen it?

Delicate, soft and elegant.

How did you become interested in ikebana?

My interest in Zen philosophy has lead me to ikebana and in particular the way Sofu Teshigahara describes it in the Book of Flowers: “Set things you cannot see. There are many things in your heart that are invisible. Flowers are concrete but ikebana is abstract”. Ikebana is not about making a pretty arrangement like you could see in a Biedermeier bouquet for example, it is about a spiritual journey where harmony, peace, and beauty come together. When I create a still life and photograph it those elements are completely part of the process and I hope that this comes across to the viewer. 

The use of natural light is an important component of your work. As this narrows the timeframe in which you can work, how do you plan your photo shoots?

Elements such as inner turmoil in my life or the sight of a fading flower brings out this desire to grab my camera and start shooting. I always have a preconceived notion in mind tof what I want to share in an image. Working in a very intuitive way, dependent on the amount of light coming into my atelier, and the presence or absence of sunlight certainly has an impact on how a shoot evolves. I prefer to be in control of what I am doing and the still life scene is the result of experimenting with getting the right angle, depth of field, should it be a close-up or not, which objects and flowers to include, etc. I shoot many images and until I feel I accomplished what I set out to do. Light is the one thing that I cannot control and it feels like a companion who comes to visit and each time we have a different conversation. 

In some of your images you arrange common household items to create unexpected relationships between the objects. What do these compositions stand for? 

I believe that you can accomplish a lot with very little. I tend to re-purpose items I buy for my household and this may include the paper my flowers were wrapped in, a spoiled potato, or my children’s lunch boxes. I try to see beauty in all things and combine them to see how one object can work with another, changing its context. What fascinates me about flowers is their shape, lines, texture and color palette. Those are the things I see first, before anything else. Since I was a child, I never wanted to just fit in and to this day dislike when people try to limit me and make me fit in a box. In photography the possibilities are endless and the only limitations are the ones you give yourself. Ultimately, my photographs invite the viewer to explore and investigate and remind yourself how beauty can be found in unexpected ways.

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Gallery Talk - Ramona Deckers

Ramona Deckers is a photographer who lives and works in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, and Lisbon, Portugal. Her work explores intimacy and what lies beneath the surface, each image telling its own story. Working with analog film and natural light requires her to be aware of each frame.

Tell us about your background and what inspired you to become a photographer.

Even as a child I was intrigued by analog cameras and the film developing process. I was also obsessed with Madonna and collected every picture that I could find to fill the walls of my room with. But it wasn’t until I was working as an intern at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam that I fell in love with photography after viewing work by famous photographers Nan Goldin and Larry Clark that was hanging side-by-side. I strongly identified with the pain in their respective pictures that felt all too familiar to me, and loved it. I knew right away that this was going to be my calling as those works translate innocence, sexuality and violence so beautifully there are no words needed. 

How did your background influence your work? 

Hailing from a working class neighborhood in the south of Holland, it's fair to say that my upbringing wasn’t easy and lacked communication. I was looking for a connection and intimacy and found it by taking pictures.

As a self-taught photographer, how did you get started and with what type of camera?  

As mentioned earlier, as a child I was playing with analog cameras and, as part of playing dress-up, my cousin would photograph me dressed as Madonna. We recreated complete concerts, mimicking to perfection each song and echt outfit. Unfortunately, we no longer have those negatives as back then it was not as common to preserve them. 

My first cameras were a Nikon FM2 35mm and a medium format Hasselblad 500CM. They are both still great cameras! 

How would you describe your work and what would you consider an exceptional photograph? 

My work is intimate and intuitive and I'm really looking for a connection with my subject, searching for a deeper layer and uniqueness. An exceptional photograph is when everything (light, composition, emotion) comes perfectly together, not necessarily in a technical sense… but more organically. When shooting (analog) film you only later see the results when developing and scanning the negatives. In the moment of shooting you are not so much thinking about the outcome. Developing and scanning negatives feels a little like unwrapping little gifts and it's a great feeling when you"unwrap" a great image. 

You live and work in Amsterdam and Lisbon, both large cities but culturally quite different. As an artist and photographer, what inspires you in both places? 

In Amsterdam I love to document city life and people. In Lisbon I am more drawn to nature and Portugal's coast. It’s such a photogenic place and who wouldn’t love shooting at the beach? It’s so open and organic and results in such dreamy pictures. 

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Gallery Talk - Dale Grant

Tell us about yourself and how you became a photographer.

I was born in the Bahamas and have lived most of my life living and working in Paris, New York, Amsterdam and Berlin. After receiving my Masters Degree in International Relations from Boston University's overseas program in Paris, my initial plan was to attend law school. But this all came to a halt after I began assisting a friend who worked as a fashion photographer. I instantly fell in love with photography and from that moment on knew that I wanted to become a professional photographer. Having worked for many years as a commercial photographer for magazines and fashion houses, my focus is now on my fine art photography with flowers as my models of choice.

How has living in so many amazing places influenced your work?

My mother was a photographer and I remember watching her photograph customers who came to sit for portraits in her studio in Nassau. I can still remember sitting as a young child next to her in the dark room watching her develop and print film. The smell of the dark room chemicals still remind me of my first exposure to photography.

Paris is where it all began for me and the Parisian sense of style and fashion was what mostly influenced my photography. When I lived in New York, I began photographing flowers to distract me from the stress and hustle of the city. In Amsterdam, my work was heavily influenced by the floral arrangements of the old masters such as Rembrandt, as well as by all of the beautiful flowers available in that city.

Although most people appreciate flowers, the way you photograph them makes us see them in a different light. What motivates you to use flowers as a subject matter and does their short life span not make your work difficult?

The way I approach photographing flowers is similar to the way I make portraits. I observe and examine them from all angles. As I find beauty in all faces, no matter how unconventional this beauty might be, I'm inspired by the beauty and imperfections in flowers.

With my flowers images, I aim for the viewer to see all of the intricate and unique details in flowers that we usually don't see at first. Like holding up a magnifying glass would make you see them in a new way.

I photograph flowers in all stages of their short life, not only when they are at the peak of their beauty. Their short life span does not make it harder for me as this process of decay is was actually inspires me. As part of this process, I closely observe flowers in their vase for many weeks in order to capture a particular angle, the way they move towards the light, or how the petals wilt and loose their vibrant colors, and eventually fall. 

Will flowers always be an endless source of inspiration or will there be a day where you may move on to another theme?

I get asked this question often. I photograph flowers because they speak to me on a deeper level and that is where my inspiration and love for photographing them comes from. I have the same connection with flowers as I have with photographing faces. I will always find a new way to capture them, even when my style may change and evolve over time, and don't believe I will ever tire of photographing flowers. I am equally passionate about photographing portraits and am presently working on a gender series of non-binary artists living in Berlin.

Your work not only focuses on flowers but is also well-known for its black and white portraiture and nude photography. What do these different subject matters have in common and what makes you decide to shoot an image in color or in black and white?

What all my images have in common, no matter the subject matter, is that I see and treat them all as portraits. My goal is to examine and expose the individual beauty in each of them. I photograph my human portrait work in black and white because for me color would distract from the unique features of the individual faces. I find that faces are more interesting in black and white because the textures of the skin, and what one might consider to be imperfections, are more highlighted and brought to the fore. Because of their vibrant colors I prefer photographing flowers in color but I can easily see myself one day experiment with photographing them in black and white. Although I photograph my nudes in color, I purposefully make the color more muted to reference nude paintings created in the late 17th and 18th century.

Can you share with us more about the process of how you set up a flower photoshoot? Do you have a particular idea in mind prior to a studio shoot or does a visit to the flower store become your main source of inspiration?

To prepare for a new shoot, I first visit my favorite florist. Because I shop there so often, he knows me well enough to sense what I'm looking for. I typically select around five flowers and only the ones that immediately speak to me in terms of color and shape, or how they are opening. Certain characteristics or imperfections may also appeal to me. After taking the flowers home, I'll put them in a vase and observe them throughout the day to see how they open and move toward the light. The majority of the flowers I buy will not be photographed as not all of them inspire me to that level. To me, traditional roses may perhaps be the most challenging flower to photograph because their conventional beauty lacks inspiration.

I do not have a preconceived notion of how to photograph a flower as it is the flower itself that guides me. As mentioned earlier, I carefully observe them over long periods of time and can spend hours photographing just one flower. At the end of a photo session, I'm almost always pleasantly surprised by the outcome as it's many times not as I expected. To me, being spontaneous and trusting my "muses" remains the best way to photograph.

I approach the post production process the same way as I would a photo shoot and do not work with predesigned filters. I let each individual flower guide me and, other than making the background a pure black, I only apply small tweaks to make the flowers look at their best. 

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Gallery Talk - Clive Frost

Gallery Talk - Clive Frost

Clive is an award winning and internationally recognized photographer whose work is known for his travel, documentary, interior and architectural photography, and his environmental portraiture. Clive’s limited edition prints are in private collections around the world. Born in The Philippines and educated in London, Clive has travelled the world in search of places to document. His extensive travels to Cuba resulted in two successful photography books. He currently lives on the Greek island of Tinos in the Northern Cyclades.

Is location important and how has living in and traveling to many different places influenced your work?

I have always, both with my commissioned as well as with my personal photography, worked on location. Being in a studio doesn’t energize or excite me. I enjoy the quality of exploration and discovery you experience with location work, coupled with sometimes unpredictable and changing light and weather and, of course, also with the variety of people you might encounter. There’s an element of ‘flying by the seat of your pants’ that I find very addictive and after over 45 years in photography, it still gives me a rush when I find and make an image and all the unpredictability, light and weather is on my side.

One of the consequences of where I was born and of my early childhood is that I have never felt that I have any real roots anywhere. As a photographer, being rootless has been a benefit to me. It has fueled and sustained my wanderlust - traveling is when I feel most alive, most aware of the place I am in, most open to the possibility of the present. In this respect, travel has inevitably influenced my photography – if you are open to the opportunities and challenges of travel, it is difficult not to be influenced, whatever creative route you take.

Do you visit a location with a preconceived notion of what to photograph or does the idea arise on the spot?

To explain some of the ideas and thoughts I try to follow, I use a quote from the writer G.K. Chesterton – “True travelers let the experience of a destination come to them. The traveller sees what he sees. The tourist sees what he has come to see.”

I do some reading and research before I travel somewhere. When I arrive, I usually feel full of self-doubt and rather despondent for 24 hours during which I try to explore what the place is ‘giving’ me visually. As I start photographing, an idea or approach takes shape and I feel less doubtful and more confident about what I am doing.     

 What types of cameras do you use and how has the digital photo revolution influenced your work?

During my career, I have used most formats of camera at one time or another and while it is true that different types (not make) of camera may change your approach to taking a photograph, it is the eye, head and heart that are most relevant to a photographer’s work, not the equipment itself. 

I am not a purist in my approach to photography – it is only the result that concerns me, not the means of getting there. Having done my time with film, in darkrooms and processing labs, now I work exclusively with digital technology. I enjoy the convenience, speed and spontaneity it affords when making photographs, the ease of any post-production work in Lightroom or Photoshop and the ability to show the work far and wide, quickly and easily, to those who might be interested. Who needs the days of making duplicate transparencies back again when you have copy and paste?

However, I don’t believe that using digital as opposed to analogue tools has influenced my work in the sense of changing the broad approach and style of my photography. That has remained fairly consistent throughout my career.

Are there photographers who inspired you to pursue a career in this field?

Again, using a quote by Henry R. Luce in the 1936 original prospectus for what later became LIFE Magazine: “To see life; to see the world; to see and take pleasure in seeing; to see and be amazed; to see and be instructed.” The photographers who worked for LIFE Magazine and Picture Post sparked my initial interest in going to college and becoming a photographer. 

What makes a photographic image exceptional?

I am a photographer not a hunter with a rifle, but we both adopt the same terminology, we go out ‘shooting’, we take a ‘shot’. Both activities involve trying to achieve a clean ‘kill’. 

In photography there is a difference between a ‘photograph’ and a ‘photographic image’. In an image, all the visual pieces, subject matter, light, composition, come together at the same time and are complete. What makes an image exceptional is its completeness, the totality of its form, but like ‘beauty’, it is ultimately in the eye of the viewer.

Ansel Adams wrote, “There are no rules for good photographs, there are only good photographs. A good photograph is knowing where to stand.”

What type of photography are you currently interested in and how will it influence your journey going forward?

The type of photography that has always primarily interested me is documentary photography although I would argue that all types of photography concern the act of seeing and the process of documentation. If forced to put a label on myself, I describe myself as a documentary/fine art photographer. 

In answer to a previous question, while the subject matter might alter, my style of photography remains fairly consistent and I don’t anticipate this changing now. 

I am still trying to get better at what I do. 

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Gallery Talk - Ming-Shiun Wu

Gallery Talk - Ming-Shiun Wu

Outside your fine art photography, you are also heavily involved in commercial and editorial photography. How do you balance the two and do they require a different mindset? 

I have been practicing commercial/editorial photography for over 20 years, since I graduated from college. During my school years, I took several highly technical black and white fine art and nature photography courses. Although the processes differ somewhat, there are many similarities between the planning and preparation of my regular commercial projects and my fine art work. Unlike commercial work, that primarily takes place in a studio-controlled environment, most of my fine art photography takes place outdoors. Naturally, for the latter, seasons and weather conditions greatly impact the planning and outcome of a shoot.

Commercial projects usually have a deadline and budget, especially if the set requires a production crew. For the outdoor photography, it’s all about the moment. Sometimes I get the shot I’m looking for right away but usually the process takes longer. As lighting and movement are important elements in my work, it requires time and patience to capture that perfect moment I was aiming for. 

Balancing the two different disciplines really helps me create head space and expand my creativity. Many times the two come together, or meld if you will, during the editorial process.  

Your commercial shoots involve elaborate stage sets while your approach to your other photography seems more straightforward. Are there still similarities in how you prepared for the Death Valley series? 

Yes, even though the outdoor photography seems more straightforward, I still share similar preparation processes that I also use for commercial shoots by, for example, exploring and researching an area prior to visiting. 

How important is subject matter in your work and does living in Los Angeles influence it?

In Southern California, the variables between interesting locations and subject matter are endless. It is a culturally and historically rich and highly diverse area that offers an incredible mix of urban areas and nature reserves that incudes deserts, mountains, and of course the ocean. It’s my backyard and for me as an artist an endless source of inspiration. The climate here is also an advantage as the weather is typically dry and stable.

Did you visit Death Valley with a plan of what to photograph or did the idea arise on the spot? 

I had visited Death Valley several times before and did have a plan and a list of specific locations. As it is the hottest place in North America, you must plan the trip accordingly and I usually go there either in late Fall or early Spring. The area is vast, remote, and can be dangerous, so you must plan carefully. It takes two hours of off-road driving from the nearest paved road to reach the Race Track rock area and you do not want to get lost on back country dirt roads as there is no cell phone signal and the roads are unmarked. You also want to pay close attention to time as it is easy, especially after dark, to become  disoriented and lost in that area. At one point during a photo shoot, I got a flat tire due to sharp rocks in a dirt road so it’s important to be prepared for this type of mishap. 

For me there is also a sense of urgency to continue visiting that area as, due to erosional forces and climate change, some of the views in Death Valley are gradually disappearing. The unique Race Track rocks area has been minimized due to climate change, as the conditions that make the rocks move (“windowpane” ice sheets that, with the help of wind, shove the rocks in front of them) have been altered by changing weather patterns. When I first visited the area in the mid-90’s, the Race Track rock tracks were clearly visible and with many more rocks compared to the very few we see today.

How important is process in your photography and what types of cameras do you use?

I started my photography with film-based 4x5 large format cameras. The equipment is bulky and the process slow and expensive. Each composition had to be carefully planned before I clicked the shutter.

While digital technology is far more advanced and convenient, and today’s photography can be created more efficiently and less expensive, I still hold to the same principles as in my early photography days as the disciplines involved are the same no matter if you are shooting on film or digital.

For the majority of my photoshoots, I currently use full-frame DSLR cameras, Canon 5D MarkIV, Canon 5D Mark III, and Canon 6D. 

Are there photographers you admire who have influenced your work?

When I learned Zone System for black and white image processing, I tried to emulate Ansel Adams’ artwork is it was in my eyes the highest standard that I strove to achieve. For fashion and fine art photography, I admire and studied Irving Penn and Richard Avedon for their creativity and insights. The work by underwater photographer, Bruce Mozart, continues to inspire me for his pioneering and vintage underwater pinups. At the time his images were created, in the late 1930’s and 40’s, his art was considered breakthrough.  

Even with a photogenic landscape such as Death Valley, it still requires the right light, color, and composition to capture an exceptional image. Do you know right away when an image is exceptional or is this more part of the discovery later on in the studio?

Yes, as mentioned earlier, I did have a plan for creating those images. For Death Valley, I followed my plan shot lists to ensure I would have enough time to set up and wait for the right moment to take the shots.

For me, to guarantee the quality of a finished image, I rely on years of experience and a vast amount of technical photography knowledge. The images are not an accident or coincidence.  

What type of photography are you currently interested in and do you have any locations in mind where you will be next? 

During the warmer seasons, I spend a tremendous amount of time in the water for my underwater photography and there are still many different concepts and challenges I’d like to explore. 

My next location will be in Oahu, Hawaii. As an Islander, originally from Taiwan, I always love the vibe of the tropical islands. In my photography, I look forward to continuing to explore different ways in which to capture mountains and oceans. 

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