Shae DeTar’s Dream Worlds

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In her late teens, Shae DeTar gave up on an acting career—she was auditioning professionally since she was eleven—because of advice given to her by her acting coach. Her coach believed that actors must first “conquer” Shakespeare before considering themselves fit to act. Unhappy with her own progress, DeTar decided to quit. “Ever since then I’ve held this dream-world within me,” DeTar told me. “I wasn’t being fearless.”

DeTar, who works with paint and photography to make large-scale photo illustrations, now believes she’s fearless with her art. “I guess it’s because I am older and feel as though I have nothing to lose,” she said. Making her own photographs—which she has began only recently, in her early thirties—is a process that leads directly back to her photo illustrations. Hardly any of her unpainted photographs are on her website. Instead, photography is a way to gain more control over the collage, creating the visual parts that become the whole. “I like to re-imagine what I photographed and bring it to a new place with no boundaries.”

I spoke to DeTar over email about her process and about her thoughts on photography.

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Olaf Blecker on His Portrait of Jenny Hval for The New Yorker

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The series of questions that follow were inspired by the above photograph. This photograph is a portrait of the Norwegian singer Jenny Hval that was made by Olaf Blecker, published by The New Yorker, in its June 22, 2015 Issue. It’s an odd portrait. Certain expected givens of any photograph—facts about time, place, or story—are obscured, darkened to the point of falling into a void, represented here by a surrounding blackness.

And although this void is mute (it’s a void after all), it is also roaring. It’s perhaps the first thing you noticed. If you did give it recognition, you did so automatically. And it vanished just as quickly. The blackness would have been replaced by a flash of gold in one sudden blow and expelled. Hval’s discreet smile would then mount the stage above or beneath this blackness. The void is neither background nor foreground. Fingers of shadow hug her torso, embracing her form; where her legs would be you find it again. It is also empty space.

This void can signify ignorance or chance or a gap between this world and a purer one. But is it enough to know that Jenny Hval was photographed in her apartment in Oslo? Or that Olaf Blecker was on his way to shoot another commission when he received a call from Joanna Milter from The New Yorker? Maybe this void is the force that compelled Jenny and Olaf to meet and exchange words on life influences. “I wanted to find out more from her,” Blecker told me. “We discussed more than her music and this shoot.” Maybe the void is why Olaf calls this portrait his “broken birdie” photograph. Or why he describes her wavering, almost indeterminate movement as “gliding.”

I spoke to Blecker over email about his portrait of Jenny Hval.

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Christaan Felber Interview: Clear-sighted Portraits Arising Out of the Moment

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Christaan Felber, a New York based portrait and commercial photographer, who has worked with, among others, The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, and Esquire, admits that his job is tricky, even uncomfortable. “I think the nature of capturing someone’s image in excruciating detail is simply a loaded process,” he explained to me. There’s an element of disclosure in creating a portrait. What the sitter wishes to see may not be what the photographer reveals. “That breaks my heart every time: seeing potential and being unable to convince the other person of that potential,” he noted.

It’s perhaps this acknowledgement of a photographer’s bag of tricks that allows Felber to shoot portraits that seem honest and off the cuff, ones made in the spur of the moment. He prefers a centered composition that comforts the eye with balance and symmetry. Action is either avoided or frozen in the middle—where a single gesture or one signature look completes the story of a frame. Together with his straightforward composition, this plunge toward the middle connotes an evenhandedness. Felber is able to find balance and make work that feels impromptu but never unnatural.

I spoke to Felber over email about his thoughts on photography and his work.

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Jeff Brown Interview: Heads of State and Industry in Fluorescent Hues

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Some photographers use light as a means to an end. Others like Jeff Brown perform with it. What may overwhelm somebody with an ineffectual sense of light’s fantastic, potent power seems to excite Brown. Constantly risking absurdity, he performs a high-wire act of vision, adding what may be three or four lights at any given time.

Many of the people Brown photographs are rich and famous, important and pretty, or all four and then some. They live their lives publicly. And they have public images to uphold. It’s no wonder why, when sitting for a portrait commissioned by a magazine or a newspaper, they perform a rehearsed self. But what’s going on in the portrait of Mitch McConnell above? Does Brown realize he’s illuminated the Senator from Kentucky down to the bone? Captured him as he is at the moment of a portrait: actor playing politician in what looks like a semi-ordinary grocery store, set in a fictional Kentucky town, where beer and sandwiches and pig-stuff are bought and sold.

While other portraits read as a profile of a person—capturing what’s simply given—Brown’s portraits wink at you, tipping you off that something else is happening. Because of the ridiculously energetic way he plays with light, color, and shadow, he creates portraits that somehow, someway feel more honest. They’re naked. Though not bare. You know you’re looking at a portrait made in the act. It’s as if you’re getting both the final photograph and a behind-the-scenes sketch. And if reality is increasingly judged by appearances, why can’t the truest portrait be the one that’s commissioned, rehearsed, and performed?

I spoke to Brown over email about his work and about his thoughts on photography.

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Rachel Roze Interview: Sicily Captured in An Uncanny, Surreal Light

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Nearly true but not truth, almost life-like and real but utterly false: There’s nothing neutral in how Rachel Roze uses her camera. Like any photograph, one of hers may appear like a document, one that seems willing to tell the truth, but in reality is put on. Another may seem unreal and strange but, when looked at for a while and taken in, seems closer to life than any photojournalist’s reportage.

As though caught in the charms of an impostor, you believe wholeheartedly in what you feel but know something is off. Working in a space between truth-telling and narrative gives her photos room to breathe. Here, a photo of a statue can hover between a casual snapshot and a deliberate staging. Was it her intention to make the statue’s eyes, lightened in a burst of flash, seem alive and knowing? Even the spidery way it holds its crucifix registers between two states: is this a motherly embrace or an intentional letting go?

“I think people should take everything with a grain of salt,” she says, “Rights and wrongs are blurred when it comes to art.” There are other photographs like this one in her We Were in Sicily series but most are simple captures: There are landscapes of Sicilian alleyways cut between dawn or dusk, kind portraits of young, carefree children, and blunt scenes of intimacy. Roze never reveals what’s romance, what’s ruse. It’s all made to look real.

I spoke with Roze over email about her photography.

The introduction was edited from what was originally published. 

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Yolanda del Amo Interview: How Staged Photographs Reveal True Faces of Disconnect

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It’s in the eyes. It’s there, in those pools of brown, blue, of color, where everything ahead is first given. Either you fall back and look away or you accept and thrust in. The connection between two is violent, fitful. There’s panic. Undecided mornings. But a connection must begin somewhere: almost always, it’s in the eyes.

But when a connection weakens, what are the first hints?Archipelago, the Spanish, Brooklyn-based photographer Yolanda del Amo’s seven-year series, explores how connections reveal themselves in a communal home and in the body itself. In her staged photographs, the language of intimacy, or approaching disconnect, arranges around who’s looking at whom and who’s not. It’s not enough to say that they’re looking away. It’s how they look. And why—what are they’re still searching for?

I spoke with Del Amo over email about her photography.

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Alex Fradkin Interview: Capturing New York’s Buildings in Hurricane Sandy’s Aftermath

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October 29 will mark three years since Hurricane Sandy battered through New York City. The superstorm was one of the worst in the city’s history, inundating some areas with water surges as high as fourteen feet, inflicting massive rain, and producing 79 mph wind gusts. And while most of the city was back to business relatively quickly, Lower Manhattan took longer to recover. In fact, for days after storm, the neighborhood—roughly south of 25th street—stayed without power, stuck in the dark.

It was during these pitch black nights that Alex Fradkin went exploring for photographs. “It was so dark you could not see without a flashlight in many of the darkest streets,” he notes. “Looking up, the buildings appeared like dark canyon walls and stars were visible for a rare and brief time.” An architect before discovering photography, Fradkin knew that these buildings were designed with light in mind. To photograph them without their usual brilliance was perhaps to capture a truer face. “The architecture of Lower Manhattan . . .  was totally mute, deadened, and monolithic . . . rendered obsolete by a force much greater than the collective power of our species.”

I spoke to Fradkin over email about Dark Monoliths and about his ideas on photography.

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Teri Fullerton Interview: Giving the World Perspective Through Photography

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While in Barcelona, this past summer, Teri Fullerton, a Minneapolis-based photographer known for portraits of veterans returning from war, shifted her attention to a subject more often taken for granted than well shot. In photographing the landscape and how people—whether tourists, beach-goers, or other photographers—experience its beauty, she sought clear evidence of wonder.

Awe, the Small Self, the series started in Barcelona, is self-referential. Photographs of the landscape include portraits of other people shooting the same scene. “I was interested in observing other people looking and the complicated relationship between being and documenting,” she writes. The photographs also present a vast backdrop of ocean and sky. When seen from this scale, the body becomes small, the land more pronounced. “The world is infinitely large and man is a small player . . . [the camera] helps us appreciate our place in the world by paying close regard to it.”

I talked with Fullerton over email about her ideas on photography and Awe, the Small Self.

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Hayden Rossignol Interview: Winning a National Geographic Award At 12

Something about nature and viewing life through the eyes of the other creatures who call earth home is both breathtaking and eye opening. But couple those powerful emotions with the perspective of someone who hasn’t even had their 13th birthday yet, and the world seems to become a better place.

As the oldest of three and a mother of two, my eyes are constantly being opened by those vastly younger than me. As we age, we often think that we have all this knowledge to impart when really, we can learn so much from the viewpoint of those half our age.

When I had the opportunity to conduct an interview with a photographer, my mind instantly took me to someone I know very well.

His name is Hayden Rossignol, he’s a National Geographic Award winner, and he’s only 12 years old.

Oh yeah, and he’s my brother.

It’s a proud big sister moment to be sure. But more than that, my curiosity was irrevocably piqued.

I had the chance to chat a bit with Hayden about his award, where it wound up, and his photography as a whole.

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When did you first start getting interested in photography, and why?

One day my mom went outside to take pictures of a hummingbird. For some reason, at that moment, I wanted to try and so when I took some pictures of the birds.

My mom and dad really loved the pictures and how they turned out so they encouraged me to pursue it.

The reason I do photography is that I just really love taking pictures.


Your photography is heavily centered on nature (although I know you do portraits and other weddings, as well). What was it that prompted you to start in that area of photography instead of something else?

Honestly, I just love being outside and being able to get so close to the birds and animals in nature.

I can show people things that they can’t usually get to see. Spiders and bees are things that people don’t like to get close to, but they’re creatures that are really cool to me.

Being able to take a photo of these things and show them in their natural environment helps people to appreciate them. There are details that you can get with photography that we can’t get just with your eyes. It’s fun to be able to see animals and things in nature in their clearest details.

Talking with Hayden About His Nat Geo Award

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Hayden’s Winning Photograph

Okay, let’s move on to the topic everyone really wants to know about: Hayden’s National Geographic winning picture.

Few people can lay claim to an award from National Geographic.

Obviously, as his sister and a fellow photographer (and a writer with the chance to interview him), I was both thrilled and curious about how this possibility even presented itself.

Many are likely familiar with the National Geographic Magazine and brand. But few may know the kids side of the worldwide acclaimed brand.

National Geographic Kids is a segment of the better-known publication that is popular among the younger age group. However, it still reflects the same level of quality when it comes to its images and its photography contests.

The website runs something called the My Shot contest.

In this contest, others from the community can submit photographs that they believe are worthy of the win. From there, users can vote on which photos they want to see win.

The prize?

Winners of the My Shot contest not only receive the My Shot VP award, they also get to have their winning photographs hung in the Vice President Biden’s (U.S.A) residence in Washington D.C.

The award and the recognition would be enough to get anyone excited about keeping up their photography. But Hayden’s photo did much more than that.

The VP’s Wife, Dr. Jill Biden, gave him a shoutout on Twitter. That then sparked the local presses and led to Hayden being interviewed by a popular news channel in Portland, Oregon U.S.A.

11846635_426996640838535_1963575077830261838_nWhen I asked Hayden about it initially, he said it was both exciting and nerve-wracking (and who could blame him with that huge camera in his face?!)

After that, we talked a bit more about his winning photo.

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Where were you when you took that photo? 

I always love taking pictures while I’m at the beach so when my family and I went to Cannon Beach (a popular spot on the coast of Oregon).

We travel there often and I always go prepared with my camera in tow.

I started taking pictures of the seagulls and that’s how I got that shot.

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You’re just about to turn 13, nevertheless, you’ve managed to accomplish a lot. What has photography taught you and where do you want to take things in the future?

Patience.

Photography has taught me patience, which isn’t something that come naturally to — no matter their age.

With my photography, sometimes you have to gain the trust of an animal in a very short period of time. Other times, you have to be very still for a very long time to wait for the clouds or the sun to be in a specific spot and wait for your window of opportunity to create that perfect snapshot.

I’ve done baby photography, group shots, and one wedding. For my photography, I want to expand into those areas and just keep on learning.

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Let’s talk about a few fun things while we’re at it. What cameras do you own? What is your favorite and why? What is your favorite setting to shoot in?

I have a Canon rebel T3i and a little Nikon point-and-shoot.

I like them both for different reasons. I like my Canon because there are a lot more options there for getting that perfect photo. I have a lot of different lenses, and love using my macro lens for close up shots.

The point-and-shoot is that you can you have a zoom and wide angle built into it without changing lenses and it’s a lot lighter.

All and all, I prefer shooting in manual mode it gives me more control.

Lessons I Think Every Aspiring Photographer Can Take To Heart

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After talking with Hayden and watching him “work”, there were quite a few things that I took away.

First of all, age isn’t something that we should ever use to define skill or success. Just because someone is young doesn’t mean that they are less likely to accomplish big things when pursuing their passion in life.

Photography has of way of capturing the beauty of a moment or the awesomeness of an animal or insect. Great photos evoke great emotion, and you don’t have to be a seasoned photographer to get the photo that has “it”.

Lastly, we should encourage children to express themselves. We should support them in the hectic and bustling journey that is this life.

If you’d like to see more of Hayden’s work and support him in his photography, be sure to follow him on Facebook.

All images are owned by Hayden Rossignol. 

Edgar Cardenas Interview: What Does Sustainability Look Like in the Backyard?

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To show what sustainability looks like on a personal and intimate level, Edgar Cardenas, a Ph.D. student in the School of Sustainability at Arizona State University, began a series of photographs that would document his own land-conscious practice. He looked for the efforts made every day. Each photograph captured in one hundred little dramas was found in the backyard of his desert home.

Heavily influenced by the ideas of Aldo Leopold, the conservationist, ecologist, and “amateur” environmental philosopher, Cardenas embraced a personal narrative. There are portraits of his girlfriend basked in the red light of dusk, journal entries that poetically explain the stories behind several albumen prints, and meditations on loss. “Looking deeply at a small and personal space is actually not that common,” he notes. “I wanted to express that these [ecological] processes aren’t something that happen far away in the wilderness but in our backyards if we just pay attention.” 

I spoke to Cardenas about this project and about his ideas on photography and sustainability.

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