A painterly photographer is an excellent notion, I think: Taking a closer look at Photography

One of the reasons I am most thankful for starting this blog is that it has made me more aware of different genres of art that I wasn’t really looking at before. Illustration, for instance, is an art form that I didn’t really consider before I started my blog. Now I find it fascinating!

Fine art photography is another genre that I have been exploring more thoroughly over the past 5-6 months. I have enjoyed taking pictures since I was knee high to a grasshopper, but I don’t consider myself much of a photographer. (At least in terms of formal elements, training and whatnot). So, it has been interesting for me to think about how we look at and think about photography.

When I look at a photograph, I think I ask myself what’s real and what’s created? This immediate evaluation of an image based on “alterations” brings into question the value of editing, the question of alteration as falsehood and the determinate value of a piece based on whether or not editing or altering a photograph is good or bad. These are qualifications that I think are important to the photography dialogue. For instance, on my blog post on Kirsty Mitchell, I wrote a glip statement in reference to her work schematic: “When do Mitchell’s photographs cross the line between being creative and interesting to too contrived and fake?” (Which should have been followed up with an explanation of my question and some examples — so the fault was with me, but the question I still maintain was a good one).

Kirsty MitchellThe Pink Saint

Kirsty Mitchell
The Pink Saint

I inevitably offended the photographer, who assumed I was calling into questions whether or not she created the majority of her work digitally. I wasn’t intending to qualify her work based on that issue -Rather it “was meant more as an opportunity to consider when the work feels most original, complex and thought-provoking and when it feels less successful as an original image”. The fact that this was so offensive to Mitchell tells me that this is a larger issue to consider.

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The [F] Awards (or [FRAMED] Awards) are annual awards presented to photographers, which the public and other photographers vote for. I thought it was interesting that the awards are categorized thematically: portrait, conceptual, fine art, fashion/editorial, beauty/glamor, documentary, film portrait, film wedding etc etc… Some of these categories I could understand but others of them I was unsure of. How do you decide if a photographer is a beauty/glamor photographer or a fashion/editorial photographer? And how does that label change the way we think about that person’s work. Some people call Annie Leibovitz a talent sell-out because she does shoots for magazines and films.

Annie LeibovitzMeryl Streep

Annie Leibovitz
Meryl Streep

As I glanced through the lists of nominated photographers (and some were listed in multiple categories) I found two artists whose work I admire and am inspired by — in totally different ways.

Photographer Amanda Mustard was born in 1990, in Pennsylvania. I love what she says about herself in her bio:

I am a vagabond, a photographer, and a storyteller. I believe in the value of bearing witness, and strive to capture humanity at its best and worst, most simple and complex. I dig the deep into each project with 100% heart and mind, and cultivate solid, lasting relationships with those I work with. The camera is my tool to educate, discover, inspire, and change.

Liberal Activists

Amanda Mustard – Liberal Activists

Mustard’s work is categorized as documentary photography by [F] Awards. Her work is an example of powerful and moving photography that I feel is empowered by the background stories of the images.

Nanjing Massacre Survivors

Amanda Mustard – Nanjing Massacre Survivors

“…Mr. Li was an orphan who joined the military at 13 under the identity of a deserter…. He lasted a single day in after the city was occupied before he was captured and put in a lineup to be shot. He survived because he was shorter than the rest, and hid under the bodies until he could flee. He was recaptured by Japanese a bit later, and was put in another lineup where each person was shot. When the soldiers reached him, they stopped to laugh at him, as he was wearing the deserter’s uniform which was very large on him. The decided to take him back with them and make him their stableboy. After a week, he escaped and ran into a random home, where a woman found him and took him to the Safety Zone with her, and adopted him after the massacre.”

This makes me wonder when is it acceptable to inform your perspective on a piece of art alongside the story behind it? As the lines between fine art and photography blur, I think perhaps we have to change how we think about all art.

Clash at Abbasiya Square

Amanda Mustard – Clash at Abbasiya Square

Amanda Mustard - Eid Preparations in Cairo

Amanda Mustard – Eid Preparations in Cairo

Untitled(ongoing victims of agent orange)

Amanda Mustard – Untitled
(ongoing victims of agent orange)

Qasr El Nil Bridge

Amanda Mustard – Qasr El Nil Bridge

Protests Continue in Cairo

Amanda Mustard – Protests Continue in Cairo

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Photographer Brooke Shaden is categorized as a conceptual photographer and was born in 1987 in Lancaster Pennsylvania. (Believe it or not, it is sheer coincidence that both these photographers are from PA and I have literally just moved to PA).(And she went to Temple — and I would love to go to Temple!)

A Blending of Structure

Brooke Shaden – A Blending of Structure

A Tree to Climb

Brooke Shaden – A Tree to Climb

[Shaden] began creating self-portraits for ease and to have full control over the images, and has since grown into a self-portrait artist. Self portraiture for her is not autobiographical in nature. Instead, she attempts to place herself within worlds she wishes we could live in, where secrets float out in the open, where the impossible becomes possible. Brooke works to create new worlds within her photographic frame. By using painterly techniques as well as the square format, traditional photographic properties are replaced by otherworldly elements. Brooke’s photography questions the definition of what it means to be alive.”


Brooke Shaden – Bathe


Brooke Shaden – Chrysalis

I think there’s an interesting blend of fantastic and “real” elements in Shaden’s work. (Real is exactly the right word…)

On Broken Land the Wounded Walk

Brooke Shaden – On Broken Land the Wounded Walk

The Blood that Veins Carry

Brooke Shaden – The Blood that Veins Carry

I love her work when it feels most “real” (whatever that means), but is that because of how I have been trained to look at photography?

Brooke Shaden - Fetus

Brooke Shaden – Fetus

Brooke Shaden - The Fallen

Brooke Shaden – The Fallen

In fact, I think some of the qualities I love most about her work is the 1) content 2)surface, which I would imagine have something to do with her desire to be more “painterly”. A painterly photographer is an excellent notion, I think.

Brooke Shaden - How The Forest Grows

Brooke Shaden – How The Forest Grows

Brooke Shaden - In Formation

Brooke Shaden – In Formation

Brooke Shaden - Sac

Brooke Shaden – Sac

Brooke Shaden - The Facade Of Wilting Flowers

Brooke Shaden – The Facade Of Wilting Flowers

Brooke Shaden - The Research Labratory

Brooke Shaden – The Research Labratory

Brooke Shaden - The Tide That Takes Us All

Brooke Shaden – The Tide That Takes Us All

Brooke Shaden - The World Above

Brooke Shaden – The World Above

Brooke Shaden - To Nowhere Land

Brooke Shaden – To Nowhere Land

Brooke Shaden - Traveling North

Brooke Shaden – Traveling North

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3 Responses to “A painterly photographer is an excellent notion, I think: Taking a closer look at Photography”

  1. Jaclyn says:

    I love Brooke Shaden’s work I have been following her for a while. I don’t think the presence of photo editing in her work acts as any sort of qualifier. It enhances the work more than anything else. The editing is part of the creative process to translate an idea just like finding the setting, lighting, etc for the photo. I think editing only becomes a problem when it is not used as a conscious design element. Shaden doesn’t use it to cheat the contrast, but to create a world that otherwise may be impossible. Through the progress of her work the two worlds become increasingly mingled blurring the lines if what is real or not. I find that is a very interesting quality of photography.

    • calliegarp says:

      I just discovered Brook Shaden when I wrote this post, back in January. She was definitely one of the tipping points for me to be suckered into the world of current digital photography. I’m really interested in the intersections between design, advertising and female photographers.
      I think you’re right about the editing process. It was a mind-frame I had to work through, though. I think part of my issue was that I always was told I should write off commercial photography as “non high-art” and since a lot of contemporary digital photography right now seems to feed off of commercial work (what art doesn’t in some form or another??) I just wasn’t looking at digital photography much at all.
      Now, some of the artists I am most inspired by are photographers!


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