filed under: art, artists, photography
there are many pretty nature images out there, but they don’t sweep me off my feet like the ones in the simply stunning collection of pam ullman. i am easily, willingly, magically transported to a soft, sensual place when i look at these photos. i love the thoughtful compositions, the thorough attention to detail and the dreamy energy they possess, and her skillful techniques post production are really the cherry on the cake. pam leads us gently by the hand on a journey through her lens to fields, forest and sky. and here today, as it turns out, she leads us on a compelling journey through her mind too…
q: where do you live, and where do you create your collection?
a: my husband and i live in central pennsylvania, about 50 miles west of philadelphia, and just on the edge of pennsylvania dutch country. itâ€™s fairly rural, with wet autumns, short springs, sweltering summers, and wicked winters. we escape these extremes at the jersey shore, and in the south carolina lowcountry, my two favorite places to photograph.
q: what first drew you to photography? Do you have a background in art?
a: (laughs) my path to photography was a pretty crooked one. i didnâ€™t pick up a camera in a serious way until the summer of 2006. iâ€™m a recovering lawyer, but iâ€™ve always had a creative streak. i gave up lawyering in 2000 to pursue a passion for creative writing. i published literary short stories and essays in the years after that, and decided to pursue an MFA. when i was accepted into programs for both fiction and non-fiction, i found myself unable to commit to either. i was paralyzed with indecision when september 11 happened. in the aftermath of that, i published one more story and then decided to go back to work. the job was emotionally draining and i didnâ€™t have the energy to write. i canâ€™t say for sure what compelled me to pick up my camera, but i think that, instinctively, i was looking to replace one creative outlet with another.
iâ€™d always been a casual photographer, but didnâ€™t know the first thing about photography as art. my husband bought me a DSLR, and for about a year, i took on-line courses at betterphoto.com, beginning with a class on how to use my camera. (laughs) i took a fairly intellectual approach to learning: i read books about photography and photographers, and for a long time, just studied other peoplesâ€™ images, trying to decipher what the best work, in all its varied forms, seemed to have in common.
ultimately, i realized that photography, like many other things in life, is best learned by doing. explore, experiment, edit. there is no one way to see and shoot something. you bring who you are to every image; itâ€™s the ultimate in self-expression. i love the immediacy of it. and the sense of community iâ€™ve found in supportive environments like flickr. most of all, i love that in photography, there is always something to learn. and always something to shoot!
q: without giving away any secrets of course, can you tell us a little bit about your technique?
a: i assume youâ€™re referring to my use of textures to render some images â€œpainterly.â€ this is actually something quite new for me, and is inspired by the work of some of my flickr friends, like linda plaisted, michael ticcino, and pamela viola, photographers who trained in painting and other visual arts. theyâ€™re all very different, but they share a remarkable talent for composition that just bowls me over. another photographer who similarly inspires me is jody miller. she rarely uses textures, but the composition of her landscapes, indeed, all of her work, is decidedly painterly.
i resisted photoshop for more than a year, but when i layered in my first texture, i was hooked. when i was very young, i enjoyed making mixed media collages, and making textures images really resonates with me. itâ€™s highly creative, and giddy fun. i donâ€™t have a specific methodology. iâ€™m a bit like a mad scientist, or julia child on LSD. (ed. note: this is the quote of the week.) i usually make three or four copies of an image and work them all very differently until i see something I like. i play with modes and the opacity slider quite a bit. and when iâ€™m going for something more illustrative than realistic, i like to cross-process. as in creative writing, sometimes the creation of an image is nearly effortless. other times, it takes hours to write the photographerâ€™s version of a single paragraph. and i never hesitate, as we writers like to say, to â€œkill my darlings.â€ itâ€™s painful to hit the delete button after hours of effort, but i do it.
a few good and bad things iâ€™ve learned about the process: (1) textures wonâ€™t make a bad photograph any better; (2) not every image lends itself to textures; (3) itâ€™s easy to take textures too far; (4) textures free you up to shoot on days with bad light, and (5) they hide sensor dust. (laughs)
a word to the wise: textured images do not always print the way they look on a computer screen. i never add anything to my website until i make a print that iâ€™d be happy to hang on my own wall. a successful print always feels like a lovely surprise.
q: what is it about nature photographs that appeals to you most?
a: originally, i thought i would concentrate on street photography. watching life through the viewfinder felt very much like the kind of observing iâ€™d been doing as a writer, and really, for all of my life. Walking the streets, i saw a story in every image; it just felt so natural. and iâ€™m a huge fan of black and white photography, so i liked that about the genre. but with the camera to my eye, i felt exposed, and couldnâ€™t overcome what felt to me like an invasion of privacy. iâ€™m a very approachable person, and from time to time, had the pleasure of shooting with my subjectsâ€™ permission. but it still didnâ€™t feel quite right, and before i knew it, i was standing more and more often in a field of wildflowers. (laughs) it was such a relief.
iâ€™m a country girl at heart. iâ€™m a person for whom silence is music. nature is a very meditative environment for me. i think i photograph nature because itâ€™s where iâ€™m happiest.
q: what inspires your creativity? do you see yourself with a camera in your hands, say, 10 or 20 years from now?
a: it doesnâ€™t take much to inspire me; that feeling of wanting to â€œmake somethingâ€ is always inside of me. first and foremost, iâ€™m inspired by the light. iâ€™ll shoot an old shoe in the road if it has great light on it. iâ€™m inspired by beauty in the little things. by sunrises and sunsets. by small moments and grand gestures. by photographers who take the art to different places and new heights.
i canâ€™t imagine growing old without my camera. itâ€™s really become a part of who i am.
thank you pam! (and many thanks to rachel for her great tip!)