flickr friends: winnie’s human

posted by the scholar on August 25th, 2008
filed under: art, artists, photography

pam_ullman_photography_flight

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…

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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. it’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.

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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 didn’t pick up a camera in a serious way until the summer of 2006. i’m a recovering lawyer, but i’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 didn’t have the energy to write. i can’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.

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i’d always been a casual photographer, but didn’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 peoples’ 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; it’s the ultimate in self-expression. i love the immediacy of it. and the sense of community i’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!

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q: without giving away any secrets of course, can you tell us a little bit about your technique?
a: i assume you’re referring to my use of textures to render some images “painterly.” 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. they’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.

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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. it’s highly creative, and giddy fun. i don’t have a specific methodology. i’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 i’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 photographer’s version of a single paragraph. and i never hesitate, as we writers like to say, to “kill my darlings.” it’s painful to hit the delete button after hours of effort, but i do it.

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a few good and bad things i’ve learned about the process: (1) textures won’t make a bad photograph any better; (2) not every image lends itself to textures; (3) it’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 i’d be happy to hang on my own wall. a successful print always feels like a lovely surprise.

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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 i’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 i’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 couldn’t overcome what felt to me like an invasion of privacy. i’m a very approachable person, and from time to time, had the pleasure of shooting with my subjects’ permission. but it still didn’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.

i’m a country girl at heart. i’m a person for whom silence is music. nature is a very meditative environment for me. i think i photograph nature because it’s where i’m happiest.

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q: what inspires your creativity? do you see yourself with a camera in your hands, say, 10 or 20 years from now?
a: it doesn’t take much to inspire me; that feeling of wanting to “make something” is always inside of me. first and foremost, i’m inspired by the light. i’ll shoot an old shoe in the road if it has great light on it. i’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 can’t imagine growing old without my camera. it’s really become a part of who i am.

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see much more on pam’s flickr stream, and purchase your favorite pieces of her collection on her very beautiful website.

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thank you pam! (and many thanks to rachel for her great tip!)


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6 Responses to “flickr friends: winnie’s human”

  1. Lauren K Says:

    These are wonderful. They have a very nostalgic feel to them, something I love. The beach shots are my favorite!

  2. sosser Says:

    great story and magnificent photos!

  3. Diana Pappas Says:

    Such a wonderful interview! I have known Pam on flickr since I started out over a year and a half ago… it’s been so interesting seeing her style change, and more interesting still reading about her journey back to being that country girl at heart.

    P.S. That “Julia Child on LSD” line made me spit out my water.

  4. the scholar Says:

    i agree lauren – they do feel very nostalgic to me as well. but still fresh.

    thanks sosser – glad you like it!

    diana – i always think it is fascinating to watch the evolution of a person’s creative work. art is dynamic and never stays in the same place, and i think for the viewer it is a thrilling thing to watch unfold.

    and yes – i howled out loud too when i read that julia child line! 🙂

  5. Recent Links Tagged With "opacity" - JabberTags Says:

    […] public links >> opacity flickr friends: winnie’s human Saved by femmefatel on Wed 05-11-2008 A Quick and Easy Watercolor with Photoshop’s Art History […]

  6. La Trollette Says:

    I can’t believe I missed that fantastic article!
    Of course, I was in the plane flying to Utah, I never use the Internet on holidays and I had so many posts to read whan I came back that I just skipped them all…
    Pam is really a great artist and her wonderful work helped me to make peace with textures. I laughed reading that she resisted to Photoshop for a year!
    ;o)

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