Michael Pilkington
Michael Pilkington

Karen Messick is a professional photographer based in Baltimore, Maryland, USA. She is an instructor at the John Hopkins University and leads workshops and lectures for Penn Camera in Washington DC. She has had a number of successful exhibitions and sells fine art prints of her work through her website.

Karen’s work covers more conventional landscape photography but she also embraces Art as Photography as a concept and uses digital technology, both in camera and in the studio to produce her unique work.

1. How does photography differ from art?

Philosophically I do not separate Photography from Art. I believe photography is ART, the act of creating a photograph is creating art.

Many a photographer has crossed between what has long been argued or pondered, the line of photography in its literal sense or a more painterly approach as in a note below regarding the famous photographer Steichen’s work:

“Edward Steichen, born 1879 in Luxembourg, came to the United States in 1881.Though Steichen took up photography in 1895, he considered himself primarily a painter up until about 1920, when he confirmed his faith in photography by burning all of his paintings.

Karen Messick

Steichen had been a “Pictorialist” up until this time, believing photography should emulate painting, but after commanding the photographic division of the American Expeditionary Forces in World War I and by the time he returned home to conduct his famous bonfire his artistic forces had come to stand for something else; "Today I am no longer concerned with photography as an art form. I believe it is potentially the best medium for explaining man to himself and to his fellow man”.

2. What is your approach to your images?

Creating images bridges the whole process from capture to print. There is no question that a great image starts in the field with the right light, conditions, interesting subject matter and a photographer that is fully versed on the guidelines of composition, color and design, and who knows how to use their camera functions to capture a fabulous raw file.

Karen Messick

Processing your images is fully 50 percent of the photographic equation. There are many creative options in Photoshop to explore for making beautiful images. A beautifully crafted image takes time to develop and see in processing. New software programs can advance your personal vision simply by displaying options to impact the image that otherwise you might never have visualized.

Karen Messick

I like to work a scene with ideas of what certain software or processes can do to bring an image alive and satisfy my vision of a certain scene or subject. Other times I have no idea what I will do with an image until I start the processing stage.

3. When did you start creating ‘art photos” and what was the motivation behind this?

As I moved from images captured on slide film, embracing the new digital photography technology, I saw that new opportunities existed to be more than literal. As I became more versed with the digital camera and digital processing I began to “see” how the tools could be used to add more of a personal vision to my images.

Karen Messick

Camera manufacturers have also found ways to include in camera software traditional techniques, such as slide sandwiches (now Nikon’s Image Overlay feature) or multiple exposures. Previously this required the calculation of exposure values for the result you desired. So with the advent of software and camera functions came new image making opportunities for those willing to explore and experiment.

4. How do you respond to the comment that this is not really photography or the images are 'just processed'?

Did you use a camera to get the raw file? Then its photography! If one studies the art of photography in history then one will see photographers have always altered their work! It is just the media that we use to do it! How about a “Straight” shot where the photographer has used an old-fashioned split neutral grad filter? Is that altering the scene? How about photographers that use encaustics on their images to give depth and texture?

Karen Messick

5. Do you have formal art training? Do you need it?

From a very young age, I had some artistic talent, excelling in my grades and enjoying all the forms of art from pottery to painting that I was exposed to in public schools. I had set my sights on attending the Maryland Institute of Art as an “Interior Design” student upon graduating from high school. In fact I had taken summer courses there in between my junior and senior year of high school in drawing and interior design. However life changed things and I began a career in retail, working with merchandise. I did not begin my photography career until 1997, some 27 years after high school. I took a photography workshop for a vacation one year and that really put me on a path.

It was not until I retired from retail in 2007 that I began with earnest my drive to do something in with my images. I really did not have a path charted in the photographic world, rather let it unfold as I grew in my art. I do not think formal training is a must, but you can surely benefit from the teaching experience, the wisdom and knowledge of others.

Karen Messick

6. Are there particular artists or photographers that have influenced you?

Yes! In the art world, I have always enjoyed the painting artists from the Impressionist period: such as Monet, Renoir, Cassat, Sisley and Pissarro. I have also enjoyed the work of Georgia O’Keefe and Andrew Wyeth. As a cultural art I also have enjoyed the many styles of Chinese and Japanese art. Photographically I enjoy the work of contemporaries such as Freeman Patterson, William Neill and Tony Sweet. Historical photographers I enjoyed from the Pictorialist period are: Steiglitz, Weston and Bodine, and who could not put Ansel Adams among their inspirational photographers of the American West.

Karen Messick

Interview by Michael Pilkington

© aspect2i 2010 ©images Karen Messick (www.karenlmessickphotogrpahy.com)