The Kiernan Gallery is pleased to have photographer and author Sharon Beals as juror for our upcoming exhibition Botanicals. We have asked her a few questions about her work.
Your work is as much advocacy as it is art. What are your thoughts on balancing the artistic interpretation of natural subjects with their scientific and ecological significance?
This is a hard question to answer, Kat. As far as the nests go, they are scientifically accurate, down to using the eggs that were collected with the specimens whenever I could locate them in the science museums. I might have lit them in a way that enhanced the interest of the nest materials or the sculptural quality, but since the images were going to be used for a book and the nests were photographed in science collections, I didn't feel comfortable taking license with the nests. I had the responsibility of answering to the scientists who granted me access to those specimens always on my mind.
My other landscape and beach plastic images, I take some license with, if not a lot. I want others to love the untidy wild that speaks to me, so if I have to turn them blue via faux cyanotype, or make duotones, to try to make the viewer notice what they might have overlooked, I think that is fine. With the beach plastic, the images are totally a manipulation. I think of them as advertising for a cause in a way, to make them attractively confrontational.
What We Leave Behind
Your book Nests, Fifty Nests and the Birds that Built Them is a successful artistic and scientific exploration of the natural world. How did this series evolve into a book?
The photographs are the culmination of a trajectory that began after reading Scott Weidensaul’s wonderful book, Living on the Wind, Across the Hemispheres with Migrating Birds. Threaded through his essays about the amazing feat of migration are stories of the survival challenges that many species of birds face at either end of their journeys, and along the way—challenges which are most often created by humans. Galvanized, I began to look for a way to use my photographs to communicate what must be told about the lives of birds today. It wasn’t until I happened upon the wonder of these avian architectural feats that I felt I had found something that might speak for their creators, and which would speak to viewers who might never pick up a pair of binoculars or open a birding guide. I would make photographs and tell the stories of their builders.
I also put words to my photographs, adding essays about bird behavior, nesting habits, and when it was important, the conservation concerns that these builders might be facing.
Were all of the nests for the book were photographed on location? If so, what was the process of photographing in the field?
The photographs were all made on little sets I made in rooms full of cabinets that housed the nests and eggs of historic science collections in The California Academy of Sciences, the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, the Western Foundation of Vertebrate Zoology. I just recently photographed about dozen more nests at the Cornell University Museum of Vertebrates. All of this has been a great privilege. And I climbed no trees. Most were collected in the 1900s, if not earlier.
Botanical photography is a vast and varied genre. How do you think will approach this process of jurying this exhibition?
Because it is so vast, and so varied, I will keep an open mind, and hope only that the images I get to see are of a quality and invention that honors their subjects. I hope that there are images that I haven't "seen" before, that surprise me, but I will also be pleased to be witness to well executed classical images. I look forward to the challenge of curating what I think will be a very exciting show.
Finally, we ask this of all of our artists, what does success in art mean to you?
Success in art, to me, means being seen and appreciated for the intent of your work. To have galleries and shows is another iteration of that same idea. I don't want to be glib, as I have had some success, but to be appreciated by people who know art photography is sometimes just enough.
As if it Didn't Matter
The deadline to submit to Botanicals is August 22. Visit KiernanGallery.com for more information.