Introducing Vicki Reed

Vicki Reed is a fine art photographer based out of Cedarburg, Wisconsin who is fascinated by a wide variety of photographic processes.  Keep reading to find out how her time as a photojournalist has affected her personal work and what new processes have her excited.



 

How did you get started?

After I helped my husband get through graduate school, we settled in Evansville, Indiana. I had received my bachelor’s degree in Psychology in Maine decided that I couldn’t do much in that field without having a graduate degree. However, before pursuing a graduate degree I wanted to try something hands on. There was a great two year commercial/industrial photography program at the Indiana Vocational Technical Institute in Evansville. I enrolled in the photography course and was hooked after I developed my first roll of film and saw my first print appear in the tray like magic. I knew I had found what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I didn’t know what I would do with it at the time, but it felt good to have a voice.

Did you have a background in art before that?

We didn’t have a strong art program at the high school in the small town in central Maine where I grew up, but I did take oil painting classes from a local artist. Learning about color theory and creating a color palette certainly helped when I began my hand-coloring work.

It was the best training I’ve had concerning photography. I never knew from one day to the next what I would be photographing.

You worked at a newspaper for a number of years. Tell me about that.

It was the best training I’ve had concerning photography. I never knew from one day to the next what I would be photographing. I had to quickly assess a breaking news scene when I arrived, finding what would be the best approach to get the one photograph that would convey the story to the readers.

Also, we didn’t have much control over lighting when out in the field. This often produced difficult negatives to print, but it was the best practical darkroom experience I have ever had. I often traveled with a roll of aluminum foil and a big white mat board in the back of my car so I could use it for fill lighting. As long as it wasn’t a crisis situation I could usually nab someone nearby to hold it for me.

You’ve been an editor for an art magazine as well.

My husband, Buz, and I started a literary art magazine. His background is in writing, so our interests mesh together well. We moved to Galesburg, IL where we formed a group of writers, musicians, artists.  We got together twice a month to present programs and share work. Out of that grew a magazine that Buz and I published. That magazine was eventually taken over by a local college. 

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When we moved to Wisconsin we discussed our previous experience with a group of friends, who convinced us to start a new magazine, Porcupine. We featured interviews with artists, published short fiction, poetry, and essays as well as portfolios of artwork. People submitted work from all over the world. I was in charge of the art and essays as well as the financial side of the publication. We published it for 12 years.

My favorite part of working at the newspaper had been the feature stories. I accompanied the reporter and tried to be invisible to capture candid images of the person he or she was interviewing. Not only was I discovering people through the lens of my camera, but I was hearing the interviewer ask questions and the responses. I was fascinated by all the people I met that way. Porcupine provided another way to meet some interesting people and learn about their processes, which I’ve always been intrigued by. And that includes anyone in the arts, not just photographers. We met people from all over the world, some of whom have become close friends. It was a wonderful experience.

Not only did it help me to mature in my own field over the years, but it exposed me to other artists and made me aware of what they’re experimenting with.

How has working for the newspaper and starting your own magazine affected your personal work?

Not only did it help me to mature in my own field over the years, but it exposed me to other artists and made me aware of what they’re experimenting with. It enriched my own work and gave me permission to explore new things, especially when people are breaking ground in their particular field.

Beyond the technical skills of working in the darkroom at the newspaper, it also honed my eye. I worked at a daily newspaper in Central Illinois where there wasn’t a lot of breaking news happening. Being in such a quiet community, I had to be constantly looking for something interesting that could be the front page of the paper. It forced me to be creative with everyday images and see everyday things in a way that might interest a viewer. If the most exciting thing going on was the corn growing in the fields I had to figure out an interesting way to photograph it- which might mean digging a hole in the field to crawl in to photograph the combines working at dirt level.

I gravitate toward simplicity and quiet moments and stillness.

How would you describe your photography?

I gravitate toward simplicity and quiet moments and stillness. That’s what I try to capture, no matter what it is—water, landscapes, people. I always try to capture quiet moments.

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What draws you to nature as a subject source?

I grew up in a small town near a lake. A lot of my childhood memories were playing with friends in fields. We’d get up on summer mornings and take off for the day. We’d end up at somebody’s house for lunch and at seven o’ clock a fire whistle blew that resonated throughout the town, indicating that it was time for us to go home. All the time in between was free to us. We’d explore the lake and ponds, catch frogs and turtles. It instilled in me a love for nature.

My job at the newspaper could be very hectic and stressful. I find the quietness in nature has become the antidote to the stress caused by busyness. It provides a wonderful escape.

Landscapes are an endless source: they change during seasons, different weather patterns; the light is never the same even over the course of an hour. You have to be in tune with what’s going and how the light changes. I find it absolutely essential to be aware of my surroundings.

How do you find subject matter?

Some people decide before they take a photograph what their series is going to be, what camera they will use, how they will process or create the images, how they will present it. My training with the newspaper was to hop in the car or take a walk and look for something. I have certain series and projects I work on, but most of the time it’s driving around or going for a walk and leaving myself open to see something that interests me.

It is that element of unpredictability and often serendipity that keeps my interest and excitement alive.

Why do you use such a variety of processes?

It was very important not to manipulate the images when I worked at the newspaper. They were meant to be straight and factual. We were encouraged to capture images in a creative way, but there was no Photoshop or other alteration. When I got out of that business and was free to do whatever I wanted, I first made very straight, black and white images. Over time, I became more interested in manipulating the image in order to create whatever mood I wanted. I don’t have a lot of control over what happens when I use primitive pinhole cameras or some of the alternative processes that I use and it is that element of unpredictability and often serendipity that keeps my interest and excitement alive.

 

Is there a particular process you’re excited about right now?

I’m making lumen prints these days. They are made by placing objects on top of black and white darkroom paper and then placing this on backboard and covering with a sheet of glass. They are then placed in the sun where they are exposed from 15 minutes to several days. I use mostly organic objects—plants, flowers, sometimes even food. As the organic matter breaks down, the chemicals in the material react with the chemicals in the paper and create a color image. The color is affected by temperature, humidity, length of exposure, and what type of paper is use. 
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My parents are in their late 80’s and dealing with memory loss. My lumen prints are a metaphor for what they’re going through. The images I create are ghosts of the plants that I’ve taken from both their gardens and mine. Although they’re losing memories, I’m creating new memories from our time together with my lumen prints.

If an image has a timeless quality that resonates with the viewer then it’s successful. It doesn’t matter what process the photographer used.

How has the advent of digital photography affected your work?

There are analog purists who believe that digital is irrelevant and doesn’t deserve any attention. There are digital photographers who think those still working with film are nuts. I have my foot in both camps. Digital is just one more tool to use. If an image has a timeless quality that resonates with the viewer then it’s successful. It doesn’t matter what process the photographer used.

The fact is digital photography has enabled the preservation of historical processes through the ease of making digital negatives and positives, making cyanotype and Van Dyke Brown prints accessible. Digital has raised the awareness of these primitive processes. A lot of people who started out in digital feel something is missing—they want a hands-on experience. This often brings them to analog processes where they can use their digital images to make platinum prints, palladium prints, etc.

I find that I am most inspired by people who have a very personal connection to their work.

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Who are a couple of artists that inspire your work?

The painter Andrew Wyeth has had a great influence on my work. My parents loved his work and had it in our home when I was growing up. I wasn’t terribly aware of it and didn’t study it, but I must have absorbed the aesthetic. His stillness, calm and color palette certainly influenced me when I was hand-coloring interiors and still life photographs. Awareness of his work has contributed to the stillness which defines my work.

There are too many contemporary photographers to narrow down. I have a large group of photographer friends who I’ve connected with through social media and who continually inspire me. Locally I go on photo shoots with friends, Hal Rammel and Martin Morante to try out our various pinhole cameras. They build their own cameras and certainly inspire me with their experimentation.

There is a large group of contemporary female photographers out there as well that are doing interesting work. I’m connected with a group called Shootapalooza that was organized by Judy Sherrod. They are always experimenting and growing and are very supportive of one another’s work. I am honored to be among this inspiring, generous group. One member of this group, Heather Oelklaus, recently had a solo exhibit titled, One of a Kind. She explored her subjects through alternative process photography, that often resulted in one of a kind images. Many of the images were very personal, related to her daily life with diabetes. I was impressed with her work and imagination.

I find that I am most inspired by people who have a very personal connection to their work.

Do you consider yourself a photographer or an artist?

I’m a photographic artist. I’m a photographer first, but the lines between photography and other mediums are being blurred these days. You can incorporate many other processes—print making, encaustic, painting, etc. Photography lends itself to other mediums and provides an opportunity for a photographer to dabble in so many different fields. 

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What makes a good photograph?

I find the most satisfaction when my work connects with someone. I have a gallery in the Netherlands. Recently, they reported someone came in to look at one of my pieces and started crying. It brought back childhood memories for them and had a very deep connection. It felt good that it resonated so deeply with someone else.

What is the defining characteristic of a good photographer?

They have to be observant and aware—of light and its constant changing, and of their surroundings. They must be patient and wait for the image to show itself.

What do you like best about being an artist and what do you find most challenging?

I love the freedom it gives me to experiment. I’ve been doing it for over 35 years and still find it exciting and fun. The most challenging part is daring to try new things. Often, clients like a certain body of work and don’t want you to change. To put yourself out there with new, experimental work can be frightening. But, if you have a good core of friends and artists who support and encourage you to grow, then those challenges become less frightening.

It’s a very emotional and trying time for me, but photography provides a way for me to deal with it on a daily basis.

Do you have a favorite piece?

Some of my favorite pieces are from my early hand-coloring work, because it was the beginning of my exploration of new processes. Now, some of my favorite work is from my set of iPhone images.

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I’m currently working on a body of work called The Road. When I was young, my family took a lot of road trips. I love being out on the road. On my recent trip to Colorado, I decided to recreate the nostalgia of those early road trips by shooting images out the window with my iPhone. It’s spontaneous and very new, but I’m excited about expanding it.

Currently, my work is centered around memory because it is what I’m immersed in right now in my personal life. It’s a very emotional and trying time for me, but photography provides a way for me to deal with it on a daily basis.

How do you promote your work?

I fall into the category of artists who create work they hope will walk out the door!

I put together photo-books of my work and send them to curators and gallery owners. I spend some time on Facebook, Instagram and Flickr. The Rotterdam gallery found me through Flickr and Facebook. I’ve had a lot of people connect with me through Facebook.

I put my work out there by doing juried shows all over the country. That’s put me in touch with a lot of people in the analog and alternative photography community. Everyone is supportive of each other’s work.

I want to be out in the light and on the road.

Where do you see your work 5-10 years?

I hope I’m still around and kicking!

I assume that I will progress in my exploration of alternative photographic processes. The older I get, the less time I want to spend in the darkroom. I want to be out in the light and on the road. I probably won’t do as much traditional black and white photography as I’ve done in the past. The iPhone is fun and handy to experiment with and can adapt to the processes I enjoy. I’ll never give up on pinhole and antique cameras, but I probably won’t spend as much time in the darkroom as I have in the past. 

 

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What advice do you have for budding artists?

Become technically proficient. You have to learn the rules before you break them, which I encourage you to do. Be well educated and have hands-on experiences. Shoot what you know about and shoot what’s in your heart. A lot of young people want to take on weighty subjects, but you’re going to have the best chance connecting and resonating with your audience when you have a personal connection to the work. Never stop learning. Take workshops. Meet people and pick their brains. Be willing to grow. 



See more of Vicki’s work and follow her on the web:

Web – Flickr – Facebook



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