Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Focus On: smcternen

Sepia Eye

One of the best things about this gig, if not THE best thing, is the opportunity it gives me to shine a light on some of those shops that, for no good reason, go relatively unnoticed.  This time out I'd like to shine my light on smcternen; the Etsy shop, run by Sarah McTernen, has been around for nearly 3 years.

I first became aware of Sarah's work about 6 or 8 months ago, and she's been popping up on my radar intermittently ever since.  We recently shared a conversation, which I in turn, would now like to share with you.

Steve:  Sarah, your body of work seems to cut across a broad spectrum of, I don't know, "styles", "subjects", "genres", whatever. Looking at your work, some words that come to mind are: "artful", "edgy", "introspective", "existential", "hip", "reflective" and "documentary"...these are but a few that I came up with when I thought about it.

What words would you use to describe yourself? Who is Sarah; where does she come from? What is your family like? What was it in your early life, your formative years if you will, that guided you to the place you are now?

Sarah:  Words that describe me? Hmmm...passionate, eclectic, busy. I am a wife and mother of four ages 9, 8, 4 and 1, photographic artist, portrait photographer, jewelry designer, I cook, I bake, I home school my children...I rarely have a moment to sit still. 

Right now, I am sitting in my living room looking at my art that hangs in the living room trying to think about what influenced me to make these images and I am unsure. I love contrast. I love the everyday pieces of life shown in a different light. I love light and how it can change an image from mediocre to fabulous. I love perspective. One of my recent photographs, Haunting, is taken from almost ground level looking up, which gives my simple pear tree an eerie appearance. My work jumps categories and styles, so it is hard to define. Some of my favorite pieces where just chance, like the Flaming Silhouette, a few are set up like the Camo Violin and AR Apart, while others have gone through many different edits to end up where they are now, like Moss Wall and most of the Coffee House Lingering Series.

AR Apart.

I've spent most of my life in western Washington State living short stints in southern California and Boston, Massachusetts. I moved a lot when I was younger and developed a lot of interest in a wide variety of subjects. I went to Stadium High School and Boston University, but none of my schooling involved art or photography. I was strictly academic and music, voice and violin. The story of photography and me started when I was in seventh grade when my aunt gave me a disposable camera. I was hooked from the first snap of the shutter. I upgraded to digital my senior year of high school and have enjoyed the greater control I have over the finished product ever since. My camera of choice is an Olympus. I have moved from the 3030z, to the E-300, to the E520. I am also in love with glass. I adore the feel of and the images achieved with the 35mm lenses. I see the world a little different than most people, so what I tend to focus on, others would just ignore. Of course this works both ways. I see other photographers’ work and am astounded by what they were able to capture.

I started out shooting clouds and architecture this soon morphed into the Coffee House series with ashtrays and cigarettes, cream containers of coffee cups. I began shooting firearms after I met my husband, displaying a different side of these controversial items. I also started shooting more modes of transportation like motorcycles, planes and cars. I love the different angles you can capture and still recognize the image. I also thought that playing around with infrared would be neat, so I bought a filter for my E-300 and shot the Asian Garden collection. Right now I still have photographs I took in Colorado last spring that I need to develop and I just took a series in the flight museum that I haven’t looked at yet.

Steve:  Between homeschooling and caring for your children, however do you find time to devote to photography, as well as your other interests?

The Mountain

Sarah:  I can't sit still. I must keep my mind and hands busy. The older children love art as well, so they will draw, paint, play with clay or beads while I work on photos. My eight year old is a bookworm. He will devour a 200 page book in a day. Most of my work happens when the baby is sleeping. She takes up a lot of my time right now. In the end I don't get as must done as I would like. I am enjoying my family and watching my children grow and develop their own interests including painting, acting, sports, science, etc. For home school, we follow a child led education model, so they learn at their own pace and study subjects that interest them. The world is their classroom.

Steve:  You said, while at Boston University..."I was strictly academic and music, voice and violin."  Tell me more. Academic what? Are you still active with your music?

Sarah:  I didn't spend much time in Boston. I went there to study secondary English education. I left after a semester due to a lack of cohesiveness between my view of learning and the school's view of education. My schooling consisted of mostly psychology, mythology, and astronomy. Any music was on my own. I studied violin for six years before lapsing into irregular practice. I look forward to playing regularly again some day and I would love to be part of a quartet once more. I studied voice for eight years in and out of school. I sang with some independent choirs as well as some local up  and coming talent when I was younger. Now singing consists of lullabies and an occasional appearance on karaoke night. 

The funny thing is, I swore I hated participating in art, besides music, until the summer of my junior year in high school. A friend of mine convinced me that I should help out with a pilot program for an arts high school. They were silk screening tiles and creating PSAs. I was placed in front of a video editing machine and fell in the love with the meticulous nature of it. After that was when I realized there was more to art than drawing and painting, neither of which I have any skill. I started shooting more photographs that did not contain people, at different angles, playing with light, and then I switched to digital. I doubled the amount of pictures I had taken in my entire life in a month and a half. I'm not completely sure that is accurate, but I was taking a lot more photographs.


Some time after I came home from Boston, I was spending so much time working on photographs, tweaking this and that, I decided to focus on it as my career so I would stop viewing it as a waste of time. That was in 2004.

Steve:  Do you ever get an itch to just photograph something, an itch that must be scratched? What do you do when that happens? Are your photo shoots planned or spontaneous?

Sarah:  All the time. Sometimes my hands are so full, there is no way for me to shoot, and then I am a little frustrated, like having to deal with an itch inside a cast. Other times I somehow don't have my camera with me. I think that is the most frustrating of all. Otherwise, I just grab my camera and shoot away. Sometimes I only manage a few shots before the scene is disturbed, other times I end up with dozens of photographs to work with. Last year when the pear blossoms came out, all I wanted to do was take some photographs, so I brought my six month old out in her rocking chair and shot until she had enough of sitting still. 

Most of my photographs are spontaneous. I notice something, or my husband tells me I need to come and look at something (he is responsible for the Sanding series and the first set of Dragonfly images). My mom came to my house the other day and told me there was a great spider web on my front porch. Which reminds me, I didn't finish with those photographs.

The set up shots tend to be firearms and musical instruments, though sometimes food and flowers are thrown into the mix. I just finished a series with a wine glass and a dried lavender rose from my garden. I liked the bubbles in the glass.

Girl with a Cigarette

Steve:  What are your favorite things to shoot?

Sarah:  The inside of things that people don't normally think about (Nutmeg), rust and decay and at the same time life and growth. I love giving a new perspective to an everyday object. I like the challenge of shooting small insects since I manual focus everything. I like eyes too. I like reflections. I am fascinated by the world around me, both natural and man-made. My kids help with that. My four year old found a moth in the bathroom and was afraid. I explained that there was nothing to be afraid about and pointed out the delicate patterns on the moth's back. We both sat there and took pictures of the moth.

Steve:  I like that you take advantage of teachable moments with your kids and use your camera as a tool in doing so!

Do you have a photographic point of view? Is there anything you're trying to say through your photography?

Sarah:  If there is a unifying message in my work, it is that the world around us is wondrous, from the darkness to the light. There is beauty in everything, it just depends on how you look at it.

Steve:  Where is photography taking you, or where are you taking it? From a photography standpoint, what does the future have in store for you?

Wet Feet

Sarah:  My photography goes with me everywhere. When I travel on a plane, my camera is with me so I can capture the world from 30,000 feet. I love road trips; especially when I don't have to drive because then I can take pictures out the window. Last spring the kids and I piled into the car and drove to Colorado with their grandparents. 

My goal is to have a brick and mortar studio in five years. I would love to be able to showcase local young artists and other photographers who do not have a place to exhibit. A lot of the galleries around here limit the amount of photography they show each year. Beyond that, I want to travel more and expand my collection. I want to experiment with other techniques and styles. Photography and I are in this for the long haul.

Steve:  Sarah, I want to thank you so much for taking this time with me! I've really enjoyed getting to know you a bit better, thank you so much!

Sarah:  Thank you; I feel so very honored for your interest in my work.

Ana was Here


PhotoGrunt is Steve Raley, a photographic documentarian from Seattle, Washington.  He captures images wherever he goes, and he  frequently even uses a camera.  His work can be seen on his websiteblog and his Etsy shop.


Jay B. Wilson said...

I love "Ketchup." Great interview, thanks to both of you.

Anika said...

Great interview, enjoyed it!

Thanks for the intro to another very interesting talent!

Tweak said...

Awesome, I looked at her gallery and the compositions are amazing.