Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Focus On: HeyHarriet

Gluttonous Gulls

This time out I'm focusing on "HeyHarriet", and as you might guess, Harriet is not her's Tracy.

I first encountered Tracy on the POE forum, and the most notible thing for me was her avitar, the seagulls looking into her camera lens.  Not only did I find it captivating, but it reminded me (and still does) of the classic Red Skelton bit "Gertrude and Heathcliff, the Two Seagulls".  If you're not familiar with this obsure reference, and chances are you're not, I have one word for you, "Google".

Anyway, I recently had the pleasure of chatting with Tracy, and I'd like to share that with you now.

Steve:  In order to know more about who a person is, I believe it's useful to learn about what came before; so, Tracy, what can you tell us about your early years? You know, where are you from? What was it like growing up? What's your family situation? What are some of the pivotal points along life's winding path that brought you to where you are today?

Tracy:  My early years were spent growing up in a burb of Brisbane (Queensland, Australia). Brisbane is situated in the middle of two of the most lovely beach areas, the Gold Coast and the Sunshine Coast so I fondly remember most of my childhood family holidays being spent at one or the other. Also many weekends. It was a childhood consisting of a lot of sun, surf and sand which is typical of most childhoods in Queensland. My younger brother to this day is an avid surfer.

My father has always been a nature and animal loving hippy gardening type. Animals of many kinds were always a big part of our family and so were fresh fruit and vegies from the garden. My mother was a writer. Not a famous published writer, but an obsessive writer none the less. Mum would write on any surface available to her. Her favourite medium being the walls of our house. Dad being the easy going laid back hippy type would calmly go about painting over the walls, continually giving mum a fresh canvas to work on. Creatively they made a great team. Mum would write and dad would paint.

Espresso Cups

There were also many cameras around our home and they were my most favourite toys. I’d constantly be playing with them and rarely would be seen out playing with my friends without a camera around my neck. Snapshots of my neighbourhood friends goofing around decorated my bedroom walls. In the spaces that my mum hadn’t written on at least.

As for pivotal points along life’s path that brought me to where I am today I’m not quite sure how to answer. I don’t know where I am today. By that I mean I don’t know where I sit in the great scheme of things. I am what I am, and what I am is a culmination of all I’ve experienced in my life. The good, the bad and the ugly. I wish I had a more coherent and poignant answer for that question because it’s a really good question.

S:  So, Tracy, why "HeyHarriet"? Who's "Harriet"? What's the reference?

T:  It’s a musical reference of sorts. When I decided to open an Etsy shop I sat down with a pen and paper (yes I am a little old fashioned in that I like to use pen and paper) to jot down ideas for names. I wanted to use the name of a person but not my own name because it’s rather bland. I was listening to a CD at the time by a band called The Sundays. The lead singer of that band is called Harriet. And I thought to myself “Hey Harriet” and there you have it. That’s as far as the list went. One entry. It may well have been very different had I been listening to an Engelbert Humperdinck CD. I could now be going by the name “Hey Humperdinck” Thankfully I’ve never owned any Engelbert Humperdinck CDs.

S:  I like that sort of obscure reference; well done!

You talked about your family a moment ago; how do you fit in? Do you surf? Do you write? Do you love animals, the environment and hippy garden? What's your claim to free-spirit fame?

Diana Camera

T:  “Girls don’t surf!” (a silly quote from an old aussie surf culture film called Puberty Blues). That quote is way off the mark by the way because there are some great women surfers. I’ve never been one of them.

Writing was once something I was passionate about many years ago and I was fortunate enough to have a few of my short stories published, but then I lost enthusiasm for it. I’ve not lost enthusiasm for the written word though. I love books and I love reading and I’m sure that will never change. And another thing I love are animals and they’ve continued to be a big part of my life since childhood. My dog Sophie of thirteen years sadly passed away last year and I’ve been pet-free since then which still feels very odd; however I do have an abundance of wildlife surrounding me. Kookaburras, cockatoos, galahs, lorikeets and a variety of other birds are regular visitors to my home. My feathered friends have presented me with some fun photo opportunities for which I’m grateful for.

As for gardening, unfortunately I didn’t inherit my dad’s green thumbs, although I do have grand plans for the garden. I moved into the house I’m currently living in early last year and it’s the first time I’ve had such a huge outside space to work with. I envision a garden filled with bountiful fruit trees, a tranquil courtyard area under the huge sycamore tree in back yard, multiple overgrowing vegetable and herb patches and a bunch of chickens running around. I hope to have a great big beautiful productive mess of a self-sufficient garden in years to come.

At times my plans overwhelm me but I’m taking it one step at a time and I’m enjoying the process. It has been a great learning experience so far with mixing up crazy environmentally friendly concoctions to battle the weeds and pests, experimenting with companion planting and diligently compositing all that I can. This time 5 years ago I would never have imagined myself to be somebody who gets excited over compost.

Big Belly Buddha

What’s my claim to free-spirit fame? Hmmm. Many people, I believe, equate being free spirited to being irresponsible and a little flakey. So what are you implying here Steve? (Just kidding!) Despite some of the odd aspects of my upbringing and my dreams of building a self sufficient garden, I have to admit to being a fairly conventional type. I have a day job, my life revolves around timetables, I’m very punctual, I make to-do lists, and my CD collection is neatly coordinated into sections of musical genres. I’ve also recently alphabetised each section. So I think I fall further into the anal retentive category rather than the free spirited one. If I could figure out a way of making free spiritedness financially viable then I’d go that route. Currently I’m a conformist out of necessity because I like to eat.

S:  You know, to my mind, "free spirit" is more a state of mind than anything else, so if you have to conform a bit in order to pursue your art, well, so be it. You have a "day job", and I think a good many of us do. But that's not "who" we are, it's not even "what" we are. It's what we do so we can follow our passion, or so I believe.

Having said that, let me ask you this: Why do you shoot what you shoot? What is it that catches your eye; what inspires you?

T:  Yes I’d have to agree with you there. So in that case I am a free spirit. Yay!

What inspires me? I find almost everything to be a source of inspiration and it’s about having a willingness to being open to whatever presents itself, as everything is worthy of contemplation; regardless of how small or commonplace it may be. It’s all about making connections and having the curiosity and playfulness to follow the connections.

The photo sections in my shop are quite varied and being a mish-mash of themes it’s not very streamlined as far as subject matter goes. However, there are a couple of obvious commonalities throughout the majority of my photos. One being that they’re relatively simple images. Striving for technical perfection with my photography has never been as important to me as capturing a sweet and simple little moment in time. Post processing is kept to a bare minimum and any adjustments made will often only consist of some minor tweaks with light and shade. I don’t use Photoshop. That’s not to say that I have anything against using Photoshop. I don’t own Photoshop.

Dig That Beat

The other prevailing theme with my photography would be colour. It appears that I’m drawn to bright blue skies and colourful objects, which is strange considering that colour doesn’t generally spill over into other aspects of my life. I don’t dress in vibrant colours and the interior of my home is decorated with very neutral tones.

Why do I shoot what I shoot? I like to shoot things that make me smile. I really enjoy shooting animals because many have such interesting and comical personalities and that makes the process all the more fun. Unfortunately I don’t have a huge amount of animal photos on Etsy due to my shop being primarily an avenue for my TtV (Through the Viewfinder) photography. Having to shoot macro when using the TtV technique makes it tricky to quietly sneak up close to an animal while juggling two cameras and a whopping big ugly cardboard contraption between the two. My attempts at being inconspicuous in my pursuits often fail miserably. Thankfully some animals can be bribed with food in exchange for some close-ups.

S:  OK, TtV; let's talk about that for a moment. I know there are many of TtV enthusiasts and/or practitioners out there, and believe me when I say I like the effect, so I'm not asking you (or anyone else) to justify what you do; however, I have to ask you, "Why"? Why bother with "... juggling two cameras and a whopping big ugly cardboard contraption between the two" when you could just as easily get the same effect digitally? Can you help me, and perhaps one or two others, understand?

T:  Ok, I’ll try. While such a technique can be very frustrating, I enjoy the challenge. Apart from the juggling act, there’s also the issue of the image in the viewfinder being reversed, so attempting to find and frame subjects adds another element of awkwardness. The combination of these things forces me to slow down and really think about composition and what I’m shooting more so than it does when I’m taking photographs the regular way. So I appreciate that aspect of it.

Dirty Jazz Shadows

As I mentioned earlier I don’t use Photoshop. It’s certainly not because I’m a purist in any way because if I was a purist I’d be shooting everything on film. I shoot through the viewfinders of old cameras using digital cameras. The joy for me is being out and about taking photos. Even if it means making a spectacle of myself in public while doing so. Due to the odd looking process I often have curious strangers come up to me to ask about the technique and I happily explain it to them and invite them to have a try for themselves if they wish. I then whip out a business card and suggest they check out my shop if they’re interested in seeing the photos. So the technique in action can be a nice and fun little promotional tool. I should also say that I’m not of the opinion that either TtV style (the traditional method versus the post processing method) is superior to the other. Both require skills of a different kind and I am truly in awe of some of the images I’ve seen where the effects have been added digitally. A good image is a good image, regardless of how it’s been created, and I don’t believe the average customer cares either way. I’ve purchased both styles of TtV photos because I’ve liked the images.

S:  Now that I can totally honor and understand.

What was it that got you started with the Ttv, do you recall? Are there any subjects you find yourself gravitating to more than others?

T:  Late in 2008 I was the lucky winner of a blog giveaway and the prize was an Argus 75 camera, so that’s where my journey with TtV photography started. Prior to winning that camera I had been admiring the style for a couple of years and thought I’d play around with the technique, should I ever stumble upon an appropriate camera at a flea market or garage sale. I never did stumble upon one, but winning one was even better! So I set about making a ‘glare blocking contraption’ and then started playing with my new toy. I was instantly hooked! The camera was in great condition with a very clean viewfinder and as I was keen on some of the TtV photos I’d seen as a result of using grotty scratched up viewfinders I then went in search of another Argus 75. I found one almost immediately on Etsy and it’s been nice to have the option of shooting clean or dirty. Some things work well with the cleaner look while other things I find to be more suited to the grottier rough around the edges look.

Tree Hugging Dandelions

My Etsy shop up until that point consisted of original artwork and didn’t contain any photography. After playing around with the technique for a while I had some of my TtV images printed and was happy with the results and decided to ditch the original artwork from the shop (which wasn’t exactly selling terribly well anyway) and replace it with TtV prints. So then the shop became a photography shop. That change occurred early in 2009. A little later down the track I added some reproduction prints of some of my original artwork but the shop has remained to be primarily photography.

I can’t say that there are any subjects in particular that I gravitate more towards. Many of my earlier listings in the shop are photos of figurines, toys and various vintage items I have around the house. That was due to needing subjects to practice with that didn’t require me to leave the house, as I wasn’t quite brave enough to take my silly looking set-up out in public at that stage. Eventually I ran out of things to photograph around the house and so I started venturing out into the public obsessively shooting whatever caught my eye.

I think I mentioned earlier that I’m drawn to colour with regards to photography, so the more colourful the more appealing to me. There certainly are subjects that seem to fit the TtV style more than others; the obvious one that springs to mind being carnivals. And while I’m aware of the TtV-carnival combination being viewed by many as something of a cliché these days, it continues to be a popular combination because I believe it works well. They’re a perfect fit. Just like dagwood dogs and fairy floss (better known as corn dogs and cotton candy to you folk in the USA). Seascapes are something I’ve been gravitating more towards over the last six months or so purely because I moved to a small island and I’m surrounded by ocean. I live on one of a cluster of small islands in southern Moreton Bay just off the mainland and each island is only a short ferry trip away, so it was a natural progression to take photos while exploring my new surrounds. There are still many parts of the islands that I’ve yet to explore so there will be more TtV seascapes in the near future.

S:  So, aside from your Argus 75s, what's in your bag? What's on the "business end" of your contraption; what other equipment do you use?

Scuse me while I kiss the sky

T:  On the “business end” of my contraption will usually be my Canon Rebel or occasionally my old Canon Powershot which can work surprisingly well for TtV. I like to travel as light as possible because I don’t drive, so a lightweight backpack is needed for all the walking, cycling and public transport commuting I do. I don’t have a tripod or a large selection of lenses or other cool gadgets. The bag will also contain a roll of electrical tape (to keep the contraption attached to the Argus) and some batteries. My iPhone is also with me at all times and it’s loaded with a bunch of fun camera apps that I regularly use; the Hipstamatic app being my favourite. I’ve been discovering the joys of iPhoneography over the last few months and the iPhone has been wonderful for quickly capturing things on-the-go. I also have a collection of cameras that I don’t use as much as I’d like. A few Polaroids, a Diana, an Olympus OM-10, and a couple of old Super 8 movie cameras with all of the traditional editing equipment necessary for that film format.

S:  Looking forward, what does the future hold for you and photography? Where are you taking it, or where is it taking you?

T:  I greeted 2011 feeling very positive and enthusiastic about my photography, with plans of approaching some outlets this year to sell my work. While I enjoy having my photography available online, I thought it would be a step forward to also have it available in B&M venues. Then coincidentally, within the first couple of weeks of this year I received a few enquiries from shops and a gallery interested in stocking my photography. Currently I’m in the process of preparing some of my work to be sent over to a photography gallery in New Zealand. So I’m very excited about this new venture, and having had those initial enquiries come from the venues has increased my confidence with regards to now approaching other venues myself. Also I’ve recently started offering custom wooden photo blocks alongside my prints and have received good responses to those so far and have had some sales, so I’m looking forward to continuing with those. It’s nice to be able to offer customers a display option that’s a less expensive alternative to framed works. Framed photography is lovely, but it’s cost prohibitive to ship, especially internationally, which is where the majority of my sales come from. So 2011 has been a great start for me and I’m feeling inspired and extremely happy about these new opportunities that have arisen and I look forward to doing a lot more of what it is that I love doing the most. And that’s taking photographs!

Wheel of Brisbane

S:  Congratulations, Tracy...that's very wonderful and exciting news! I certainly hope these new outlets bear fruit for you! Best of luck!

Tracy, I wanted you to know I've truly enjoyed our conversation; thank you so much for taking this time to share a bit of yourself!

T:  Thank you! I really appreciate you giving me this opportunity to on. And on. And on... In all seriousness, I’m very grateful and I thoroughly enjoyed chatting with you Steve!

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.


photomcgee said...

Awesome interview Steve! My first etsy photo purchase was from Tracy. Her "scuse me while I kiss the sky" was too cool to pass up!
Great job!

Anika said...

I loved this interview Steve, great job! HH is one of my favorite shops to peek into...always fun images, nice graphic details...she has her own style and I like it!

Enjoying read!

Celtic Cat said...

Great interview! I really love her work!

Hey Harriet said...

Thanks again Steve! You've put it all together so wonderfully! And thanks also for all you do for the POE team. You contribute so much of your time promoting members here and on your own awesome blog, and we're so very lucky to have you!

PS - I googled Red Skelton but will have to dig a bit deeper in order to find the "Gertrude and Heathcliff" skit. You have me very intrigued indeed :)

After such long-winded answers I had intended to keep this comment at least short. So much for that!

The Daily Foto said...

Yay, great interview guys! I loved learning more about you Tracy. Hope 2011 keeps getting better for you and your photography! If you show in Sydney, let me know :) Cheers, *Melissa*

Blyde Neser said...

Excellent interview, you can see the person shine through the words (as the moments are shining through those amazing photographs). You are both blessed with loads of talent!

sarayutouched said...

great interview steve...i love tracy's work...she is a wonderful blogworld mate.

BLOGitse said...

Thanks Steve!
I play Tracy's Shadow Shot Sunday - she rocks!

Victoria said...

Wonderful interview! I adore Tracy, both as an artist, and as a person. A true delight! And thanks for the blast into the past... I haven't thought of the Red Skelton bit in ages, but remember seeing it as a kid, (oh so many years ago).

Oregon Gifts of Comfort and Joy said...


This was a great interview and post. I met Tracy in December, I think, through SSS. I really enjoyed learning more about her.

I'm going to follow you and put your blog on my sidebar so that it will be easy to find.



Sara Chapman in Seattle, USA said...

Totally fascinating. Tracy, your photos couldn't be as great as they are if they didn't express who you are, which sounds so banal but is not, not at all. I enjoyed getting to know you better. The more I know, the more I like! Great interview, Steve.

Arlene said...

Such a wonderful interview! and now i know it's not Harriet. It's Tracy. Am happy to know. =)