An Interview with a Fine Art Photographer
This past fall, I was struggling to adjust back to life in Central Asia, after having spent the summer back in Canada. It always takes me some time to re-adjust to life back on this side of the world when I've been gone for awhile. It is hard to leave my boys behind (they now live in North America), and I miss them so much after having had a whole summer with them!
I was also struggling with my role...trying to figure out "what do I want to do with my life"?! With my kids getting older, and getting closer to "the empty nest", I was re-evaluating, and thinking about how I wanted to move into the next season of life. What did I want it to look like? What role did photography play in all of this?
It was around this time that I found a course called "Embracing Your Inner Artist", and it was all about exploring your photography, and who you are as an artist, where you want to take your photography, and more. I was intrigued, and felt like it was just what I needed at that phase in my life! So I signed up.
It was exactly what I needed! The course was taught by photographer Deb Schwedhelm, a fine art photographer, and as I looked at her work before I signed up for the course, I knew she was the right person for me at that time. Her work was deeply powerful, and spoke so evocatively to me. She takes risks, her work is deeply personal, honest, and exploratory. AND she had lived overseas, so I knew she would understand that piece of my life.
Well, that course kind of changed my life! Deb pushed me in new directions, she spoke words of encouragement to me that I needed to hear. She didn't tell me what to do, but somehow, through that course, I found my way forward. I got over my funk of being back in Central Asia, and began the discovery of what I really wanted to do with my photography moving into this next season of life.
So I am thrilled that Deb agreed to be part of my interview series so that you all can meet her too! She is an amazing photographer whose work I admire and am inspired by! I hope you enjoy getting to know her...
(Also, this is the final interview in our series. At least for now. :) There may be more to come at a later date, but I'll let you know if and when that happens.)
Deb Schwedhelm is an award-winning American photographer. Her work is a visual memoir that narrates the self actualization of an artist. Deb’s use of storytelling depicts a lifetime of arrivals and departures. Her work dances with a primal vulnerability and divine mystery. Each transition in her photography opens a new chapter of the story, giving a visual voice to the storyteller.
Born in Detroit, Michigan, Deb Schwedhelm was originally trained as a Registered Nurse and subsequently spent 10 years employed as an Air Force Nurse. Although she has been passionate about photography since her early 20s, it wasn't until Deb left the military that she was finally able to pursue the medium as a full-time career.
Deb's photographs have been exhibited widely and selected for multiple private and permanent collections. She has been featured and interviewed in numerous publications throughout the world. Deb has received awards from Slow Exposures, The Center for Fine Art Photography, Texas Photographic Society, PhotoNOLA, MPLS Photo Center, The Perfect Exposures Gallery, A. Smith Gallery, Santa Fe Photographic Workshops, and The Art of Photography Show. Most notably, Deb’s work was featured on CNN, she received first prize in PhotoNola’s portfolio review, and she was named one of the Top 50 in Critical Mass.
After 25 years of relocating their home every couple of years with the military, Deb’s husband retired from the Navy in 2019. Deb and her family reside in Williamsburg, Virginia, but she hopes to be living on a sailboat, traveling the Americas, in the next five years.
How long have you been doing photography, and how did you get into it?
I started teaching myself photography January 2006, after spending 10 years as a Registered Nurse in the US Air Force. While living in a military house in San Diego, we endured a two-month horrific housing hardship, upon which two months of our rent was returned. After a discussion with my husband, it was that money that I used that money to invest in photography equipment and begin pursuing my passion of photography. Up until that point, I had always been very science and math focused. I had never taken a photography or art course but always loved taking photographs with my little point-and-shoot camera. Learning photography was completely new but once I got started, I never looked back.
What kind of photography do you do?
I started out in commissioned family/child portraiture. In 2012, in a roundabout way through the participation in a portfolio review event, I ventured into the realm of fine art photography, which is what I continue to do today. I also am an educator and teach two online photography classes, ‘Embracing Your Inner Artist’ and ‘Project Development and Fine Art’. I love and am super passionate about both photography and teaching; I truly feel that I was meant to do both.
What do you love about photography?
While I love the simple act of making photographs, being able to express myself creatively through photographs and share my story make my heart sing. I feel that photography is truly a gift and I feel honored that I am able to share this gift with the world.
What inspires you? (Not just photography related necessarily…could be anything!)
As cheesy as it may sound, I’m very much inspired by life, embracing the present and all that the Universe has to offer us as we venture down our unique path. I love the outdoors and look to my daily walks as a form of meditation. This time alone with nature very much inspires my creative process.
What do you do when you are feeling uninspired to take photographs?
I take a break. This is something that I’ve learned to greatly value over the years. If I’m not feeling it, it’s totally okay to pause. There’s growth and inspiration that can occur through providing yourself some down time. I know that the inspiration will return and when it does, I’ll be ready.
How do you put emotion into your photographs?
I believe that if a photographer is photographing in an authentic way and sharing what truly means something to him/her, the emotion will be infused into the photographs that are being made. Photograph those things that interest, inspire, and intrigue you and do so in a way that feels right. Don’t photograph in a way that the ‘popular’ photographers are photographing. Don’t photograph and share to get likes. Photograph and share what moves you and makes YOUR heart sing.
What makes a good photograph, in your opinion?
This is a bit of a trick question. There is so much that comes into play in making a “good photograph” but if I was forced to pinpoint two main factors, I would say technique and authenticity. Strive to master technique to the point that manipulating your camera is second-nature and photograph from a place of truth.
What advice would you give to an aspiring photographer?
Work hard and give yourself the gift of time. So much of today is fast-paced and instant gratification, but there is so much more to be gained from being patient and allowing time for growth and becoming. It is with continued hard work and patience that the magic begins to unfold.
Quarantine Related Questions:
What are you working on during this time of quarantine? A new project? Going through old work? Taking a break? Waiting for it to be over…?
Most importantly, I’m trying not to go stir-crazy and striving to keep my mind in the right headspace. I also am trying to exercise regularly and continue my daily walks as this is so important for me personally – mind, body, and soul. In a collaboration with my sister, who I just started talking to again after 15 years, we started brainstorming our memories from our unconventional childhood and family life growing up. I started photographing for this new series, A Web of Invisible Threads, the beginning of May and I’m super excited about it. Last but not least, we added a new puppy to our family and that is all-consuming at the moment.
Have you found this time to be energizing or depleting?
A bit of both; I definitely go in waves from all is good to I’m completely over this. I remind myself that a range of emotions is totally normal during this time. I really try to stay in the present and take one day at a time. We really don’t know what the future has in store and while I try to be educated on what is happening, I do my best to not stress about the days, weeks, and months ahead.
I have been leading a Quarantine Photo Challenge for the past few weeks and we have been using photography to explore and express some of our feelings and emotions related to this quarantine. What would you say to the following questions…
What are you grieving during this time of quarantine? What losses have you experienced as a result of this virus?
Most definitely routine. While I try my best to have some sort of routine, it’s nothing like it used to be. Gratefully, our personal losses have been few. Our biggest losses are school and sports. I know this is minimal compared to what so many are going through so I don’t focus much on the negative of missing school and sports. My family has been very blessed during this time; I know that and like I said, my every day is rooted in gratefulness.
What is bringing you joy during this time?
Seeing my children more has brought me so much joy. They are ages 15, 16, and 23 and pre-quarantine, I barely ever saw them.
What gives you hope for the future (in terms of quarantine and the virus)?
I hope that each of us learns from our days of quarantine. I hope that we, as a society, are learning to slow down and be present. I hope that we are learning to be good humans and support one another. We most definitely have an opportunity to learn from this pandemic in an effort to lay a foundation for a kinder, safer, healthier, cleaner life.
What are you looking forward to?
Honestly, I look forward to each and every day. I wake every morning so grateful that my family and I are healthy and I so I look forward to celebrating a day of health, my husband’s continued employment, and living each day the best I know how.