Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Cheryl Medow Interview

Ovampo Sparrowhawk ©2010 Masai Mara, Kenya
Digital Pigment Print
Cheryl Medow

Blending photography and a painterly sensibility Cheryl Medow elevates images of wildlife into a rarified domain.

Where did you grow up?

Los Angeles. I graduated from UCLA with hardly ever leaving home. After graduating, I started traveling around the world with my camera, family and friends.

When I was young, there was far less asphalt and cement, so I spent a lot of time outdoors, playing, catching caterpillars and watching them turn into butterflies. I was always out doing something in nature. I didn’t realize how interesting birds are until I went to Africa. Our first trip guide asked, “Do you like birds?’ I said yes and asked why the question? He said, “When the animals are not around, the birds will always be around, so you’ll never get bored.” I found that watching birds is far from boring. They may be small, but their lives are incredibly interesting, busy and sometimes outright funny.

I initially wondered why it wasn’t more like National Geographic. Then I realized that National Geographic only shows you the final result, highly edited, leaving out all the waiting and waiting for the animals to show up and seeing no animals for a day or more. This made me even more interested focusing on birds. I must say, of all the places I’ve been, the birds in Africa are the most spectacular, Brazil a close second.

What made you realize that you wanted to be an artist?

Art has always been a part of my life. The creative aspect comes from my family. My immediate family pursued music. I found my niche in the visual arts. Creativity is where I continue to find my “Self”. When I am working on my art, I can get to a calm, Zen-like place. I make it a practice to be with myself as much as possible – thereby being an artist fits my needs.

How do you choose your subject matter, and where do you find inspiration?

For this show, I think the birds have found me. When I approach them, they don’t necessarily fly away. Some, almost, say, take the picture already. What are you waiting for – I’m posing for you.

I’ve always been inspired by nature. In the Masai Mara in Kenya, you can stand in one spot, twirl yourself around and see the horizon everywhere. No buildings, no other obstructions - it just goes on forever. That feeling of spaciousness warms my soul.

Carmine Bee-eater ©2010 Manda Bay, Kenya
Digital Pigment Print
Cheryl Medow

Are there any artists, contemporary or historical, that you count as influential to you?

On a trip to a Paris museum, I spent hours staring at the Monet Lilies. The sofa that I sat on was oval and the paintings were placed in a way so that they were not just in a straight line and I sat there feeling like I was at the edge of these ponds just taking in the beauty of them. The Impressionists have a soft, romantic, ethereal quality and I strive to have my photographs feel like watercolor.

I know that your images are more than just photography – how do you make them? Can you share that?

I go out in the field and take photographs with my digital camera, capturing images of birds, animals, sky, clouds, water, reflections, all that I see as beautiful or interesting.

To create a photo like those in this show, I find and watch a bird (before he flies away), noticing everything around him. I also take in the surroundings of the animals, the sun raising or setting, the clouds – I want them all in the final photograph. If the bird (since birds are rather small) is to be sharp and printed large, I have to take the shot only of him, leaving out all that wonderful information about the surroundings.. So, I will use more than one photo in my work layering in the backgrounds, foregrounds, central image and additional details that I find compelling. I call them digital pigment prints, which seems to be the current name for photographs that are digitally enhanced.

My fellow artists call me the “bird lady” and the “mask lady”. If you take a Photoshop class someone will eventually show you how to make a mask. Usually they are very rough around the edges, but mine are very, very precise, down to little feathers that are showing on the edges of the bird. Masks are one of my major tools.

Is there a separation between your "normal" life and your artwork?

When I work in my studio, my husband feels himself to be a Photoshop widower. I can stay up until late at night or work in the evening so I’m not available. Also, I have found that vacations are now working vacations for me. Even when we went to Hawaii - we’re supposed to relax, go for walks, but I wanted to go where the Albatrosses were and take pictures. So I’m taking all my camera equipment with me. And I’m weighed down by sixty or so pounds of equipment. So, it has intruded on my life, but it is my life.

What scares you, if anything?

That I won’t come up with another image. That I will not feel beauty in my life.

I’ve been doing birds for a couple of years now and I always thought that something will happen and I’ll move on to something else. And I still haven’t. It makes me think, “Oh my goodness, I’ll only be known for birds.” And so….

What do you see as next?

I’ve become so aware of landscapes. On my trip to Brazil to photograph jaguar, all the photographers waited around for a jaguar. While we were waiting, they saw me taking pictures of the clouds and the water, which were absolutely stunning. It’s a note to remind me that at every turn there is another road. When I see a new path, I will know it.

Until then, I will just keep exploring.

Cheryl Medow at work in Kenya.

Cheryl Medow's next exhibition at TAG Gallery begins May 25, 2010.

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