By: Elisabeth Steele, Unofficial Biographer
Q: Where are you from?
A: Croom, MD - born and raised. I moved to Westover, MD in 1989 on the Chesapeake Bay's Eastern Shore and moved back to Croom in the summer of 1992. I moved to Baltimore in February of 1994 and I'm still here.
Q: What's your day job?
A: I'm the vice president of Mapleshade an independent record label, audio product manufacturer, and mail order company. I started working for Mapleshade in 1993. I manage the staff, sales, promotion, customer service and profit-sharing accounting for musicians. I also do product photography, as well as graphic design, photography and production for the record label.
Q. If you could only show someone one photograph that represented your work what would it be? Why?
A. I'll have to think about this, not sure I can give you an answer. Metaphorically, you've just asked the schizophrenic to name and describe his favorite personality.
Q: Describe the body of your work.
A: Is it too obvious to say that my work is reflection of my personality? (Oh shit, I used the word 'personality' in my previous answer. Well, moving on.) Many of my photographs are attempts to capture moments, scenes, and/or details that would otherwise go unseen. I enjoy portraiture work too, as long as there's room for creativity. The instant gratification modern photography affords is well-suited to capturing spontaneous sights and ideas as I trip over them.
My sculptures and collages tend to be more premeditated. I've collected random parts since high school: junk, scraps, images, colors, mementos. Friends and family actively find and donated weird and oddly-shaped refuse to the collection. It fills my house. Over time, I'll back-burner ideas and possibilities for how parts could fit together. Frequently, something from daily life brings an idea to the forefront and the hands-on frenzy of physical creation begins.
Q: Did you receive any formal art training? If so, where and from whom?
A; Judy Petersen, my high school art teacher, took a liking to me and turned me on to abstract expressionism. I loved playing in the paint. Mrs. Petersen would spring me from detention, a pretty frequent occurrence, to work on art projects for the school - designing and painting banners, assembling displays, hanging student shows, etc.
She motivated me to take an art class my first semester in college at Salisbury State. I took a design class. That's my only formal design training. It was early in the morning and it was boring as hell. I got a C and didn't enroll for a second semester.
I enrolled at the Prince George's Community College (PGGC) in the fall of 1992, I think. My Dad and Barb, my stepmom, got me interested in an Amiga-based art, an animation program started at the college by Judy Andreka. I think I took four semesters with her: computer graphics 1 & 2, digital painting, and 3D painting. The digital painting class incorporated 'traditional" painting on the computer, image manipulation, and got me interested in digital mixed media. This is when I first started experimenting with digital collage. Initially, I used scanned images from magazines and captures from video.
Q: When did you start working with your own images?
A. During my second year at PGGC, I started experimenting with using my own photographs in my digital painting classes. My photography professor was a kooky guy named Don Phillips. We got along very well. He gave three lectures on the basics for photography: camera operation, f stops, film speeds and other shooting stuff; black and white film loading, rolling, developing, etc; and the darkroom. After that, everything was shooting assignments and informal critiques. Don encouraged a broad interpretation of his assignments, which led to my first dead animal photographs.
For our assignment to "photograph water," I went to a creek near Mapleshade and found a skinned deer carcass floating in the water. I took some photos of the scene and turned them in. I got an A+ and Don hung the best shot on the student art bulletin board in the hallway. That was my first publicly displayed photograph.
Q.When do you do your best work? After midnight? While caffeinated?
A. Whenever. I thrive on it. I'm constantly inspired. I have to make myself stay home, not work overtime, not go to bed yet, to make time to whittle away at the pile of ideas laying around my house and head.
Q: Where was your first show? Your second?
A: Outside of school, the first was at the Cultured Pearl Gallery in Baltimore. I showed photographs from the "Elbow In Your Eye" all-male swimsuit issue. ("Elbow In Your Eye" was the zine I co-published from 1994 to 1997.)
My second show was at the Akira in Baltimore. That was the premiere of my "Afro-Centric Images" series, along with other stuff I picked.
Q: Do your parents like your work?
A. Yes. My mom "appreciates" and displays two of my paintings in her very conservative, antique and oriental rug-laden home. She prefers my photography, I think, and has a half dozen or so photos on display. My dad and Barb dig most of my stuff, as long as it's not too crass. I think they prefer my more experimental and/or personal work.
Q: What is the best or worst thing someone has said about your work?
A: The best: I'm sure it was something you said. The worst: "Nothing creative about this, more like scary, sorry."
Q. Do you want to make a living as a photographer?
A. I've never decided that I want to do photography for a living, only that I want it to be part of my life. It's something I truly enjoy. I'm a little scared that doing photography for a living might spoil it. I struggle sometimes to make sure Mapleshade doesn't spoil music for me. If I ever do it for a living, it will have to be on my own terms.
Q: What's next for you?
A: I'm hungry, time for tabouli.