Meet the Artists: Photographers Sheila Guevin and Wil Scott
Mar 31, 2017 11:52AM ● Published by James Houck
Photos by Tony Lewis, Jr.
At the exhibit’s opening reception, two of the featured artists were selected for Best in Show honors. They are local photographers Wil Scott and Sheila Guevin, and we discussed each artist’s background and approach to their chosen medium in this Meet the Artists Q&A.
Be sure to join us April 20th for our "Maryland Heritage: East of the Bay Bridge" Meet the Artist Reception.
When did you first develop a passion for photography and what was the first inkling that you felt inspired to really try your hand at it artistically?Sheila Guevin: Since 1985, a rare sighting would be me without a camera. I see the world through a lens. In January of 2011, I finally had the opportunity to immerse myself full time into photography at the same time I embraced digital. For the past six years, I have been in the artistic experimental stage of my life.
My first realization that I wanted to exhibit came at Artomatic in spring 2012. More than 1,100 artists took over an office building in Crystal City and covered its walls in art. Art museums are a second home to me, but this, living artists creating whatever they wanted, this was new for me. Fall of 2015, I got to exhibit with Artomatic at a location in Hyattsville, Maryland. I am now co-coordinator for the social media team for Artomatic 2017, Crystal City and also an exhibiting artist.
Wil Scott: My mother’s family in rural Georgia seemed to like to have family snapshots. They were mostly of gatherings at my grandparent’s home for weddings or holidays. Many of the images looked like depression-era photos of rural America. My mother kept many of these, and I enjoyed looking at them as a child. I still have Brownie cameras I was given as a child. I don’t know whether any of the pictures I took are among those my mother left at her death. There were many that she had taken of me, my wife, and my son over time.
I did most of the classwork for my doctorate in the history of American art at the University of Delaware. My advisor and mentor was Professor William Innes Homer, a leading expert on Alfred Stieglitz, a great American photographer, writer, and gallery owner who promoted modernism in this country. My academic interests were primarily with painting and sculpture, although Dr. Homer and I often discussed photography, and he included photography in his lectures on late-19th and early-20th century painting and sculpture whenever possible. Over time, I became more interested in the history of photography and familiar with the work of leading artists. That was in the late ‘70s.
What camera and ancillary equipment do you currently use?WS: A Canon 5d iii was my retirement gift to myself in 2014. I soon after purchased a Canon 24–105mm lens designed especially for this camera. This is my go-to setup, when I want my DSLR. I almost always have a Canon SX710 HS in my pocket. This is a compact camera with 30x magnification. It gives me a lot of “reach” for distant shots in cities or the countryside. I have another DSLR and other compact cameras for different purposes. I don’t use a tripod as much as I should. I hate flash. I try to keep it simple. You don’t need a lot of gear to make strong photographs. If you think you do, you may be missing the point.
SG: My gear has changed. For 35 years, it was just me, a camera, a flash, a lens, and two filters. I now shoot on two identical Canons–5d Mkiii. My go-to lenses are a 24–70mm and a 100mm macro, but I also shoot on a 50mm, the 100–400mm, and a Lensbaby. Along with flash, I like to use flashlights and other alternative light sources. Beyond that, the stuff in my go-to bag varies: from reflectors, ND filters, and leash cords for the flash, to two yards of black velvet, oversized balloons, a crystal ball, and fog in a spray can. Each project brings its own unique accessory gear. There is my go-to paint ladder so I can shoot from above the subject. There is a tripod, or two. Studio light, or two. And still on any given day, I revert back to my old habit and take just one camera, one lens and limit my shooting to 36 frames, because intentional shooting and discipline goes a long way to making your work better.
What is your approach to choosing subject matter to photograph and how best to capture it?WS: I find it difficult to settle on a limited range of subjects and produce what the field calls “a body of work.” Documentary photographers concentrating of social issues, portraitists, and landscape photographers do this almost without much effort, but I find everything interesting. I am consistently interested in architecture, clouds, any composition with strong contrasts of light and dark creating patterns. I was the official team photographer for my son’s college lacrosse team. I remain interested in photographing sports, but here you need the right gear (super-telephoto lenses), but I haven’t invested in them. They’re really expensive.
SG: My journey as a photographer is a constant circle of learn, experiment, shoot, exhibit or publish, and learn some more. I am most recognized for my portrait, avant-garde, and night photography. Trending now, is project photography. This gives the photographer the opportunity to work in one aspect or one discipline and then move on to another project.
The goal with each client or project is to capture their inner truth. When I am working with dancers, I want to capture not just a moment, but the right moment. There is an authenticity that cannot be forced. It comes from truly getting to know and caring about the clients. There is a sense of being present that resonates in my work that originates with fully committing to the moment.
What is your development and/or photo editing process?WS: Post-production is limited to what Adobe Lightroom can do and what I know about the software. I try to get it right in the camera. Most of my work on the computer has to do with cropping first, exposure and contrast next, and some sharpening of the image. I’m exhibiting more and more of my work in black and white, so that requires conversion from color (I always shot in color) in the computer. I limit exhibition prints to editions of five.
SG: 350 million photos a day are uploaded to Facebook; 1.8 billion photos a day are uploaded to the Internet. Along with the flood of photos, came the flood of educational opportunities. Recently Harvard put their photography course on Alison.com. I find courses through many sources and many search engines. Sometimes even the most basic course offers new insight.
CreativeLive.com is my favorite for free classes. Live video workshops with top notch photographers teaching technique, posing, and the business of photography. When I switched my editing to Lightroom, I purchased an on-line course by Phil Steele a graphic artist who became a known photographer by photographing Burning Man.
Do you have any “golden rules” that you abide by regarding your photography?WS: Photography for me is a free-flowing, creative process. Rules aren’t really very helpful for this, so I only follow a few loosely. One, always look behind you before leaving the spot where you took photographs. Sometimes that gives you a more interesting image. Two, take more shots than you think you need. The tenth shot can be better than the first, and you won’t realize until you get to your computer. Bracket shots (shot of an image with multiple exposure settings); it’s kind of like the idea of multiple shots of a subject with the emphasis on lighting. Three, get close to your subject. It’s amazing to me how often I keep cropping out more and more of an image, because it’s distracting from what originally caught my eye. Finally, remember, you don’t “take” photographs, you “make” them. A serious artist doesn’t just copy what they see. All those adjustments you make at the computer are like the things a painter or sculptor does with their tools. Capturing the image is only the first step in making a good photograph.
SG: In the modern photography community you hear the phrase, “invest in books not gear.” Austin Kleon’s books Steal Like an Artist and Show Your Work are both must-reads. For inspiration, I search out interesting magazines, public free events, any D.C. art gallery, going for a walk, or surfing the Internet and checking out any of the 1.8 billion photos of the day!
Are there any photographers (local/national, historic/contemporary) that have inspired you and how/why?SG: In the fall of 1990, I saw an exhibit of Annie Leibovitz photographs at the American Art gallery in D.C. Her work was both innovative and impactful. I saw the exhibit five times. Later that year, I went to see an exhibit of paintings of Georgia O’Keefe and photographs by her husband Alfred Stieglitz. There is such a profound impact on seeing art as a way of understanding history. For both O’Keefe and Stieglitz, there was this sense you were on a personal journey with them.
Recently I have been inspired by contemporary photographers Lindsay Adler who is constantly redefining high fashion as art and Meg Bitton who brings this sense of air and light to her portrait work.
WS: Stieglitz, Sheeler, Schamberg, Atget, Solloway, Moholy-Nagy, Cunningham, Arbus,
When did you first connect with the Arts Council and how has your role with the organization grown over the years?WS: I was appointed to represent the City of Annapolis by Mayor Josh Cohen. I was the first board chairman for the Annapolis Arts District, appointed by Mayor Ellen Moyer. Mayor Cohen decided that the Arts District would become more independent from the City government and hoped that the Arts Council would take over management of the District. He intended that I facilitate the transition from the City to the Council as a member of the board. At the time I was continuing my career at the National Gallery of Art as the head of the department of adult programs in the education division. I had taught the history of American art at Georgetown University, George Washington University, the University of Delaware, and the Florida State University. I published occasionally on topics in American art and spoke about American art around the country. I accepted Mayor Cohen’s appointment gladly and found that I could contribute to the strengthening of the local arts community in ways beyond the transition of the Arts District. For most of my time on the council board, I was a member of the grants committee, arguably the most challenging of our committee assignments. That experience gave me greater insight into the impact of the Arts Council and the importance of our local arts community. Eventually, I become board vice-president and now president.
SG: We moved to Maryland in the fall of 2012 and by 2015 I had been jury selected into shows by both the Arts Council of Anne Arundel County and Maryland Federation of Art. Since then I have exhibited over 52 pieces of work in 13 juried shows and in two solo gallery shows.
How often do you shoot and what are your favorite subjects?WS: I’ve never really thought about how often I make photographs until recently. I’m working as a contractor to the Maryland Department of Legislative Services until the 2017 session ends. That has made me aware of how often I would have wanted to make photographs, but cannot. To compensate, I’m trying to use my lunch hour to make photos in downtown Annapolis. I think better weather will produce better results as tourists return in larger numbers. The short answer to your question is; most days.
SG: Julie McCormick contacted me about using one of my Annapolis nightscapes as a Facebook banner for a new group she was creating, Annapolis Tango, which led to me being a photographer for this vibrant tango community.
In 2016, I founded a meetup group called “The Photo Society for Epic Fails” an experimental photography group that works in alternative light sources, light painting, astral photography, and more. The group is open to beginners and professional photographers who are willing to try new techniques and learn from failing, epically failing if necessary.
What advice do you offer to budding photographers?WS: Make photographs; don’t worry about gear; make photographs; look at the work of others in all visual media; make photographs; think about why you make photographs and what you want to communicate; make photographs; show your photographs to others who can give you feedback; and make some more photographs.
SG: Do your best work. Show your best work. Don’t hold back. Bring everything into your art. The books you read. The music you love. The movies you see. The friends and family you hold dearest.