This month we are exhibiting the work of Deb Schwedhelm in conjunction with our current show, Eye on the Street. We were first introduced to Schwedhelm’s work when she showed in our exhibition, Family Dynamics. She has also exhibited in The Unreal and Open Water. We fell in love with her ethereal photographs and curated From the Sea, a solo exhibition.
Deb at the opening reception for From the Sea
You spent years as an Air Force Nurse. What was the impetus to finally pursue photography full time?
From a very young age, I was fascinated by photography, obsessing over old photographs I discovered in my parent's dresser drawers. In my 20s, I clearly remember saying, "One day I'm going to go to photography school and be a photographer." I believe that photography has always been a part of me, part of my soul. Photography is what I was meant to do in life; it just took me a little while to figure that out.
I was a Registered Nurse in the Air Force for 10 years. Without any art education or training, I was afraid to take a leap into the unknown. The impetus that finally allowed me... pushed me to pursue photography, you ask? To be honest, it was a house catastrophe. We lived in a military house that had rats in an inaccessible part of the attic, followed by a house invasion of thousands of maggots and flies (dropping from our ceiling vents). For our hardship, my family received two months of rent money back. I asked my husband what he thought about me using this unexpected gift of money to pursue photography and he said, "Go for it". In January 2006, I purchased a DSLR and lens and began teaching myself photography and I've never looked back. It truly has been a dream come true!!
Sky, Tampa, 2012
With your military background, you must have relocated many times. What role, if any, does environment play in your process?
Having the privilege to relocate every few years has played a huge role in the evolution of my photography. It has allowed me to take breaks, breaks that I probably would not have taken otherwise. These breaks have most definitely fostered reflection and growth as an artist. Additionally, with each move comes new community, climate, environment, landscape, culture -- all opportunities for exploration and discovery, both personally and photographically. I believe that each location has something special to offer and it is my goal to embrace that.
Ryder 3, Tampa, 2012
Your children play a large role as subjects for your work. What was the evolution from snapshots of them (the ones that all parents have) to subjects for high art?
I'm not exactly sure how to answer this question. I have always just made them. At first, my children helped me learn photography. At that time, they kind of just put up with me as I was constantly asking to photograph them as part of my learning process. As the years went on, I began to photograph them less and less, to the point that I was barely photographing them at all. No holidays, no birthdays, nothing expect formal portraits once or twice a year. In recent years, I realized how important it was for me to get back to capturing the everyday of my children and my family. I think it's through that self-realization along with the military move to Tampa that allowed for my recent From the Sea fine art series. It has truly been a journey of discovery, growth and truth on so many levels.
Elizabeth, Clitherall, 2013
There is an otherworldly quality to this series. Using black and white to create voids and deep spaces, with figures disappearing and reappearing, the imagery is ethereal. Describe your process. How much planning goes into a shoot? What is it like when you are behind the camera?
My process in the water is no different than my process out of the water. I arrive to a photography session with a few ideas but ultimately, it's a relationship between myself AND the client. My photographs are very much a collaboration, but in the end I am the one deciding which photographs become part of the series.
Heather, Crystal Springs, 2012
Outside of photography, where else do you find inspiration?
It seems that every parent says that they are inspired by their children, but I truly am. I also find so much inspiration in music and dance. I joke that I'm going to be a dancer in my next life (although I'm not really joking) and anyone who knows me knows how much I love the TV show "So You Think You Can Dance". From the dancers to the choreographers, there is so much inspiration in the dedication, determination, passion, creativity, hard work and the beauty of the dance itself. Last but not least, I am inspired by life. I am fascinated and inspired by people's life stories.
Skyler, Tampa, 2012
You have had a tremendous amount of success with this work. Last year you won the portfolio prize from PhotoNOLA review, this year you are a Critical Mass finalist, and you have several upcoming solo exhibitions. What does success in art mean to you?
As with any profession, I believe that success is setting realistic short and long term goals and working hard to achieve them. Success in art is very personal and evolving, especially as artists grow and change over time. I also feel that success in art stems from believing in yourself and the work that you produce.
Ellie, Clitherall, 2013
From the Sea is on view at The Kiernan Gallery through September 28.