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Staged Photography

April 11th - June 15th, 2021



©Irving Penn

I’ve always had a soft spot for staged photography, a practice that until recently has flown under the radar.  It’s true that some early photography was staged due a need for long exposure times and a desire to imitate painting, but by the twentieth century, fine art photography typically privileged “found” experiences.  However, in recent years, with the rise of artists like Gregory Crewdson (Crewdson Studio IG)  and Cindy Sherman (Sherman IG) the interest in staged work has increased.

As a student, my awareness of staged photography was limited to Edward Weston's sensuous peppers until I fell in love with the narrative implications of Irving Penn's still lives. My early career was as a studio food and product photographer--yes, I was one of those responsible for the chasm you find between ordering that beautiful looking burger in the photo and receiving an often sad/slapped together version. But what I loved most about that time was how each photograph started with an empty space and you come in to create something beautiful out of that emptiness. It left me with a love of studio work and an appreciation for, and understanding of, the practice of creating a world within the frame.

I have chosen six photographers for this showcase whose art runs a wide gamut of what “staged imagery” can involve. Several have found imaginative ways to transform the everyday through reinvention and abstraction, finding the power in the ordinary. While others seek to evoke a mood,  capture vanishing moments of beauty, or even include the presentation of the print as part of their staging.

A photo reviewer once told me I was a film-maker – and I think that describes these photographers as well. The desire to control what exists within and without the frame is at the heart of staged photography.

Small Wonders

Small Wonders is a visual diary of my year in lockdown. The work grew out of a still life project begun a few months before Covid-19 upended our lives. The original motivation for the work was a personal challenge to express my own sense of wonder at life’s mysteries using objects arranged on a table in my studio. As the reality of the pandemic unfolded, the imagery evolved to incorporate the state of my physical and emotional self.


Without the social interactions of normal life, my mind became occupied with memories that had been long forgotten. I’ve thought deeply about human nature, philosophy and ethics. I’ve longed to travel, to experience new things. Each image in Small Wonders is based on an idea, emotion, poem, song or family history.

As an artist, my formal training is in drawing and painting which I practiced for many years as nothing more than a hobby. Ten years ago, I happened to see an exhibit in Los Angeles that featured the work of a dozen fine art photographers who use Photoshop to create their images. I instantly knew that I had to buy a camera, learn to use digital software, and play.

My first projects pure digital collage, fantastical and unreal. Since then, I’ve pulled back on special effects and compositing. Many of the images in Small Wonders are captured in camera, with only a few minor adjustments in Photoshop.

It’s been an amazing 10 years since I bought my first camera. Nothing has been planned; one step led to another.

@Carol Erb, all rights reserved

Mary Daniel Hobson

@Mary Daniel Hobson, all rights reserved

These images came from a quiet place and a desire to play. I built ephemeral constructions into bottles, and like puppets, they performed under fog light against a backdrop of old maps and botanical drawings. I embraced the distortions caused by shooting through glass. In this way, the tension between internal space and external space is heightened, referencing how we all see the world through our own lens, sometimes clearly…other times aslant.

Evocations evolved from my love of photography and the tactile. For over twenty-five years, I have married camera-based imagery with mixed media to explore an inner world. I have built layered collages, bottled photographs in mineral oil, and here - in this series - created diminutive sculptures that exist just long enough to pose for the camera. Unifying all of my work is the belief that art can convey the complexity of our psychological existence and help us navigate an ever-shifting world.

Photography has taught me to pay attention. With camera in hand, I see more deeply the beauty inherent in the ordinary. Over time, I have discovered a profound appreciation for photography’s symbolic literalness. For example, the tree in a photograph is both every tree, and that specific tree at that specific moment. At its best photography describes clearly what is in the frame, and it also eludes to what is well beyond it - uniting the personal and the universal.

Lucas Leffler

@Lucas Leffler, all rights reserved

Home Play
Home-Play is a photographic project initiated during the lockdown period due to the COVID-19 crisis. It consists of images taken in my living place, a shared house in the Terdelt district of Brussels (Belgium), where I live with other roommates.

The images generated by this project come from a desire to re.invent the real, to create and to play. They have no other claims. Frivolity, recreation and joke describe this behavior which seeks to change the function of everyday objects, to reconfigure a place that we are used to see every day.

In this way, this project is not a diary relating the experience of lockdown or isolation period. Home-Play is a game. In this game I follow the rules of not leaving the house and reinventing everyday life with the things available inside.

The idea behind is not really to offer an imaginary world in which we can escape, but rather to glimpse the everyday as something that we can endlessly reinvent.

Karen Neems

©Karen Neems, All Rights Reserved

Spatial Choreography

In my series entitled Spatial Choreography, static mundane objects are put into motion. Photographed from the perspective of looking down, then layered with translucent film and string, the illusion of space becomes the new reality.  

Circles represent the eternal whole and in every culture are an archetypical form representing the sun, the earth, the moon, and the universe.  The irony of elevating these ordinary objects into the realm of celestial bodies is not inconsequential. In addition, the circular form, with neither a beginning nor end, implies the idea of movement, and symbolizes the cycle of time and perpetual motion. I am a collector of images, mining them for unexpected combinations.

In my artistic practice I choose to use photography to explore the relationships of images I observe and record, rather than its documentary aspect.  I often use translucent layers and collage to foster the illusion of space and the connections created.  The elements depicted may have a certain familiarity, but the composition  transcends the importance of their identification. These constructions and deconstructions explore another aspect of my imagined reality.

With Keep the Ball Rolling, I am looking down on tables and chairs, and playfully reinterpreting the juxtaposition of these objects. Layered with translucent film, selectively cut to expose certain elements, and hand colored.

Whether looking through the viewfinder of the camera, creating collages digitally or manipulating materials, I am drawn to the aspects that contain and formalize a space.  In a society where we are constantly bombarded by loud, disparate and raw imagery, I aim to create a calm and enchanting world, both within and outside the frame.

©Marcy Palmer, All Rights Reserved

Unearthing Series
The photographs in this series are about the space between the imagined and real.  There is reference to constellation, a need for a controlled environment within a chaotic one, and a constructed world with natural elements.  These works are filled with a tension between frustration and control, and wonder and delight.  Through these images, I could express my new and emotional journey of parenthood.  Although the objects used in these images are not directly related to childhood/parenthood, the emotions evoked are.  My experience as a parent to a young child lends itself to this tension, but the images relate to something larger than my own experience.  

The images were made by drawing and painting on a paper backdrop, shining light through holes in the backdrop, moving lights, hanging wire, string, branches, and other elements to create shapes and lines in the compositions, which I often interact with.  A slow shutter speed is used when capturing the images to show a sense of movement in many of them.  I see this as abstract drawing in a 3d environment, which became a place for performance, and then a record of movement and time. Performance is inherent in the creation of these images, and glimpses of that performance are integral to the final image.

Reaching that sense of wonder and curiosity in the world is something that I connect to by making and experiencing art – through photography or other media.  Thank you for inviting me to be a part of this.

Wendi Schneider

©Wendi Schneider, All Rights Reserved

The Patina Collection

The Patina Collection is an assemblage of gilded prints in the States of Grace series paired with antique frames – the synthesis of 40 years of collecting turn-of-the- twentieth-century art and objects, and creating images inspired by my collection of Pictorialist photographs. The serpentine shapes are echoed in the subjects I photograph and the frames that house these works. Printed on translucent vellum or kozo, these ethereal impressions are illuminated with white gold, moon gold, silver, or 24k gold on the verso, creating a luminosity that varies as the viewer’s position and ambient light transition. My process infuses the artist’s hand and suffuses the treasured subjects with the implied spirituality and sanctity of the precious metals.

My work is rooted in the serenity I find in the sinuous elegance of organic forms. I strive to make the intangible tangible and to preserve the visual poetry of these vanishing moments of beauty in our vulnerable environment. I photograph intuitively and feel it’s important to look deeply. It’s less about how the subject appears, than how it is seen and felt. The focus to define the soul of the subject is calming for me. I’m drawn to the exquisite lines of a subject — as if their very essence is contained in their form. I’m constantly searching for solace amidst whichever lovely landscape I find myself exploring, to elevate the intrinsic beauty and value of my subjects. My work is a testament and tribute, an adoration and an obligation.

Informed by a background in painting and art history, my images are layered digitally with color and texture to manipulate the boundaries between the real and imagined, and are often altered within the edition, honoring the variations. My original capture is usually only the starting point for the final versions of an image. I want my work to reflect the multifaceted states of nature, including the experience of shifting light refractions. I’m drawn to nuanced color and the luminosity and depth the leafing infers, and I continue to play with the metals to enhance the palette. Coming from a painting background, I’m less interested in the traditional idea of printmaking multiples and usually only make a few versions of an image at a time. I treasure getting lost in time during all stages of the creative process.

Most of the time, I create the prints specifically to fit the frame’s size and color. Every now and then I have a print already made that works in perfect harmony with the chosen frame. Each of these unique framed prints is truly a one-of-a-kind object of reverence.

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