Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Meet photographer Meg Birnbaum

Share |
Cow Art and More showcased photographer Meg Birnbaum fin April 2010. Meg enjoys capturing the American pastoral as a way to catalog rural American history. Meg recently returned from Japan, where some of the images from her "Corn Dogs and Blue Ribbons" collection were featured. She is shown here giving a slideshow talk about her photography while in Japan.

Why do you do photography?

I have been in love with visual stories since my sisters and I would fight over who got to read Life and Look magazine first when they arrived in the mail on Tuesdays. I spent many years as a magazine art director and loved finding photographic solutions for editorial content so I see the potential for narrative everywhere. But the simple answer to the question is that photography has connected me to a wonderful community of people and taken me to places I would never have imagined I could go. I simply think about making images all the time.

How did you get started?

My older sister set up a darkroom in the attic of our house when we were in our early teens and I joined in and quickly became addicted.

How do you decide what to photograph?

Often by accident or sometimes it finds me. I shoot a lot and then see what 'develops'. The way that my series on summer fairs started was totally a wonderful accident. A friend of mine and I went to a fair on a labor day weekend in Burlington, Vermont. I hadn't been to a fair since I was a kid but the tastes, smells and sounds brought happy memories rushing back. I only took a few shots but two of the back to back negatives turned out to be two of my best shots ever and they were very exciting to me. I did some research to see how other people had handled photographing the same material and I felt that I could say something unique and different by combining the timelessness of black and white film with the toy camera. Plus it gave me a great excuse to be around animals and eat french fries. The hard part was in having to wait 11 months until the fair season started again in New England.

One of my current projects came about after reading about a woman in a short item in a local newspaper. I couldn't stop thinking about her so I found out her email and wrote to see if she might be interested in being photographed. Luckily she said yes and that led me to other like-minded subjects.

What is your technique?

I'm currently in love with using "toy" cameras. There is a real cult following for them now. Not a disposable camera but one that is a reusable 120 film camera. The most readily available one is called a Holga. They are very basic with little control options and tend to create a soft-focused and timeless/retro appearance. Whenever possible I like printing in the darkroom on matte fiber paper and then I tone the prints sepia.

Where did you learn your technique?

Mostly from looking at the work of other photographers. I learned the basics from trial and error in the darkroom when I was young. I really didn't have any formal education in photography other than a basic darkroom refresher course 9 years ago.

How long does it take you to get an average creation?

There usually is one image per roll of film that is worth considering as a 'keeper' but that's a hard question to answer. Sometimes things work and sometimes not so much.

Where do you get your inspiration?

At the risk of sounding kind of flip.... there is inspiration everywhere... reading books, seeing movies, looking at other photographers work and the energy you can get from being around students.

How did you get interested in photographing cattle and other farm animals?

I love any excuse to be around any kind of animal. When I started going to summer fairs I was very attracted to the relationships that I witnessed between the cows and the 4H members. I became a confirmed vegetarian after that summer of being around the farm animals. I found cows to be so gentle, trusting and soulful.

Do you ever have goof ups or work you don’t like?

Yes! Sometimes I have to throw out a roll or two of film. When I've been playing around with a more conceptual type of photography I can often see the image in my head before I shoot it or I try to sketch it first to see if it will work, but sometimes it just doesn't. It really is hard to give up on an idea and admit that it just isn't working.

What would you like to do more of in the future?

I'd love to find a project that would allow me to spend more time around animals. I'd love to explore antique photo processes. I'd like to continue to work with people who enjoy being photographed.

What else do you do besides your art?

I'm a freelance graphic designer and the work comes in waves so there are long periods where I think about photography but can't act on it. I walk my dog, Ruby, in dog parks, by ponds and in the woods. She's not a big fan of the camera but tolerates me bringing it along. Promotion for my photography takes a good deal of time and I never have enough.

What advice to you have for aspiring artists?

Try to not over-think things... just keep shooting and often the thing that you should be doing becomes obvious to you. Don't worry too much about the quality of your camera right off the bat. Work on seeing first and craftsmanship later. It is really hard, but try to tune out any negativity from other people in your life and keep moving forward with doing what you enjoy.

No comments:

Related Posts with Thumbnails