This is the first of a series of interviews with artists working in and around Charleston, West Virginia. We will showcase two artists each month in the website. If you’re an artist who’s interested in having your work featured in WhyCharleston, drop us a line at email@example.com.
How did you get started in your art?
I started taking photographs in high school. I did it backwards – digital and then film. After getting quick and easy results with the digital camera and learning how different settings did different things, I switched to film and didn’t pick up a digital camera again for a few years. I took a few photography classes in college but majored in multimedia. It wasn’t until this year that I decided to seriously pursue portraiture.
What are the major influences in your art?
First and foremost- my family. I started taking photos when my brother was born when I was in high school. I just want to document all the people I love whenever I can because you sometimes don’t realize how important photos are until it’s too late. I am also inspired every day by the artists I follow on Flickr. I love being part of a global community of photographers. When I first started shooting I was really inspired by William Eggleston and Elinor Carucci. My favorite wedding photographer is probably Ryan Brenizer who is based out of New York. But when I was first beginning, I turned to Steve Payne for guidance. He gave me some invaluable advice that I will never forget. And probably the most important influence was my time spent working at Photo Production Services in South Charleston. I got to meet some wonderful photographers and I learned so much about retouching and the photography business. My time there really inspired me and gave me confidence.
What differs your technique from other artists?
I think I have a bit of a contemporary edge compared to what you traditionally see from other Charleston photographers. I really embrace bright colors and even though I do spend time post-processing my images I don’t go too overboard. I am a traditionalist at heart. I also don’t have a studio and don’t ever plan on shooting primarily in a studio – the only reason I’d get one would be for client consultations and proofing sessions and the occasional rainy day session. I believe people feel more comfortable either outside or in their own homes, which is why I choose to be an on location photographer. When you work in a studio, you are dependent on your backdrops and props. With that said, I do think there are local photographers who are truly gifted at studio photography – Beth Forester and Steve Payne are both inspirations to me.
How do you describe the art scene in Charleston?
I feel like it’s either grown a lot in the last 10 years or I was just oblivious to it before! It feels like the art scene is bigger than ever before. There are so many talented people in Charleston. Most of my exposure to the art scene is actually by way of music since my dad holds the principal trumpet chair in the symphony. There are so many opportunities to see and hear great art in the Charleston area.
How receptive are the people of Charleston towards your art?
Everyone has been so fantastic so far. West Virginians in general are so kind and gracious. I think the high school seniors are picking up on my work quicker than the families simply because I am very connected to them on Facebook and spend a lot of time making a presence for myself on the web by updating my blog and website regularly. They see me as something fresh and new and accessible and I think that appeals to them.
What are your favorite art pieces around Charleston?
I love the colored wall by the Clay Center! I also love going into Taylor Books to see what they have up, I love their gallery. And who doesn’t love those Fetty flowers?
What particular things in Charleston inspires you to create art?
The people. I think it’s so important to be able to connect to people in this profession, otherwise you won’t really capture their personalities. I really love the Capitol street area and actually worked at Ellen’s Ice Cream for almost seven years off and on, so meeting all those customers and being downtown surrounded by people every day was so inspiring. I love Capitol street because I always see familiar faces – there’s nothing more inspiring than connecting with other people and hearing their stories.
If you were to create an art piece depicting Charleston, what medium, technique and inspiration would you use?
I would definitely stick to my strengths and use a camera! Lately I’ve been playing with a neat technique where you lock your settings on the camera and take one photo comprised of a bunch of other photos, loosely shot in a grid. It really changes the depth of field and scale when you stitch them together on the computer. Landscape photographers do this all the time but I am starting to do it with portraits. I think it would be fun to take portraits of average Charleston folk just on the street, documentary-style, with this technique. You can get images you would never normally get when you make them in this way.
Where would you recommend tourists to go for the best place to experience Charleston’s art scene?
The Clay Center, the Cultural Center, and Taylor Books. I’ve heard the ArtWalk is fantastic but I haven’t been able to go yet! Hopefully I’ll get the chance soon.
Born and raised in Charleston, Emily Porter is certainly a photographer to look out for in West Virginia. A graduate of George Washington High School and Ohio University, she has worked with Paul Helmick for the State Newslines / WV Newslines project as a creative director. Aside from photography, Emily has deep fondness for music and her two cats. Her portfolio website is at www.emilyporterphoto.com.