Thursday, January 8, 2009

Artist: Paula Burgoon

The following feature was conducted and produced by the MC7C duo. PLEASE, do not copy+paste this into your page. Direct link to it!

And now, Paula Burgoon.


Are you from Virginia or did you relocate here? Where did you grow up?

I am not from Virginia. I am actually a Navy wife. I grew up in the Twin Cities - went to college in Madison, WI. I have also lived in MI, FL, OK, MS, and CA. Norfolk is the best so far, however. But deep down inside I believe I have never lived in my hometown. I think I belong in Amsterdam or in NYC.

Do you have a particularly favorite (photo/ painting) you have created and why is it your favorite?

TOUGH question. I fall in love with many of my photos, hence my blog name, Crushaholic. And, just as quickly as I fall in love, I also quickly get bored. Only the best of the best remain my favorite over time. I suppose I have a list of 25 or so that are in that easily category - maybe even more. This particular shot of the birds half a block from Times Square is my current favorite shot. It was a quick-thinking snap but those birds really caught my eye. I adore the Stomp sign and tall buildings. Even in New York City the birds hang out in large groups. Technically, the precision and sharpness of my latest lens purchase blow me away in this shot. I believe this one will span the test of time in my book...

What about photography captivated your interest?

I have spent much of my adult life living in the shadow of my very successful husband. Following him from duty station to duty station, putting up with his unpredictable schedule, and spending YEARS of my married life alone as he is deployed forced me to put my own dreams and aspirations aside in the beginning. But as he felt glory in his work (he is an F/A-18 pilot) I felt invisible in the background. It was harder and harder to find happiness in every day life compared with a man who was living his dream. That dichotomy became unbearable. Photography was something I could do for myself. But I had to tear it out of myself. I originally started with photography quite a while back while in my early 20's but never knew what on Earth to shoot. The idea of it was fantastic but I was completely paralyzed and afraid to experiment. Film, developing, money were always an issue. When my son was born, I became the classic 'Mom With a Camera'. It really opened the door for me to practice. I always had a model and could spend hours experimenting and playing with my digital images. What started as something fun and something I seemed to have an 'eye' for quickly grew into obsession. I knew I was getting somewhere fabulous when I decided to start shooting things that did not have a model in them. That is where my true art lies. How do I now explain what I love about photography? I love to look at the very same thing as everyone else with my naked eye and yet see it in a completely different and magical way through my lens. I guess you could say that at the root of my art --- I love to make something out of nothing. But if nothing else, I love being very, very good at something. It is wonderful to be proud of my creations. Even if I am not saving the world from terrorists I am enhancing our world with beauty.

What advice would you give to a person interested in becoming a professional photographer?

Figure out what kind of photographer do you want to be. A technical and business-oriented photographer? or an artist? or the gray area in between? The advice for each is very different. I find most of the photographers I know fall into the technical and business oriented side. I truly cannot speak for what it takes to be a technical and business-oriented photographer. I can offer advice if your driving force is to create beautiful art and you would like to work your way toward the gray area in between:

Master your craft. With the availability of digital cameras these days, it seems EVERYONE fancies themselves a photographer. It takes more than a handle on the technical aspects to create a truly remarkable photograph.
Don't buy a camera with the intention of earning the money back to justify the expense. This is a pitfall I see many people make. Admit that this is not a cheap hobby but one worth investing in. Do it because you love it.
Learn your camera inside and out. Don't be afraid of it. But expect that it will take a long time to be comfortable and that is okay.
Learn everything you can - reading books, online classes, practice, practice, practice.
Once you have it, guard your talent. People will eat you up if you let them. Everyone wants something for free.
Experiment. Try new and crazy ideas.
Start small and let it grow. It takes a lot of work - a lot of practice - a lot of dedication - to make your work stand out from the crowd.
Dig deep. Learn about who you are and what you love.
Never emulate someone elses style. Find your own.
Learn what makes a photograph technically correct. Once you know that, get out of the box.
View lots and lots of other photographs and determine what about it makes it interesting and successful.
Share your work. Being an artist without an audience is very lonely.
Don't be afraid to be different.
Follow your heart.

Quite frankly what I would rather do is teach clients to see the difference between mundane technical work and beautiful artistic work. If only more people appreciated it.

Tell us about your experiences getting started as a professional photographer.

I just did it. I jumped in and did it. I am not sure that was the right way. I put a lot of unnecessary pressure on myself at the beginning and I have faced some heartache over the years. Taking photos of other people was a very scary step that I had to overcome. I still get nervous every time. But I follow my heart and to me that is vital. My goal is not to become rich or to create a lifestyle-sustaining business. My goal is to find who I am through my art and make some money so I can keep expanding my horizons. Hopefully the world will find what I have to share interesting. It is a scary path and one that is quite different than the average business oriented photographer. Only I can find the right answers for ME.

Do you prefer working with digital or film cameras? Why?

I use digital digital digital. I love digital. It totally meshes with my off-the-cuff reactionary and experimental style of photography. I love to respond to what I see, take the image back to my computer and apply whatever effects I find necessary to make the image really POP. I have played with Holgas in the past and I adore the look they have. But ultimately I am a geeky computer digital girl. Manipulating my digital work to emulate the bits and pieces I have seen is ultimately my goal.

Don't believe anyone who suggests digital is cheaper. I have spent amazing amounts of cash on computers, displays, software, hard drives, memory, etc. The beauty of digital is that there are no dollars ticking with each snap of the shutter. Guilt-free experimentation and immediate feedback. If I didn't have digital I don't believe I would have the guts to snap photos behind me while I ride a bike on vacation.

Can you tell us about your technical process.(camera type/ photo editing programs)

Technical perfection is NOT the key to my photography. It is merely a piece of the bigger puzzle. With that in mind I happen to shoot with some of the industry's top of the line equipment. I use the Nikon D3 and wide angle lenses most of the time. My most recent purchase was the Nikon 14-24mm 2.8 lens. It is phenomenal. However, what I loved the most about one of my previous wide angle lenses was its technical IMPERFECTIONS. I also love using lensbabies. I prefer to use natural light when I am on location although I have created a studio space in my home where I dabble with lighting and backdrops. I shoot in RAW as it is incredibly forgiving. Attempting to nail the exposure straight out of the camera is vital but when the scene is unfolding quickly it is not always possible. One of the most important things I have done is create a workflow of actions in photoshop to handle my images. I try to maintain a certain continuity to them. I process each image one by one to achieve my 'look' but I tend to do the same thing to every photo. I believe that you MUST be a computer geek to be a successful digital photographer. Digital just doesn't cut it straight out of the camera and quite frankly, half the fun is doing 'cool stuff' in photoshop for me. Often I take my technically-perfect photo and manipulate it to look as though it was taken with an old beat up plastic camera!

Can you tell us about your creative process. How do you come up with ideas for photo shoots and shots?

My favorite work is travel and city photography. I go into my zone. My best ideas usually pop into my head and I am executing them seconds later. I am a very spontaneous person. I tend to respond to what I see versus planning in advance. I do have certain locations I like to go as I know they will be a sure thing for lighting for portrait shoots. But when I am shooting for myself I love to wander around and just snap at whatever catches my eye. I am always on the look out for fabulous light or interesting color. For me this is a wonderful way to keep my technical edge razor sharp. On the streets the light is forever changing. You have to act fast to get the right image. It is excellent practice for learning to quickly nail your exposure each time.

What are predominating concerns as an artist, and how do you express them?

Over the years, THE most important thing in my work is breaking out of the group. Pushing the limits and pushing myself to get better and better. Whether I am taking photos of clients or taking photos for myself my goal is to make my photos ME - make them recognizable. Something about ME goes into everything I do. I think I was the last person to realize I had achieved this. In fact, I found myself stunned to hear that I was successful in creating a style.

What do you want to photograph that you've not yet shot?

I dream of travel/street work - For year and years I had dreamed of going to Paris and to NYC. I have seen both of those cities in the past 4 months. But I did not get enough. I am ready to go back! I now dream of going everywhere! More cities! More places! I am strongly pushing for my husband's next set of orders to be in Germany. With that I plan to travel all over Europe on the weekends. You never know - maybe after three years in Europe I will do something similar in Asia.....

Can you think of a particularly fun client or project that you've had?

Of course, anything that involves street work is my favorite but so far I haven't found a way to market it. ;-) In terms of paying jobs, I did commercial photos for a client who sews vintage aprons named Sassy Smox. This is actually one of the few concept projects I have ever done and it was a blast! I loved the freedom to be creative. The models (the client and her family) were perfect and we had a great time creating the 'desperate housewife' shots.

What about a really boring project that you did just to pay the rent?

I haven't had any 'boring' projects as I am very particular about what type of work I will accept. With that in mind, just about anything that involves posing happy families is totally outside my personal taste..... Product photography is pretty boring, also.

What are your present works about? How would you describe your work?

Most of my images have a sense of 'time and place'. They also feel a little dreamy. I snap shots of unexpected beauty and gorgeous light. I adore taking the photo that everyone else walked passed. Because of my introverted-nature and off-the-cuff style I tend to seek deeper significance in my images AFTER they have been taken. It is almost as though my subconscious has a plan while out snapping which it has to share later with the rest of me! I love to sit and study them on the screen after the fact and tie them together based on my personal experiences. Most of my work revolves around my experience in the world - seeking out my own creative spirit. However, my current project deals with smoke and mirrors - the false front that I see so many people hide behind.

What other interests do you have? (besides photography)

I tend to only focus on a couple of things at a time. And, I am the mom of a 'spirited' 6 year old which is rather amazing and exhausting. And, as I mentioned I am a navy wife so I am often a single parent. Between photography and parenting and home-owning, most of my attention is taken. However, I love to run, bike, travel, decorate, read.

What artists have influenced you, and how?

Henri Carter-Bresson and David Hockney are the biggest names I can put with my influence. Henri's brilliance in adding the human touch is always going through my head as I shoot. And, Hockey's composites blow me away. I am a book hound and I own lots of books on photography, graphic design, and crafts. My ultimate favorite book so far is called Elements of Photography by Angela Faris Belt and features quite a number of stunningly AMAZING photographers. She is one of the very few authors who is writing on that wonderful gray area between technical and artistic photography. I adore her influence and the artists she has chosen to feature. It makes me so happy I can almost cry. In the end, I admit that the daily inspiration I get from thousands of nameless artists on flickr are ultimately my biggest influence. Scanning through the images in 'Explore' and finding which ones pop out at me has pushed me to create better and better work, myself.

What do you think of the current trend of tattooed, alternative nearly (or fully) naked models such as Suicide Girls or various other alterna sites? Do you think it has a negative or positive effect on photography?

I honestly had to google it to know what it was. Much of what I saw from a photographic point of view was fascinating and beautiful although I am 35 so that makes me 15 years past the age this is geared toward. I love the look of grunge and tattoos in photographs and I have seen it done beautifully in the past by other artists. I would suggest this site doesn't have a positive OR negative effect on PHOTOGRAPHY as a whole. It just IS. I would be more concerned about the effect is has on young girls than photography. It is very hard to grow up as a confident woman in our society and I believe that expanding what is considered beautiful is fabulous. However, a few of the over-sexed up photos remind me that many women only feel they are beautiful if they are being sexual. There is a fine line between artistic and trashy, edgy and feeding voyeurism. By putting a name and philosophy about the girls I feel it cheapens the overall feel of the site - as if it is a store and I get to buy one of them. I find that distasteful. And, while I do not believe it is *wrong* to cross this line, I feel it sums up empty American consumerism. It saddens me. I only hope the girls are doing it for the right reasons and that their experience as a model is truly feeding their spirit.

Any local artists or bands we need to check out?

One of the most talented photographers I have met, Rich-Joseph Facun (, actually took a well-known photo of my son. After meeting him I googled him and discovered his work that is not affiliated with the Virginian-Pilot. It is stunning. However, he recently relocated to Dubai!
Another VERY talented photographer I have met moonlights as a furniture salesman at EQ3 in MacArthur. Paul Jeffreys
I have a friend who has just started making hand-crafted clay jewelry. Her work is bold and beautiful. I adore it. I actually did some photos for her.

What's the most played song on your iPod (or an equivalent music playing device) in the past week?

I will admit I have been sitting in silence more often than not. I have had a lot going on lately - angst in the household - and I just feel I need peace so I may relax. I have even been turning my iPod in my car off!!!! which is unheard of, in my opinion. But the song going through my head the most lately has been 'Let Go' by FrouFrou.

What came first, the art or the misery? Explain.

OH the misery!! for sure! I swear I have had so much angst built up inside that is trying to be heard and be understood and shared and needs to get out! Years ago I used to sit on my couch almost CRYING not knowing how to get my angst out! Only in the past months do I truly feel like I have my look and style where I want it. But I am always growing and changing and learning. I realize I have a LOT to learn and I am only now daring to venture into new territory. I am sure what I will be producing years down the line will feel ultimately like what I was meant to create and what I am doing now is just dabbling until the real inspiration comes!

What do you think of what MC7C does? How would you make it better? Have you been to any of our events?

I think MC7C is fantastic! What a wonderful service to the art community. Norfolk has a lot of growing to do in this department and I am thankful for MC7C for leading the way!


Paula Burgoon online

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