Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Featured Artist Interview - Amy Sharp

Amy Sharp is a bright and energetic photographer from Hesston Kansas. She and I sat down recently to talk about her photography and what inspires her. We had never met and at first had attempted to do our interview over Skype, but quickly came to realize that we had to meet face to face. 

AT: How long have you been doing photography and how did you get started?
AS: I'm relatively new to photography, I've been working for 3 years - it's my 3rd season as far as wedding and portraits. I started in the fall of 2013 with a passion for sustainability and art. Sustainability was at the forefront of my brain at that point. I was thinking that I would start a blog about simple living and small scale homesteading. You know, big garden, edible landscaping, no TV, make my own yogurt, etc.
So I planted things like goji berries, which by now have died. One year I made my husband help me preserve freaking 91 quarts of applesauce.  I bought my camera with the intention of making all that happen.  But it never manifested totally - except for the pictures. I had been posting my photos on Facebook and there was this low key wedding - it was like the Wednesday before the Saturday wedding when the bride messaged me. She said, "you know my mom says I should have a photographer." So I did, and it was my first paying gig.
After that everything was very organic. My vision swung that way and it stopped being about the blog and more about - you know, what is this photography thing? I realized that I have a pretty strong aesthetic, and I started to wonder: what kind of photographer do I want to be? and how do I make pictures look good?

AT: As far as making photos look good, do you have any one that you follow that inspires you?
AS: The fine art photography has a 'look' to it. There's a sort of wedding soft, over-saturated look - Jose Villa is the person who started that look. He's the best of the best! He is so good, completely cliche and famous - but he is always on point. Compositionally he is just sooo good. All my life I've perused, you know, like Harpers Bazaar and W Magazine - just pored over the pictures wondering why do I like this? What makes this a good picture? What's the angle, what's the light, what's the mood? Jose Villa always hits those points with complete accuracy and has just got the whole thing down. My photography doesn't have that same look at all, but it has always been my goal to direct my subjects with just as much skill. Trying to attain that high level of perfection has always been my goal.

AT: Looking at your pictures I can tell that you're not going for that - your photos have this sort of organic feel to them, kind of home grown. Where do you think that comes from? Do you have an art background?
 AS: I have always liked beautiful things, and I'm from a family who likes things to look 'just so.'  But I'm also from a very small farming town in Nebraska, a Mennonite community. There, the artistic lifestyle is not the norm.  Art is within me, and it's the lens through which I view the world, but it was never innately a viable option as a career. I mean, my dad's a mechanic, my mom's a nurse. One of my earliest memories is seeing the final gasp of the old homesteading tradition.

When I was like 5 years old I remember my extended family getting together and butchering a pig - and it's ironic to me that doing that now would be so hipster and blog-worthy. I grew up with all of that.  I feel like you can call it extremely modern, or you can call it old school. A lot of my early life I spent outside, tending the chickens, growing our own produce - all of which is very novel and hip right now - and it's something we did normally as a family. What's great is that now I can be  the silly, overachieving granola-mom type that I am, and it's now highlighted and promoted in our culture. But when I was growing up, and even where I went to college, art was never highlighted. It was never on my radar as something an option that one studies. So it wasn't until my 30's that I truly even considered it.

AT: What has changed now that you're doing photography? You're not just a mom in a garden anymore!
AS:So after my son was born 8 years ago I was so glad to take the time off and be around. Now I work part time - a shift or two a week and doing photography on the weekends - and striking a balance is always a struggle. It's hard to transition from muse mind to get-dinner mind - they're very different head spaces for me. My husband is very validating and is totally like 'YES! let's help you get you where you want to go!'  But at the same time, his job, being the one with the steady paycheck, takes priority.  So he'll have the kids a lot when I'm doing shoots, but during the fall he's very busy with coaching and sometimes it becomes hard to exit out of work mode for both of us. We have to remind each other to slow down.

AT: So it's been three years since you started doing this and people are paying for your aesthetic - how has that affected you mentally? Has photography been helpful in your world?

AS:  Can I say - that it's debatable whether it helps or not?! It's really quite the Pandora's box I mean, photography has opened up this whole new thing and for that is wonderful and exciting and it's what I want and love to do. But at the same time, I have to admit that, more than it should, it turns into obsession versus a healthy balance. But I can't really say that doing photography has changed who I am. The artist Georgia O'Keefe said something that resonates with me:
"Filling a space in a beautiful way.- that is what art means to me." 
Photography has shown people that I have an aesthetic - that I have the ability to fill space in a beautiful way (-) and that I'm not just a friend with a camera. Reaching my mid 30's and starting something new has been very good.

AT: You're in your 30's? I thought that you were my age and I'm 28, so good job!
AS: Thank you! I'm freshly lotioned! It's been great getting older. THIS is who I am. I feel good. All my life I've struggled with bouts of depression and a sort of general melancholy, but being properly treated and feeling emotionally even has been good. As as kid, I remember being honestly fearful of the next time depression would set in. When I was depressed it felt like the clouds would come down and choke me, and I couldn't find words - and words are my thing - so it almost felt like this sort of dementia  I have been on a generic form of Prozac for five years and those feelings, thankfully, have vanished. It doesn't feel false or like I'm medicated.
Kids don't always get a depression diagnosis though. I think people just saw me as an intense and kind of stubborn kid. Then in high school and college I suffered from bulimia.  Although, I don't think people really knew.  I was outgoing, jovial, but it was fake.  It was so weird to have this secret, dark part of me but at the same time to live this false popularity - like, see everybody, I'm fine! I have a ton of friends and blah blah blah! But over the years I've gotten healthier - therapy, good friends, faith - all of these have helped. I believe that the tiniest nuggest of truth/hope/love have the power to add up to big life altering change. I haven't had any issue with bulimia for over 15 years and the depression was finally fully treated.

AT: If you had not gotten treatment do you think you'd be doing photography today?
AS: No. No. I don't think I'd be doing photography. I would be living a sad life aware that I have a lot more to give. The feeling of being a person that was loving life was in there during that time, but it was stuck inside. I'm empathetic and hyper sensitive which serves me well when relating to people but can also be overwhelming and social anxiety inducing. Taking medicine has helped with that.

Amy Sharp's photography can be found both online and on her Facebook. You can follow her on Instagram. Amy would like to thank her husband for his support. Also thanks to Genny Werth and Liv Grant of Haute Handmade Pop Up Market and Justin Lister for recent opportunities. 


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