Adrienne Zoe is a fine art photographer and bird photographer. Her signature fine artwork is creative photography in which she explores light and reflections, creating vibrant images that look like abstract art or paintings.
An artist at Uptown Gallery Waterloo, she presents new photographic art every two months with each new show. She has taken workshops from master photographers Sharon Milstein and Leona Isaak, and photography courses at Brookdale Community College in New Jersey. As a former member of Vancouver’s North Shore Photographic Society, she reached their highest star rating. She is now a member of Grand River Imaging and Photography Society, Canadian Association for Photographic Art, Kitchener-Waterloo Society of Artists, and Central Ontario Art Association.
1. You're trained as an electrical engineer and are now an emerging artist. How did you get to where you are now?
Interestingly, my father is an engineer and my mother a self-taught artist. So I am very much a product of them!
As a child, I was fascinated by my father's camera. He never let me use it, but how I wished one day I’d have my own - I wanted to capture many sights where I lived in Borneo. My desire to take photos started as early as six.
Saving red packet money, I bought my first camera at sixteen when I went overseas to study in the USA. My father helped choose a Yashica camera for me. Composition came naturally, and the camera’s fixed Zeiss lens gave crystal clear pictures that pleased me right from the start. I was so happy with that camera, I would probably have kept it for the rest of my life but a few years later I left it on a plane and never saw it again.
Eventually, my brother gifted his cameras to me. He felt sorry I'd ended up with a simple “low-end camera” while our father had paid for his fully manual Nikon SLR. So that's how I got two Nikon 2020s and became a Nikon user. I used both these cameras, one loaded with black and white film, and the other with colour. Meanwhile, my brother lost interest in photography.
After getting my engineering degree I worked at Bell Labs in the New Jersey. Art and photography were my pastime; I took community courses in these. Occasionally, I dreamed of doing art shows, but I didn’t know how to go about it.
My photography skills improved significantly when I moved to Vancouver and joined my first camera club: the North Shore Photographic Society. There were many good photographers, and members could receive monthly juried feedback on images which helped me grow by leaps and bounds. My skills also grew each time I took a photo trip and got pointers from professionals. I upgraded my camera equipment and started the habit of using a tripod. By the time I left the club a few years later I’d reached their highest star rating.
Getting married, staying home with kids, and moving to Ontario put a halt to photography for thirteen years. Then a couple years ago my husband and I went to see the Elora Studio Tour in Ontario. Taking in the event and beautiful artwork I was thinking I could be doing this. My husband supported my aspiration, and together we talked to several artists about the business. Pursuing my dream to seemed doable - there was no reason to not do it.
The first thing to work on was my portfolio. I paid attention to creating a unique one as I didn’t want to be like any other photographer. Fifteen years earlier, I’d started using a special effects technique. Now I worked from scratch getting a special effects portfolio together, upgraded my camera equipment once again, and honed my skills in digital photography and editing.
My initial target was to join a studio tour with a host. However, I missed the deadlines for studio tours; instead, my first application went to Uptown Gallery. Imagine how thrilled I was and still am to be accepted at Uptown Gallery.
2. Do you think it is important to have a formal education in order to be an artist?
Formal education serves to speed up the learning process, helps give comprehensive knowledge, and ultimately provides credentials which is needed for certain jobs. However, an independent artist doesn’t need a formal education. There are many roads to gaining knowledge and experience and many successful artists are self-taught.
3. Describe a typical day for you.
If it is a good day for photography, I usually head out to shoot. Mind you, a good day for photography could be when cold wind is blowing snow or it is very icy. But when the day is rainy and grey, I generally don’t hope to get anything good to shoot. By the way, photographers are the most optimistic people. Every time we go out to shoot, we are hopeful. And we don’t give up even if we don’t get any good shots. We hope the future will fix that!
On the days I’m grounded, I sit at the computer. My photos are shot RAW so each and every image needs to be developed or processed. Paperwork is a necessary evil. Then there are deadlines to meet for shows and other events such as photography competitions and salons.
A day goes quickly whether it is out shooting or in the office. Once my kids are out of school I morph into super mom who does everything. After dinner, I may even have to cook for the next day if I plan to be out shooting again.
My work on the computer usually continues after dinner and way past bedtime. It is hard for me to stop working on an image once I have started, I am so eager to see the results! There is never enough hours in a day, I’m having too much fun.
4. Who or what inspires you?
What inspires me is exploring new areas and challenging myself to try new things. I get restless if I do the same thing. I have to feel that my work is getting somewhere and not in stasis. I like manipulating images; don’t be surprised if I start painting my photos or converting it into mixed media.
Nature inspires me. As a young child, I could watch a caterpillar for hours, or sit so quietly in a tree the birds didn’t realize I was there. I guess I haven’t changed that much, only now I patiently wait for photo opportunities in nature.
All creative works of art inspire me. I love being part of a co-op gallery and being exposed to many different mediums and styles. It helps me look beyond my own work and grow.
5. How do you get clients?
I exhibit new photographs at Uptown Gallery in each show run every two months. I am at the gallery a few times a month to keep it open for customers. Customers can also view my work online and order by contacting me.
My clients can also find me at shows outside the gallery. I showed at Doon Church Art Show (May 7th), I will be showing at Waterloo's Mary-Allen Studio Show in fall, KWSA member’s show (June 24-July 22), and expect to be at a few more besides these. My whereabouts are advertised on Facebook, twitter, Instagram, Uptown Gallery’s website, and my own website.
6. What has been the highlight of your career as an artist so far?
Hands down one of my biggest wishes come true is getting accepted at Uptown Gallery and becoming a professional artist. Getting accepted is immensely validating of the artistic merit of my work.
7. Have you had any career disappointments as an artist?
I only just arrived on the art scene in November 2015; thoroughly enjoying every minute of being part of the art community, meeting new people, being busy and creative, and having the opportunity to share my art. There is currently no room for disappointment; nothing more uplifting than the positive response I’ve received so far.
In general, I avoid disappointments by not focusing on things I have little control over. Knowing that I am doing my best, making progress and a difference to those around me is all I ask of myself. If something doesn’t turn out the way I want, then it wasn’t meant to be, and I move on.
I’m sure I will be tried in the future, but I’m pragmatic -- not everyone will like my art, but I’ll never stop believing in it.
8. What is your dream art project?
It is the exploratory work and pushing the boundaries of photographic art that is ultimately important to me. I definitely am not a mainstream photographer in my signature style work; I’m not afraid to be unconventional.
I'd like to write a book on creative techniques in photography. In the process, I will have to explore many techniques myself. It will be fun to experiment and document the before and after results.
Long before I joined the gallery, I realized the situation with my creative photography work is that it straddles a grey area between traditional photography and paintings. My creative work breaks the rules of traditional photography and looks a bit like impressionistic paintings but yet it isn’t a painting. I knew it would be interesting to find out where I would find more acceptance, in the world of photography or the art world of painters.
In my opinion, photography is the fastest changing art form today due to the advances in digital processing and technology. I do feel that the traditional way of judging photography is lagging behind a movement of photography to becoming more like art. I would like to see the day when photography judging standards relax and grow so that cool forward images that currently fall outside the traditional standards will be acknowledged for their artistic merit.
9. Do you have any advice for any emerging or aspiring artists?
A strong portfolio is a must. It should demonstrate your expertise; select images that have impact and show your unique style.
I would encourage any emerging artist to give it a go even if only part-time. There is definitely a learning curve to being an artist, and no better way than to dive in. Set a doable goal to work towards initially.
An emerging artist myself, it is an eye-opener for me to face the costs of an artist; fees for show registration, jurors, commission, gallery and art organization membership, and many other expenses for parking, travel, framing, display, and studio and art supplies. I'd advise the new artist to quickly understand business expenses as this helps towards understanding the price of art and the cost of running the business.
Running a business is a huge challenge. Look towards those who are successfully established and find out what they are doing. Also, find out which are the best places to show and sell your kind of art. If you have teaching talent, this is the more reliable way to make money than sales. There are courses for artists to learn the ropes of the business. Take them. Network. Fellow artists, your suppliers, and your clients are your best friends. I am still learning how to get around.
10. What's next for you?
Creative work comes first and it is important I have time for it. Eventually, I’d like to show in Toronto, and even further down the road, I dream to be an international artist and publish a book. In the meanwhile, I’m thrilled to be part of Uptown Gallery Waterloo. I’m enjoying the newest aspect to my photography, bird photography, which I just started doing in January. The goal is to keep expanding my portfolio into different areas. I am growing as an artist, and am where I want to be.
Interview by Glodeane Brown
All photos provided by Adrienne Zoe