Portrait Of An Emerging Photographer
by Valerie Millett
My youth was richly infused with fine art. My parents were both painters and among my siblings you'll find a professional animator for the Cartoon Network as well as painters and writers. My very early painting efforts garnered a Fine Art scholarship from Fullerton College in Southern California and I was lucky to have some amazingly talented and well published art instructors and mentors guiding my early artistic years.
Eventually, I made a move to Arizona and completely fell in love with the desert landscapes. I became an avid hiker and backpacker and set out to explore as many trails as I could. My watercolor blog started to include my hiking and camping exploits and my readership started to increase. I carried a point and shoot camera with me to photograph the hiking but quickly realized I wasn't such a great photographer. In search of guidance I turned to Arizona Highways Magazine as a resource for my hiking locations as well as the photography. I started to pay attention to the photographers and their work and quickly became inspired by the likes of Jack Dykinga, Gary Ladd, Derek von Briesen and many others who photographed the Southwest.
Frustration set in when I couldn't nearly do justice to the delicate and beautiful landscapes I had been encountering. I began a quest to improve my images so that they adequately accommodated the text in describing these ethereal scenes. I ditched the point and shoot and purchased my first DSLR but was so intimated by it that I left it in the box for almost a year. Eventually the camera and I became friends as well as some of the photographers from Arizona Highways Magazine. With great affection I regard of few of these guys as having been pivotal sources of inspiration and mentoring.
Once I gained enough control of the camera to produce images that started to live up to the stunning landscapes I had been experiencing, I was in love with photography as a new personal art form. Never before had I experienced a medium so instantaneous. Unlike my painting which could take weeks or months to compose and complete, photography was instant gratification. I wanted to know everything about photography. I started reading and studying everything I could about exposure, technique, lighting, focus and post-production work.
I eventually upgraded to a pro DSLR with a full frame sensor in 2012 and purchase my first professional grade lenses and filters. More importantly, I diligently studied the works of other photographers. Even to this day, I start every morning viewing hundreds of beautiful, inspiring images made by others. I'm moved and motivated by the stories and travels of the conservationist photographers like Jack Dykinga, Paul Nicklen, Michael North, Art Wolfe, Christina Mittermeier, Florian Schulz and Nick Brandt.
I'm also greatly inspired by the hardcore element hardy landscape shooters like Mitch Dobrowner, Chris Burkard and Jimmy Chin. This type of photographer keeps images fresh and original by paying their dues up front and getting into places with atmospherics not seen by many. They remind me to keep trying to find new ways to get to these places, the essentials of timing and the value of learning to shoot off the grid. Artistically speaking, Art Wolfe is an amazing source of inspiration for me as well. I love the topographical and high-vantage point works of Edward Burtynsky, Andreas Gursky and Hans Strand.
Although we are a minority so to speak in the world of landscape shooters, female landscape photographers I believe bring to this art form a unique perspective and sentimentally. Landscapes seen, composed and interpreted through the eyes of women and those who have inspired me include, Elizabeth Carmel, Helminadia Ranford, Jennifer Wu, Cindy Jeannon, Hillary Younger, Jessy Eykendorp, Beate Dalbec and frankly so many more I could never possibly name.
Now more than ever I realize how important and how influential my fine art background has been for me. As my images become more sophisticated and more me, I see the painter emerging and I find this stage of my ongoing development extremely exciting. I strive for a very painterly, clean image with flowing lines and textures. I'm always in search of the perfect light and love to offset it with cool tones. Always in the recesses of my mind the early American watercolorist John Singer Sargent's warm and cool color juxtapositions that I studied in school. Vincent van Gogh's love of lines, textures and busy skies I now see in my own work. I feel Georgie O'Keeffe in my desert abstracts.
I often tell people that I'm just a painter walking around with a camera with a dog in tow but the truth is, I'm very proud to be a photographer. As I hike and explore the wonderfully rich lands around me, I see light and color, lines and textures and I try pull that into an exciting composition.
My goal in photography has stayed constant. It's simply about the final image. It's an ongoing learning process to produce the best quality image the conveys an emotional experience and respectful mindset. Something that I can recognize as art. I never see myself in competition with other photographers, I'm only in competition with my last best image, seeking ways to improve upon the technical delivery to facilitate the message and meaning.
You can see more of Valerie's work HERE
You can email Valerie HERE