This month, Xanadu Gallery’s online Gallery, Xanadu Studios, features the work of macro photographer JK Parker. Parker creates abstract imagery by focusing on details of objects we encounter throughout life but rarely stop to see. We sat down with Parker to better understand the amazing photography.
To View Parker’s work, visit her Xanadu Studios page
Xanadu: How did you get started in Photography?
JK Parker: Like many, I started with a Brownie camera. In terms of photography, the first major inspiration was my desire to document the results of a major hurricane that hit south Texas in the late 1960s. My grandfather, who inspired me first in terms of photography, would have loved to have been there to do exactly that.
X: Your work focuses on very tight close-up and macro photography – how did you become interested in looking at your subjects in this way?
JKP: I have a consistent theme for all my photography and digital art. I focus on the concept that nature reveals to us an incredible amount of art, much of which is “invisible” to most of us. It was only when I began using a macro (close up) lens that I began to see that for myself. I find the “invisible” in insects, flowers, ice crystals, water, metal, and other elements from nature. I “capture” some of nature’s smaller forms (less than 1/2 inch generally)—micro wonders often.
As a human, I am part of, not apart from, Nature. I strive to create my own ways of thinking about and representing the world around me. Macro photography of the natural world brings me a greater sense of the contradictions of my work. I feel a deep immersion in the flow of life and the constancy of change. At the very same time I use a camera to stop, in a moment, the fluidity of motion, for example when I photograph tiny insects. Yet, as with all art, I think what remains with photography is an important kind of ambiguity. It leaves me always with questions about how much of this art is comprised of the past, the present, and/or the future even though it shows but one fleeting moment in time and fundamentally two dimensions in space.
The photographic work in my portfolios of insects is less about the camera I use than it is about me and the focus of my efforts. Generally, I have not “staged” images; I can’t, or better stated – my “models” won’t permit me to do so. Therefore, I have “staged” myself to be able to be there and be ready for the scene at the right moment – whenever that is. I know what I am looking for, in general terms: a model and background with color and complexity for more emotional impact, an angle which allows me to work effectively even with typically brilliant midday high desert light, and proximity for detail and distinction.
works in my portfolio
with native flora reflect my efforts to seek images that give me and other viewers the opportunity to go beyond what we normally see when we look at various kinds of flora (e.g., flowers, trees). Here, I use macro photography to bring the abstract world of leaves, limbs, stems, stamens, petals and pistils a possibility for having a sense of wholeness in their own right. When I focus on parts of plants, I focus on lines, colors and forms that we may not see without getting closer up. And, the textures seem more detailed and complex than they would be if they were contextualized with the whole rather than the part.
The photographic works in a series of portfolios called “Frozen Moments” reveal forms that exist in nature, literally in frozen moments of time. Only macro photography “captures” them, however, since most are less than 1/2 inch in size. For this portfolio, I look from different angles and at unusual shadows and have selected the ones with the most potential for a greater three dimensional representation. The fractures, bubbles, spikes, and other features of ice which come together to form rich images.
X: What do you look for in composing an image?
JKP: Let me start my answer by telling you about what I tell myself before I go anytime or anywhere to take photos—”Be truly open to and present for every moment”. That helps me slow myself down to take in everything I can possibly see and then begin to “capture” that moment rather than the image that I thought I wanted to go out to capture.
Then I go for good light, shadows, lines, colors, textures, details, etc. of nature.
In some of my most recent work, I strive to explore both color and motion. I was at the Albuquerque Aquarium not too long ago. I was taking pictures of fish. But then, I looked at other possibilities. Most specifically, I began to see the coral and the water and the colors of fish that were in constant motion. I stopped taking pictures of the fish as the primary focus and began to combine these aspects of what I was looking at by adding a bit of motion to the camera. I am working now to see what the images are going to provide in terms of something unique and artistic that might have escaped my way of seeing things if I had not stopped. It’s fun to explore new images that might emerge from blurred macro photos.
X: Do you shoot digitally?
JKP: Now that Kodachrome has been “taken away”, I have a bit of a sense of loss. It was really expensive for me, so I took fewer pictures than I might otherwise have done during that time. My subjects were of landscapes and wildlife such as Mountain Gorillas and Giant Anteaters.
Now, I only work digitally. It gives me much more freedom to shoot to my heart’s content, to experiment with new views, and to make sure I have the very best of whatever I eventually select to work on further.
X: How much processing do you do after the shot?
JKP: It depends….. When, I bring my photos to download onto my computer, I go through and, use when necessary, Picasa’s “Auto Contrast” functionality. That gives me an initial sense of what I might need to do further. For my documentary photography (i.e., insects, flora, and ice crystals), that plus a little cropping is the end of my process. I try not to change things too much for those. I then select the best representatives that I believe achieve my goal of quality.
I do the same initial processing for the photos I use as the basis of my digital art. From there, I may only do some simple tweaking before loading the few select photos into an art software for further processing (e.g., to appear perhaps as a watercolor or post-impressionist piece of art) or perhaps making more major changes. Even with the opportunities to do major changes, I stick primarily with macro photographs as the base and use the colors that the original image provides with
only a simple Auto Contrast. The objective I try to achieve with any level of processing/manipulation is to
explore ways to best represent motion, color, lines, shadow and/or light from the original photo.
X: What do people say about your work?
JKP: Most of the people who have seen my more documentary work have indicated an interest in the subjects I choose, i.e., insects, flowers, and particularly the bubbles in my “Frozen Moments” portfolio. It is the emphasis on the macro that has been what they seem to almost marvel at. Their responses are: “Truly impressive”, “Stunningly beautiful”, “marvelous”, and for the abstracts that I have been focusing on more recently, one person said, “They take my breath away”. I think perhaps the comment that represents the greatest compliment I likely may ever receive about my art came from an incredibly talented Navaho artist who has been very supportive of my efforts. He said, referring to my “Frozen Moments” portfolio:
“You have captured the Spirits of the ice”.
X: What projects are you currently working on?
JKP: I continue with my various portfolios, both documentary and abstract digital art. However, as always I am trying to constantly be in the moment to find some new way to portray nature’s “invisible” art.
X: Who are your influences?
- Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890) who worked intensively with local landscapes and light, and used bold color and a sense of movement in his post-impressionist art.
- Karl Blossfeldt (1865-1932), whose best known works are close-up photos of plants;
- M.C. Escher (1898-1972), who looked for new ways to see the world, with a major focus on perspective, time and space.
- Eliot Porter , (1901-1990), “the original modern nature photographer”, whose approach was based on more intimate encounters with nature (e.g., a leaf on the surface of a pond)
X: What or who inspires you today? Why?
JKP: Almost anyone. I learn so much daily from artists whose works of art I look at in galleries, authors of art books, artists whose works my husband and I have collected over the years from the U.S. and overseas, kids who are friends of mine. A lot of it is just my perspective that just being open allows me to be think about what I see, what it means to me, what I like or don’t necessarily like but which teaches me something new about myself as an artist.
In his Amazon.com best-selling book, Xanadu Gallery owner Jason Horejs shares insights gained over a life-time in the art business.