Show Title: Unafraid
Tagline: From Powerless to Unafraid: A monochromatic experience
My Very First Official Artist Statement
When I applied to be considered to show my artwork in my hometown with other local artists, I was asked the single hardest question in my entire life.
By the way, I am still convinced that I got a solo show because I’m good but not that good so I need to be by my lonesome, but then I shut that shit down.
Anyway, to be considered, I had to not only define my art but also put that definition into words. And, like, coherent sentences.
Unfortunately, I could not just write, “my work is black and white because I like black and white photos, duh” and be done with this awfully hard assignment forcing me to define my work.
That single task of writing my artist statement, has actually been a challenge that has been plaguing me for years. Decades even. 23 years to be exact.
So, like most creative people (ok, maybe just me) who has to describe themselves and their work (gag), I turned to Google to figure out what it all means, and the answer to the Universe while I was at it.
Look, you could offer me a gazillion trillion infinite monies and I still would not be able to form a coherent artist statement. What I am feeling in my soul is dang near impossible to put into words.
Which is why I am a photographer. Yes. I am also a writer. A published author, too. I see the irony. It’s not funny. Ok. So it is a little funny. Heh.
I never did find the answer to the Universe, but I did figure out what it all means.
And by what it all means, I mean, I got inspiration from reading other people’s stories and summaries about what black and white photographs mean to THEM. And with their help, I am going to attempt to weave my own story and definition of my work. May the odds be ever in my favor.
I demanded Google give me the answer as to why people (ahem, me) find black and white photography so intriguing.
What Google so graciously pointed me towards, was unshockingly unsurprising. And it all confirmed what I already knew to be true in my soul. Just, in words.
Wait, am I a victim of confirmation bias and found only information to support what I already knew? Whoops…
Anywho, black and white photos are intriguing because they are pivotal, striking, profound and can make powerful statements, while also conveying neutral, calm, minimal, and sometimes just a simple affirmation. They are elegant yet also moody, mysterious. They are simple and yet oh so complicated.
You see, pictures are worth a thousand words. (Hey, I don’t make the rules. They also last longer and prove “it” happened.) However, this is where color photos and black-and-white ones diverge.
Color photos tell you a story by providing all the details. They “talk at” you. And because they are talking at you, describing every little detail exactly as it presents in reality, they can be easy to be overlooked, taken for granted.
Again, I don’t make the rules. The Human mind and the study of psychology do. And maybe don’t quote me on that because I am merely talking from MY EXPERIENCES. The way I view and feel about art, is just as unique as yours is.
Moving on. BW photos are stripped of their descriptors, their layers, their realism, and most importantly, their base, raw, form is exposed for all to see.
Ironically, by peeling away the layers, any and all details that were previously lost in the color, intensify. All the pieces that were easily overlooked in the color version, often become the plot twist that every good story needs.
Again. This is my version of why I love black-and-white photography so dang much.
Don’t get me wrong. I LOVE color photography too. Bold and vibrant colors that jump off the photo are my jam. And at the same time, some scenes do not work well in black and white, and vice versa.
Long story short, black and white shows you the framework of a story, and you, the viewer, get to build the story. Thus sparking an emotional connection whether you realize it or not. Even if the story you build is simply, “This photo made me happy,” you just related the photo to yourself, and now, the next time you see a similar scene in real life, you will probably recall that photo. And tada! A lasting impact.
That’s all us artists want. To leave an impression, a lasting impact. Well, and to make money. Ok, I got sidetracked. Sorrynotsorry.
(Example plus caption)
Unless we are color blind, we see in color every single day, every single moment, of our lives. So much so that too much color can actually become overwhelming. But without that color to rely on, black and white forces us to see details in a fresh perspective.
And because of that, because black and white yeets us from reality to an atemporal, surreal, subjective multiverse – no two viewers will build the same, exact, story. Where we are talked at by the color versions that often share their meaning immediately because that is probably where your eye lands on first, black and white isn’t so direct.
Composition also plays a role, but that’s not what I am defining here.
Because humans have an innate need to assign meaning to everything we experience and explore, the story a viewer sees in a black-and-white photograph is shaped by our unique experience, knowledge, fantasy, and imagination.
For instance, one person can look at a photo and their story is that it made them happy because xyz transported them back to a happy memory, while the person standing next to them, their story takes a darker turn because xyz reminded them of (a) painful time(s).
Heck, a third viewer’s story could be that it made them happy because xyz made them think of something that brings them joy.
All three are looking at the same photo, yet their stories are completely different. Because, at the end of the day, there is one unifier in the duality of black and white. Emotion. And emotion is a neverending spectrum.
(Side note: keep in mind that these examples are all super simple and not nearly in-depth enough to explain all the science and theories. I don’t got time for that.)
In the end, however you view black-and-white photography, it is a personal choice, a personal aesthetic, a personal style.
In this monochromatic experience, I am sharing 13 of my favorite black and white photos that I have formed lasting, emotional connections with. They are images that I can recall easily when I am feeling certain emotions.
They have shaped me, they reflect me, my soul is in each one, and they represent my very own mental health journey from being a powerless human, drifting from rocky shore to rocky shore, angry, scared, afraid, unknowing her potential and purpose, to powerfully unafraid, strong, resilient, and free,
These photos put into words the feelings, the emotions, I have felt as I have been healing my inner child for the last two and a half years.
Just like the dichotomy of black and white – despair and hope, shadows and light – as I have healed, these photos that once may have sparked a feeling of powerlessness, of being overwhelmed, alone, and a sense of brokenness, have become beacons of what it truly feels to be unafraid.
Independent, calm, strong, exciting, loved (by myself especially), and, most importantly, powerful.
The same photos. But two different stories built upon the framework that black and white photos provide.
This exhibit is about visualizing the intangible emotions that connect all humans. From powerless to unafraid: a monochromatic experience is a visual story of how I see the world – beautiful. Interesting. Amazing. Inspiring.
Black and white is an intentional choice. They can be moody and elegant, mysterious and neutral, dramatic and simple, or even emotional and calming. Remember, there is no right answer when it comes to viewing art. Ok, there is a right answer. And that right answer is your truth.
With all that being said (phew), Ansel Adams (my icon.), once said, “There are two people in every picture: the photographer and the viewer.”
Maybe I should rename my show:
From Powerless to Unafraid: a monochromatic experience in duality. No. That didn’t work. Great, now I am going to wake up in the middle of the night, or not even get sleep, because my brain is going to be working overtime figuring out if I can add dichotomy or duality somewhere somehow. Gah! Thanks, me.
From Powerless to Unafraid: an emotional monochromatic experience
From Powerless to Unafraid: the duality of emotions in a monochromatic experience (too many words)
Back on track. As you browse my photos, remember that what I see, feel, build, will most likely not be what you see, feel, build. And that’s OK. Art is subjective. Your story, my story, are both just as valuable.
Black and white has infinite shades inbetween. Without our unique stories, art is colorless. But more than that, black and white is about a connection that transcends time – emotionality. It takes you away from reality, and transports you to a different multiverse.
And that, my friends, is why I like Black and White photography.
P.s. I have stopped caring whether anyone will care about my work, look at it twice, or even get what I am trying to show with my work. I will never appease everyone, and I will never be everyone’s cup o’ art. Those are things I cannot control. I am doing this for me. And as long as I am putting my all into this, doing this MY way and not the way I think society expectantly demands of me, I’m good. I am more than good. I am unapologetically good.
My Very First Official Artist Bio
Kelly has been capturing the world around her since her 13th birthday, when her mom gifted her, her very first Nikon SLR film camera. She never looked back.
For 23 years, Kelly has been a hobbyist photographer, only recently declaring she is a professional photographer. Somewhere during those 23 years, she earned her B.S. in Psychology and went straight for her MBA, never once feeling strong or brave enough to share her photos outside of her inner circle.
Everything changed on October 29th, 2022, when she posted her very first photo of the day on Instagram. Not with the goal to be an influencer because that’s a pipe dream. But with the goal of getting more comfortable with not caring what other people think. Screw the critics, she started chanting. Ok. Just kidding. I didn’t chat that.
I chanted, well, I can’t tell you that. That’s confidential information *puts on her witch hat*.
Part of the reason she has found it so hard to define her concept, her art, her reasoning, her why, is because she captures anything and everything. Literally. Her kids now anticipate when she may (ahem will) take a photo or 10.
(Yep, I’ve trained them well. Muwahahahaha)
While this addicting habit has created what she terms, The Photographer’s Curse, because she has at least 100 thousand photos (not even joking a little, that’s why The Photographer’s Curse is a thing), this sanity questioning habit has built her into the photographer she is now.
From people to buildings to animals to trees to shadows to a random mini pretzel on the ground, to say she is an eclectic photographer is an understatement.
An unapologetic, eclectic, emotional, risk-taking mess. I mean, artist. Not mess…. (a better description).
Every decision she makes, every edit, composition choice, depth of contrast, brightness level, and even watermark placement, is an intentional choice.
She wants your eye to seamlessly move around the scene, not freeze and jump from location to location, because ultimately, everything in a photo – matters. Especially in black and white. ESPECIALLY, when the raw, bare framework is on display.
The crazy thing is, she doesn’t even plan her shots. There is no studio, only nature. There is no staging, only candid. She won’t say it, but I have no shame. Kelly is a naturally intuitive photographer.
Part of the reason she is such a natural and intuitive artist is because she sees a story in everything. Not just what’s interesting, or cool, or mesmerizing. But what makes you feel, remember, imagine.
A black-and-white photo shows you a blank canvas ready for a thousand words and the color only you can bring to it.
Kelly wants you to feel your own feelings, relive all the memories, and paint the story with your own imagination. She sincerely hopes that her artwork can suspend reality for a moment and join you on your journey to somewhere timeless, special.
To her, black and white is the character, the soul, and has lived a thousand lifetimes.
Kelly has two kids, one husband (aka the third kid), four dogs, five cats, and a thousand ideas running on fumes in her disorganized brain.
When she isn’t behind the camera taking photos (heh, that’s funny. She would take photos in her sleep if she could), she is a novelist, a blogger, a primarily stay-at-home parent, an adventurer, and failing spectacularly at becoming independently wealthy.
Kelly has never received any formal training, learning only through taking a million photos. Of course, being owned by curiosity, she doesn’t stop experimenting. One day, she dreams that The Photographer’s Curse will finally pay off so she can be paid to travel, snap photos, and write stories.
An artist can dream.
On that note, Adventure on with Curiosity,
Kelly “Unafraid” Steele