Photographic artist Cally Whitham is known for her use of romantic light that brings out the aesthetic value of her subjects. Her subjects are depicted in an almost surreal ambiance, making her work resemble a real oil painting. This interview will show you her deep sense of beauty and how she translates her visions into stunning works of art.
Hi Cally! Let’s get to know you better. Can you please introduce yourself?
I’m a female photographer living in rural New Zealand. I’m interested in finding value in banality; the search for the promise of something, the depths below the shallows.
What inspired you to become a fine art photographer? Was this a childhood dream?
It kind of started with taking mental photographs on car trips as a child. I dabbled in poetry to try to capture the thing I wanted to remember but could never quite find the words and my sketches never did justice to the things I had seen. Once I realized I could keep those images through photography I was hooked. Given these early ideas and desires I guess it was inevitable that I would be drawn to this genre of photography, but it was never a dream of mine as a child.
Does photography influence your everyday life? How so?
It does really, I find myself constantly checking out the quality of light and I still take mental photographs of anything that catches my eye.
I take my camera with me as much as I can so I don’t miss anything and whenever I don’t take it I always see something that’ll haunt me. I prefer to be a passenger so I can take photos as we travel, but more often than not I am the one driving. We live rurally and even a trip to town will have something on the way that I want to capture or remember. I have to remind myself to keep my eyes on the road and often wonder how easy it would be to shoot while driving…
Tell us about your use of romantic light in your work. How important is it to your aesthetic?
It’s pretty cliché, but light is always my starting point. It is usually light that first attracts me to a subject rather than the subject itself. Sometimes it is imagined light, I may see a subject and know the kind of light that should be there, the light that would give a subject the value it’s due. The right light makes or breaks an image, it’s the paradigm shift required to make you see something that may be irrelevant, as having some sort of value.
My favorite kind of lighting is backlit, low, golden, evening light. For a moment absolutely everything looks lovely just before the sun sets. It’s a kind of rose-tinted last look before the night comes.
An equally favorite kind of light for me is a cloud-covered day where the light is filtered. You start the day thinking it is drab and overcast and wishing for the sun, but this is the perfect kind of light to see potential. The difference in the lights and darks is barely there, but the magic lies in the subtleties. The light is said to be flat, but this is the best kind of light to play with and to bring forth and enhance during post-production. Mood can be present without the sun; sometimes it is the promise of sun rather than the sun itself that creates the mood or potential.
What “tools of the trade” do you often use?
I don’t really use a lot of high tech equipment, as I am never looking for a pin-sharp result. My work is not about portraying what is, so much as what might be, so I have no need for top of the range gear. For a lot of my work I use a Tokina F8 mirror lens. It is very light to travel with and use, I can hand hold it for the most part and it gets me really close to my subjects, most of whom are very camera shy. Despite being difficult to use the lens flattens perspective beautifully, blows out the background and gives me sharp enough results without being too sharp.
For friendlier subjects I use a 75-300 zoom or a 50mm f1.8. I am a fan of shooting wide open; wide-open apertures muddy the details and take the lens away form it’s perfectly sharp sweet-spot but also allow me to shoot hand held. (I hate tripods).
Can you tell us about “Captive”? What is the story behind this work?
It’s is a romanticized notion, an idea; the thought or feeling rather than the reality – the romantic perception. We find ourselves as captive as they are.
You emphasize “giving aesthetic value where none appears apparent”. Why did you decide to explore and expose this philosophy?
I’m interested in the idea of perceptions and how changing a perception gives or takes away value. For instance, people will pay to go to a zoo to look at exotic animals and yet, they will drive right past sheep. One thing is perceived to have value and one does not. And yet the real value lies in the sheep. They used to have a value, we recognized that value, but now we don’t, we drive past. So the challenge is to recognize the aesthetic value that is not overtly recognized and capture that, to see if a new (or old) perception can be recognized.
What are your future plans? How do you see yourself and your work 5-10 years from now?
I find that work builds upon work and the journey builds upon itself as I go along, so I don’t really know quite where I am heading. What keeps me engaged is the journey itself and the discoveries along the way.
Any message or advice for our readers who might be aspiring to get into fine art photography?
Find your own voice without reference to others. Just do what you do and follow your own journey. The world is a big place; your ideas will strike a chord with someone.