Photographer Barbara Sheppard

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The old saying “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” couldn’t be more true when it comes to photographer Barbara Sheppard’s work … Willing to look beyond the obvious, to see the patterns and textures in nature and define how these are echoed in man-made structures is one element of Barbara’s work. The world, through Barbara’s eyes, is the most magnificent place …

Hi Barbara. What’s your association with the Greater Port Macquarie area, and how long have you lived here?

I moved from Tumut to Port Macquarie in 1987, with the family having previously lived in Young. It was quite a sea change for me after living all my life in country Western NSW.

My husband was appointed Principal at St Joseph’s Primary School and our five children were enrolled in schools in Port Macquarie, so much of my time was taken up with involvement in their education and after school activities.

I worked at St Joseph’s for 22 years as a Teacher’s Assistant in programmes for children with learning difficulties – a job that I loved.

The Greater Port Macquarie area has so much to offer photographically.

Who first introduced you to photography; what was your motivation to pick up a camera and start shooting?

I guess it was my dad, with his Kodak Bullet camera that he had used during his time in the Army in WWII. This very simple camera always intrigued me – such a simple device that could record great images for the family album. I still have many of these images.

When I left school, I wanted my own camera, so when I started work I put a Kodak Retinette 1A on layby at a local pharmacy and paid it off over a period of pome months. This was my only camera for many years.

I started taking slides, as that was the “in thing” at the time, and of course I still have boxes of them. Many a slide night was had at our place, as we shared images from our travels. Projected photography in the form of colour slides was a way of sharing with a large audience the joys of the photographic image.

What have been some of your favourite cameras over the years, and what camera/lens combo do you most frequently use these days?

My photography stalled for many years whilst raising the family. Apart from family snapshots, I didn’t really think about photography as an art form.

My husband always had cameras, which I used until I bought my first digital compact camera some years ago. Pentax, Fuji and Panasonic LUMIX were all great little cameras – the LUMIX being my favourite and the one that has travelled on all of my overseas trips.

Today I use a Nikon DSLR, and my go-to lenses are Nikon 18-55 mm, Nikon 70-300 M, Sigma Ultra-wide 10-20 mm and Tokina 100 mm macro. I prefer not to have too much equipment.

You have a unique way of looking at a subject, focusing on the patterns that make up the whole. Why does this method inspire you – what do you most enjoy about this photographic style?

I really enjoy getting in close to the subject or concentrating on the patterns that make up an image. I think this came about after I was recovering from eye surgery, so I only had one eye to use for a while. It made me appreciate what my eyesight meant to me and how we shouldn’t take this amazing sense for granted.

I started taking photos again around the house and of flowers and things up close. I have always had a love of nature, but had rarely looked at it up close before.

I had studied art at school and loved abstract artists – Mondrian being a favourite. I started seeing patterns and designs in the nature photos I was capturing. I also see these patterns in nature repeated in man-made structures.

I love photographing flowers, plants, trees and small insects up close, focusing in on the small parts so I can see the design of their structure.

Yes, nature – but also architecture – are two of your interests. What have been some of your favourite subjects to shoot?

I belong to a nature photography group in our photographic club, and we had a project that I really enjoyed. We looked at buildings the architect Zaha Hadid had created, then we had to see if we could find these shapes in nature. This was a great exercise in seeing things differently and capturing them with my camera.

I am developing a love for photographing architecture, again because of the different designs and patterns that are created. I like photographing abandoned buildings, as they have a story to tell or encourage you to ask questions about them.

Recently I revisited the high school I attended in Young to photograph the entrance façade – it’s an amazing building with Greek columns.

City buildings are a favourite subject, because of the variety. Old, new, brick, stone, glass, reflections … So many subjects! I often use these subjects to create abstract images.

Composition must be such an important element of your work. What are some of the tips you’ve learned about composing a shot you can share with photographers new to the scene?

Composition is certainly one of the most important elements when creating images. There are certain rules photographers have learned to follow – e.g. the rule of thirds, position of a main subject, leading lines, to name a few. I sometimes follow these rules, but at other times they don’t always fit what I want an image to say, so I guess rules can be broken … because I do it regularly.

I find I focus on what the finished image will look like in my mind, before I think about the other elements – because the image has to look right if it’s to tell a story, to evoke a response or to elicit a sense of wonderment from the viewer. I have to feel these things as I create, for if I have no invested feeling in the image, then I cannot expect one from a viewer.

For those new to photography, just go and photograph as often as you can and let the image speak for your feelings at the time you took it.

What photography club/s are you a member of, and how have they helped you? 

I have been a member of the Port Macquarie Panthers Photographic Club for four years (since I retired). Club competitions, evaluation evenings, workshops and group outings have all helped me develop as a photographer. Working collaboratively with other photographers in the study and appreciation of photographic art has led to the expansion of our personal and collective horizons and helped all of us become better at seeing.

Also, the photographers I have met in the club have inspired me, taught me new techniques and encouraged me to keep learning.

Your work has been on display as part of a group exhibition at Masterpiece Framing and Gallery over the past couple of months. How much have you enjoyed being a part of this exhibition, and what is some of the feedback you’ve received?

This has been a huge learning experience for me. Choosing images and preparing them for hanging in an exhibition was challenging. Being a part of a group exhibiting together was also fantastic, and the buzz at the opening gave me renewed interest in showing my work publicly.

Discussing my images with gallery visitors has been a delight, and I guess the best feedback I have had from the exhibition is the fact that I have sold many of my images.

What’s next on the agenda for you photographically … Any future projects/travel plans in mind?

At the club level I will be submitting images for Image of the Year, preparing a series of images for our portfolio evenings and entering competitions. I do enjoy creating photo books from my images as well.

Short term travel plans – road trip to Victoria in January and to Perth and the Margaret River region in March.

Long term travel wish list … South America, Spain, and more of Australia.

Where can we see more samples of your work?

I will be holding a personal exhibition at Masterpiece Framing and Gallery in April 2018, and everyone is welcome to come and view my works once more.

I often post my images on Facebook – on my own pages and also on the Port Macquarie Panthers Photographic Club FB pages.

I am happy to talk photography and photographic art with anyone, and I can be contacted through the club website:

Thanks Barbara. Interview by Jo Robinson.

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