THE ARTISTS: Barbara Michelman |

THE ARTISTS: Barbara Michelman

What is your career and your current job title? Photographer. I specialize in travel, free-lance, shoot stock for an agency in London, and lead small-group photo tours to Europe.

Describe in a sentence or two your art. I try not to make what I do too precious, though I am particular about where I point my camera. But that’s mostly dictated by what pulls me. The world is a stunning and beautiful place. I hope I capture some of the poetry.

How long have you been working in this discipline? I had the first camera in my hands, a Kodak Brownie, when I was about 9 or 10. I still have the photos – self-portraits – I shot in my bedroom mirror. But I had my first camera in earnest when I was 18. I was going to Florence, Italy, on an exchange program. My father gave me a 35 mm camera, 36 rolls of film, a meter and an instruction book.

Why do you do it? Because I can’t not. The creative urge is not a reasoned event. It’s a restless child that just wants to break free.

What do you hope to accomplish? I never gave it too much thought, but I suppose I hope that my work conveys to people some of the grace and mystery I find in this life.

Do you create your art with an exact message you want the viewer to receive and if yes, what is that message? Implicit or explicit, I think every work of art carries a message, but I never think about the message when I’m photographing. It interferes with the work. Too much intellectualism undercuts the nature of the creative process. In fact, I find that kind of work fatuous and shallow because it tells the viewer what the viewer is supposed to see or feel, instead of allowing the viewer to find his or her own meaning and moment in the work. I hope my work is more like an invitation to a dance than a message.

Where do you want to be with your art, in terms of part-time versus full-time status, art positions and where your works are seen? I work at what I do full time and then some. This spring some of the travel work fell off because of the world situation, but it’s picked up for the fall. I’m headed to Cinque Terre, Venice and Tuscany for work in September and October. But because of the uncertainty right now in the world, I’m also expanding my horizons. Next February and March I’ll be offering a series of workshops on photography, aesthetics and the whole creative process here in Grass Valley. My work can be seen locally this month at J.J. Jackson’s. I have a show titled “Chasing the Light” opening Sunday that runs through Sept. 5. It’s also on view at Gallery II, my studio or online at

What kind of special training did you take? I never took any formal training in photography. In fact, I started as a painter, studying painting, drawing, art history, etc. In the ’70s, I was living in L.A. and wanted to be a screenwriter. I was told, “Get in any way you can.” So I did. I ended up being one of the first women in the film lighting union in Hollywood and had the opportunity to work with some of the finest cinematographers in the world. It was the old system of apprenticeship – show up on time, pay attention and follow orders.

What’s your favorite part of your endeavors? Coming up over some strange hill, the light breaking just right, and sticking my eye in the camera.

What’s your least favorite part of your endeavors? All the piddly details necessary to run the business part of it.

How many hours a day or, if more appropriate, a week do you spend on your work? It depends. Right now because I have a show going up, I’m probably putting in 60 to 80 hours.

When I’m on the road it’s the same thing, but there are the quiet periods in between when I can meditate on the inside of my eyelids and wonder where the next job will come from.

Do you consider it hard work and could anyone do it? I never thought of photography as hard work, though it is very physical. And sometimes I get tired from the long hours. But, strangely, it doesn’t seem like an effort. I think anyone can pick up a camera. In fact, one of the things I love about photography is that it is such a democratic art form. Whether a person progresses from taking snapshots to something more depends on how much they fall in love with the image.

“The Artists” appears each Friday. To suggest a person to be profiled, call The Union newsroom at 273-9561.

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