Ethereal Photographic Art Show (4) – Interview with Heather Simonds

In this blog, I am glad to introduce my friend and photography rival, Heather Simonds. However, she denies to be my rival. She said she was not that keen to get up 5 o’clock in morning or shooting in -20C outside. But she misunderstands me. I am so weak in morning so most of my landscapes are sunsets. Then going to local micro brewery; this is my routine. Let’s start the interview with Heather.

Hiro: So let me start from how you stated photography to path to the current position.

Heather: First of all, I have to tell you how thrilled I am to be interviewed by you, Hiro. We have many photography interests, including, learning where photography came from, historically, while we explore our own vision.

My path …Growing up on a rural New Brunswick farm, nature, like wildlife and botany (I have a Master Gardener designation but you might not guess that by the looks of my potato patch) has always been a part of me. In 2002, I came “out of the closet” as a bird watcher after a 9 week family trip to the Andean countries. Given that desire to muck around in nature photography, and living in an area where I can jump in a truck and make a circuit any day NW of Calgary and have an encounter with any of moose, foxes, deer, owls, etc, well, the nature stuff has just been begging for capture. In my family life, as a kid and raising four, I was the “designated photographer” processing leaky black and whites on my plastic camera (I wonder where that thing is?) and scrambling around on the floor to catch dogs and kids at their level. Other than trying to capture the family moment, I don’t think I was doing much more than documentation. In 2004, after practicing law for over 20 years, I shut that door. Shortly thereafter, I
sought repair of a three-year old P and S I had “paid a lot for” at The Camera
Store and walked out of the store with something I hadn’t planned on (a digital
SLR) – have you ever been there? The rest has been an exploration from macro to zoom and everything in between. The Rule of Thirds was waiting to be discovered. I thought filters came in dry cleaners and cars.

Hiro: You are one of the regular winner for any categories of competitions at camera club. Categories of the Foothills camera club competition varies from conventional nature, portraits, botany, architecture to digitally manipulated creative images. How do you categorize yourself as a photographer? Or do you think photographers should specialize themselves for any reasons? Do you usually set a concept for each image?

Heather: Let me step back…I have always been interested in art … Always…. and I believe that is key, the exploration of sensory stimulation, visual or whatever, that keeps you aware, searching, passionate and stimulated. I have been stumbling into galleries, museums, art shows in small towns, acquiring stuff while I was still paying off student loans, gazing at the masters (Kertesz in Paris last fall and Karsh at the Glenbow) and asking why are “these” images timeless?

Hiro: Yes, now remember. I mentioned about Andre Kertez in my presentation at the club. I thought none or not so many knew about the photographer. But you quickly commented about Kertesz by email. I was surprised but also I was convinced again.

Heather: Oh! yes, and squeezing the library for free art and photography resources, pouring over magazines and books to get a broad education on the fly and cheap. One recent influence has been the Palm Springs Photo Festival (search it, you will be surprised at the wealth of talent), which I have attended for several years. The focus is more fashion/ commercial, feeding off LA, but the exposure, so to speak, is second to none. Push into the shadowy corners and learn or move yourself to things out of your comfort zone. As far as photography goes, I guess I am working on the creative process all of the time. Maybe that’s why I have not narrowed as much as others, not to say there is anything wrong with either approach as I think some people find a specific focus (Oliver du Tre who uses one camera and one lens) while others carry a range of bodies and lens and filters. The paths are many, none is true. It really is an outward expression of yourself.

Hiro: I know you try variety of photographic techniques or effects for your images. Nowadays, new techniques or effects are introduced in every social network system and everybody can try them easily on computers. But I sometimes find they remain at the experiment level. On the other hand, when I see your image, their impact comes from whole mood of the image regardless of what effects you used. Also I remember, you mentioned that your raven image was influenced by one of Darryl Benson’s image. I could clearly see the influence
of Darryl Benson in the images, but it still has your taste. How do you approach to new photographic techniques or effects?

Heather: Personally I don’t think the number of years of staring down a lens barrel adds much credibility to photography, except for pros maybe. The images speak for themselves. What’s more, photographers can be competitive, not wanting to share where they shoot, what technique they use, some copy in the footsteps of a winning shot, lacking confidence to explore their own vision. Guy Tal has been outspoken on this topic- it’s just not art.

Hiro: I remember the article by Guy Tal. I agreed with him but it created controversy. Some people do not know the fact they are taking only easy paths. Actually, being influenced requires long process and patients.

Heather: Perplexing, why someone would spend time and money to go to SW US or the Rockies to jostle for position and copy the same images as others.

HiroHa, Ha. because you have developed your own eyes. Photo tours can be beneficial for some types of artists until certain level. But I do understand your point.

Heather: I am more interested in exploring a new site or idea to its fullest, while away time engrossed in the potential of a new technique or discover a location or better still, a rusty old 40’s car. It’s a big world out there. Become engrossed in a scene or concept, work the angles, maybe confine to one lens and camera, fine tune the adjustments, stack filters, refine the vision, lose track of time, then walk
away confident you gave it your best.

Hiro: Sounds like you try everything you can do at a scene on your camera. I know when you are shooting, you look so focused and I am afraid talking to you.

Heather: I am almost always alone and it is special if there is a nature encounter, an unusual bird (quail flew past me the other day as I was shooting LE on the
beach at sunset) or a snake or coyote or something to pass the time while you
are working the shot. Ansel Adams went to the same spots over and over and
over, you know, returning year after year his entire lifetime. People think he
made those great images over a few visits, or happened upon them, but he spent
a lifetime perfecting every one. One or two a year was satisfaction to a
master. I also try not to put off a shoot, having been disappointed when
something old and rusty got hauled away or torn down, or settle into “lazy
shooter syndrome” being satisfied with a grab from a car window. Turn the
vehicle around, park safe, get the tripod out and “just do it”. Of course, this
doesn’t work for wildlife, it’s entirely “be ready or go home”. There is
nothing more rewarding to me than capturing the wild in the eyes, raptor,
coyote or even moose.

Hiro: So what is your usual creative process from picking up a camera to presenting your images in public?

Heather: Inspiration comes from life, pure and simple. I am always looking, and I am grateful that the practice requires close examination of things others walk by without a sideways glance.  Better to go through life examining it closely than missing the point. Landscapes, one of your specialties –well, I don’t like to get up early in the AM (although it is almost always rewarding when I have a good fox encounter) and I am not much for -20 to capture a nice ethereal mountain shot with a leading line of deer footsteps.


Heather: I am happy with long exposures, creamy, melting, surreal, wispy, and, the bonus is, if you block out enough light some great ones can be captured mid day. A few years ago I read a Popular Photography article by Darwin Wiggett about stacking filters and I basically spent the summer doing slow exposures, waiting for images to come up on the screen (kind of like film- the image is more mystery than a straight shot), taking a lot of stuff that was not that great (like thistles waving in the breeze for 60 sec) but I did realize that each image is unique and it beats trying to copy other winners.

Hiro: As mentioned before about mood, I often hear people describe
your image as “warm”, “gentle”, “soft”. I agree with them. Regardless of subject matter, types of photography, or photographic techniques you used, your images have certain character, which can be described as warmth, softness, or delicateness. Where do you think these feeling of your images come from? Is it a result of some influences by other photographers or artists?

Heather: Pay attention to tones- oh, yes, I am a stickler for keeping a nice range from shadows to light. Mood is critical, impact is key.

Hiro: Your article was published in Outdoor photography Canada issue #16 –
Winter 2011
. Moreover,  now, you are an official park photographer of Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park. Could you explain how you got the position and what are actually your activities /contributions to the park as a photographer?

Heather: The writing stuff comes from many years of drafting documents as a lawyer, picking away at language. Writing fits and I have ideas jumping around in my head most of the time, a notebook handy when something needs to be recorded. The fox article (Outdoor Photographer – Foxy Photography) was on my doorstep screaming to be shared, and it was a no brainer, with foxes endearing us to our canine friends. As Park Photographer at recently opened Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park, I have been writing articles park related for the newsletter as well as shooting several events including the August opening (politicians love to pose but they aren’t patient), and, as a bonus, I am now putting on regular workshops, trying to keep the topics varied and interesting. You never know what doors are slightly ajar, waiting to be opened.

Hiro: What is your goal as a photographer? So you set a load map?

My Goals- Recently, you lured me into the realm of studio lighting when you showed me your setup so that is my next experimentation. I had a couple of model shoot srecently that went so well I am anxious to line some more up. Mostly concept shots at this point. More writing (running a blog started in the summer is always there to practice on. Now that the nest is empty (and the barn!) more travel is looming. This fall I pretty much toured every back road in northern Vermont and New Hampshire (the Great North Woods), touched the
Laurentians and just finished a late fall west coast visit where the leaves were still on the trees. It’s hard to believe that fall lasts so long in other parts of Canada. Stay tuned this winter, for Vietnam and over a  month in India, a cornucopia of street material, no doubt.

Hiro: Thank you for taking your time today.

Heather: Thanks again, Hiro.

Here are Heather web-sites

“The Pier” – Heather Simonds

“Weather Watch” – Heather Simonds

Photographer 11 - Entry 05 Matte Paper 8x10 -

“The Raven” – Heather Simonds

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