Fstoppers Rapid-Fire Interview With Fine Art Photographer And Surrealist Tara Minshull
Tara Minshull is a rather successful fine art photographer based in Los Angeles who specializes in conceptual and cinematic images, oftentimes utilizing mixed media to realize her vision. Tara was kind enough to give us some of her time for an interview, in which she discusses the merits of art school, her motivations and the constantly evolving themes of her work.
In continuing my series of short interviews with fine art photographers, I chose Tara because her work transports me into a different world: for some reason, I feel like I could step right off of my industrial revolution-era dirigible into one of Tara’s images. It’s rare that I find artists who are so adept at weaving such surrealism and authenticity into their images, even though it is a technique that is tried so often. How many times have you seen a sepia filter haphazardly thrown over an image, or a tintype action cobbled together over an engagement album, in some sort of effort to make it look dated, or worse yet, ‘artsy’? Thousands of times, right? I’m sure we all have. And how many times do we see that sepia toning actually adding something to the photo? Hardly ever. Tara’s work, however, is different, and like I said, I really enjoy the authenticity and originality that she brings to this style. So without further adieu, let’s get to it, shall we?
FS: Did you study the arts in school? If so, was it photography or another medium? How would you say your formal education (or lack of) has influenced your work? And lastly, would you recommend that aspiring artists follow that path, or another one?
TM: I studied English Literature and then Film Aesthetics at University. My innate yearning to study the surreal works of Lewis Carroll, Charles Pierre Baudelaire and Anaïs Nin collectively nudged me to study storytelling through the moving image. When I attended Oxford to study film, I fell in love with Dziga Vertov’s montage, Wong Kar-wai’s colors, Charlie Chaplin’s whimsy and Fritz Lang’s romantic darkness.
The visual aesthetics of all that I read and watched was what stirred my desire to create my own. After indulging all I could in the dark depths of German Expressionist cinema, I picked up my first film camera which was passed down to me by my father. I began learning how to process, develop and print my own work in the dark room at a local community college. I took a two month class and paid little to nothing.This marked the beginning of my longstanding love affair with photography.
In all honesty there is no right or wrong path for an artist. Only a path. We all have vastly different ways in which we end up at our artistic destinations, so I wouldn’t dare assume to know or recommend one. Only that, most of the time, your path will derive from pure instinct.
Are there common subjects or motifs that you work with or do you always start with a blank slate?
What my pieces do have in common is that they are all surrealist. They make up a collection of worlds that I create in my imagination from various cinematic scenes that I’ve watched, music I’ve recently listened to, color palettes and textures from paintings and old photography. I create abstract landscapes with weathered, sepia tones to help build a nostalgic, old world. With that canvas I hope to hypnotize others into the ‘other world’ that belongs only in one’s imagination. Nostalgia and gothic romanticism is the access I choose to transport them there.
My motifs are all very personal to me. Therefore I am the subject of all my pieces, but discreetly so. Ironically, I’m disturbingly shy of the camera’s lens, so I simply use my body as a mannequin to represent the subject in each of my worlds. ‘Death by Kino’ is actually the piece I composed to exemplify and elaborate on that very concept.
Do you have any common themes that you try to communicate with your work? If so, have they been the same throughout your entire career, or are they constantly evolving?
My themes change because I change. I think that for any artist, he or she merely communicates his present suffering or passion in a raw and honest way to others. That’s what I’ve done with ‘Cinematic Worlds’. I began at first with ‘Strolling through Darkness’ which was born out of a period where I felt that each page of my life was drenched with a darker ink than usual. It was during that time that I started to pluck and play with Photoshop. In doing so I found a graceful and powerful way in which to express myself, fueled very much by morose. The chapters of my life, from then on, can easily be read through my pieces. ‘Shock to the System’ – is my artistic awakening, ‘Suffocation’ – as all artists will, ‘Let Nature Catch You’ – became my consistant philosophy, ‘Earth Born’ – my ultimate state of bliss, ‘ Death by Kino’ – the moment I recognized the reasoning behind my longstanding struggle to be captured by the all seeing/all pervasive eye of the camera’s lens and finally ‘Back to my Roots’ – my recent reconnection to Armenian culture.
If you had to choose one piece of art to hang on your living room wall for the rest of your life, what would it be and why?
I would have to say Robert and Shana ParkeHarrison’s ‘Windwriting’ (seen below) from his Promisedland collection. Their work has inspired me endlessly. The beautiful way in which they compose their characters with such whimsy and charm is so delicately rich yet playful.
This particular piece excites me. I see it being the story of a technical wizard, who with the power of invention and imagination has created a gigantic machine to somehow transfer the measure of wind into lyricism. Unlike many of ParkeHarrisons’ more ridiculous, scientifically charged characters, the Windwriter here is poised and focused. He is collected and sure of his rustic invention, like any good wizard of dreams.
Dripping in nonsensical surrealism, this piece would hang forever proudly on any of my walls to encourage enormously ridiculous dreams, with the help of electricity and magic.
If you’re interested in ordering prints of Tara’s work, you can do so through her agency, Primary Fine Art. If you’re interested in learning more about Tara and her work, you can also check out her website, which can be found here.