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A CONVERSATION WITH SHAE DETAR

THE FINE PRINT: You have a very unique body of photographic works. When did you start making art? And when did you start developing this particular technique (combining photography and painting)?

SHAE DETAR: I began painting on magazine photos and sometimes collaging them when I was around 11 or 12 years old. I did this all through my teen years and twenties…it was just a way for me to be creative and express myself. I was fully intending to be an actor, and was doing commercials and theater in NYC, so I never thought of art as a career goal or anything I would ever actually do. It wasn’t until I turned around 31 or 32 that I my dog died, and I was devastated so I quit my job that day and I had no idea what to do with my life. My husband recommended I try photography, so I started posting my first images on the blog I had at the time and of course, the first print I made, I began painting on it, as I always had growing up. It felt so natural and it was sheer bliss. All of a sudden I had a voice and I could really say something with my work. It was a lot of trial and error, because I didn’t go to school, but I learned a lot just by constantly shooting and making mistakes and getting feedback from my blog. Of course now I have all this terrible work on the internet, from the beginning years, haha, but that’s okay, it’s good to see how far you’ve come and that you are growing. I dealt with a lot of fear in the beginning…but I always made sure to walk through the fears and keep going and I have become so strong and daring because of that. I refused to let the fear win. In fact, now, when I get asked to do certain jobs, if it scares me, I make sure I say yes to the job! Facing my fears always makes me stronger and it always ends up being fine and I make it through and I come out the other learning a lot and being better!

THE FINE PRINT: What is the creative process behind your photographs? Do you establish themes or concepts prior to shooting?

SHAE DETAR: I’m really moved by paintings, and cinematography. I’m actually not really that interested in photography in general… I can appreciate good work, of course, but I am much more interested in paintings. I usually think about something I want to say or shapes I want to make, or landscapes I am interested in having in a photo and then I set out to find willing subjects. Once I have people to photograph, we have a shoot day, and it’s usually a really fun, full day of adventure and conversation. Then my favorite part happens, which is taking the images home, printing them and turning them into something entirely different. 10% of my work is with people and shooting and the other 90% is alone, painting and using my imagination more than anything else. I love painting, it’s my favorite part. I would be pretty bored if all I had was the photographic part of the process. I have to have both for it feel interesting to me. The photograph is just a base layer… adding color and exaggerating and using my imagination to dream up things that aren’t there in the digital capture is everything to me.

THE FINE PRINT: Do you use analog or digital photography? How do you print your photos, and how do you combine painting with photography?

SHAE DETAR: I shot analog for the first 5 years, but in the last year I have fully switched to digital. I had to make a decision between a few things. For starters, painting on my photos takes a long time. I don’t have the time to shoot film, scan negatives and clean the dust off, and also, I can’t afford both film processing AND making large scale prints to paint on. I am making prints that are 4-9ft, which are not cheap, and needless to say, it takes a lot of time! So, I made choices and that involved me quitting being an analog photographer. Which is fine with me, because I relate more as a painter anyhow.

THE FINE PRINT: Do you sometimes create works using only paint, and no photography?

SHAE DETAR: Yes. Sometimes, and I think someday I will begin to show those and do more of that, but for the moment, I’m focusing on this process. There are so many things I want to do outside of this, like getting back into acting, at some point and even cinematography on small scale, for myself. Perhaps performing in my own video…something to this effect. A few years ago I began writing a screenplay and a few videos, but I’m not ready to make them right now, because I am really trying to focus on gallery shows. I have 2 solo show coming up this year that I am very excited about and it’s a lot of work, so I have to stay concentrated on the one thing right now.

THE FINE PRINT: Who are the models in your photographs?

SHAE DETAR: They started out as friends, or friends of friends and then I started posting castings on Instagram and interested participants would email me, and that is usually how I find people now.

THE FINE PRINT: The sceneries and landscapes in your photographs are very beautiful. Do you have go-to places you like to go for a shoot? Or do they depend on your travels?

SHAE DETAR: Landscapes and nature are both so important to me, and I definitely feel very drawn to being outside and finding beautiful or desolate places to shoot. I have done quite a lot of studio work for The New Yorker Magazine and NY Magazine, and I have learned a lot about indoor studio lighting from just throwing myself into those shoots. However, being outside is always so awesome and I definitely prefer it. Sometimes I have go-to locations, and then other times if I have the money and open schedule, I will go on road trips with people and make an adventure of it.

THE FINE PRINT: Is your work informed by any particular artist, movement, or period in art history? Where do you find your inspiration?

SHAE DETAR: It’s more informed by the 1800’s and early 1900’s. My favorite artists are Van Gogh, Matisse, Klimt, Schiele, Vuillard, Dali, Monet, Degas, Lautrec, Manet & Picasso. Modern day painters that I think are really cool include Cecily Brown, John Currin, and some young painters I just discovered, Teresa Oaxaca and Vanessa Prager.

THE FINE PRINT: Are there reasons behind your predominant use of bright colors?

SHAE DETAR: Colors move me more than just about anything. My whole life I’ve been dressing like I am in a play, eccentric, vintage and colorful. It’s just a part of me, probably because of my mom and my brother. They are both are very inspiring and incredibly artistic… My brother goes to Columbia University for Art, and my mom makes jewelry and has the best sense of design.

Text by DAISY DE MONTJOYE