A quick look at Shawn O’Connell’s stunning black-and-white photos might lead you to ask where his next exhibition will be held. The answer to that question is as much a mystery to us as it is to O’Connell, since he’s never had an exhibition of his work. In fact, he’s really only been shooting regularly for less than a year.
Not that he hasn’t thought about it. But for the time being, the Fort Worth resident and Arlington ISD elementary school teacher says he’s, “working on my technique and looking forward to improving. And maybe putting out a portfolio one of these days.”
During a recent telephone conversation, the former Art&Seek Flickr Photo of the Week winner discussed is reconnection with photography after a health scare, his passion for infrared and one of his all-time favorite photos:
Art&Seek: How did you get into photography?
Shawn O’Connell: I’ve always been interested in it since I was a little kid. My dad was into it and I used to mess with his camera when I was younger. I took a couple of classes in high school and then a couple of classes in college. And I’ve just kind of been doing it on and off, but I didn’t really get serious until probably this last spring, when I went to Europe.
A&S: What was it about that trip that inspired you to get serious?
S.O.: Just taking some pictures and seeing all the art over there and coming back and looking at what I took. I captured some pretty good shots, and once you see that you can take a pretty good picture, it’s kind of like golf – when you hit a good shot, you just want to keep doing it and doing it and try to improve.
A&S: A lot of your images are of Fort Worth landmarks (such as Bass Hall, above). Do you always have your camera with you, or do you just make mental notes while you are out and come back to shoot?
S.O.: A little bit of both. I’m always looking to see what grabs my attention or what grabs my eye. But I always have my camera with me just in case. Infrared takes a little time to set up, so sometimes if I see something that I really like, I’ll come back and shoot it at a later date.
A&S: You work with infrared quite a bit. Can you tell us a little more about it?
S.O.: It’s basically using a filter to block the actual infrared light and let it pass through the camera to come up with the different colors and variations. On foliage, it makes a snow effect. I’m still learning a lot about it, but it really makes black and white really stand out for me, and that’s what I use it for.
A&S: I assume you are shooting digitally and then editing your stuff on your computer?
S.O.: Yeah. I used to shoot in film when I was younger, but I stopped shooting for a while because it was getting so expensive. After I had a kidney transplant, my in-laws bought me a Nikon D70. And that really got me going again.
A&S: Wow – a kidney transplant, huh? Is there any connection between the transplant and your renewed interest in your art form?
S.O.: Maybe a little bit. When I was on dialysis, I didn’t have really a lot of time to do much. And once I had my transplant, you find yourself with a little more energy. And I just wanted to go back to doing stuff that I really loved to do, and photography was up there on the list, so I started getting back into it. This whole past summer, basically, that’s all I did was go around to different places and just take pictures. It was really enjoyable for me.
A&S: So have you thought about putting together an exhibition?
S.O.: I’ve thought about it. Some friends have asked me about it, but I’m still learning the venues and avenues to do that. After the summer was over and I had all these photographs that my friends and family really enjoy looking at, they kept asking me if I would be interested in that. Any person who does this always wants to show their work. With school starting, I’m kind of pulling it back and bit and just shooting on the weekends. I haven’t really pursued that avenue as far as where I would have to go or who I would have to talk to to do that.
A&S: Of all the pictures you’ve shot, do you have a favorite?
S.O.: The one of the Japanese Garden with the fireworks is one of my favorites. My wife and I went to a concert in the garden and we were walking back through the Japanese part of the Botanic Gardens and I was looking at that building and I looked at my wife and said, “I need to come back here while the fireworks are going on so I can take a couple pictures.” And one night I just went back and set up my camera and waited and took about six or eight pictures and every one of them turned out great. It was just really cool and gratifying that I was able to go back and take a picture of exactly what I saw in my mind. And it came out even better than I had hoped.
The Art&Seek Q&A is a weekly discussion with a person involved in the arts in North Texas. Check back next Thursday for another installment.