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Interview with fine art photographer Debbie O'Donnell

Debbie O'Donnell is an Australian fine art photographer based in Brooklyn, New York. Formerly a fashion and commercial photographer in Western Australia, she moved to New York to pursue fashion photography. Debbie ventured back into photography a couple of years ago after 10+ years in the corporate world. Enchanted by the natural world, and a desire for a more heart-centered approach to photography, she is exploring the alluring landscapes of flora and botanicals. We have conducted an interview with her.

How does your background in fashion photography affect your approach to photographing botanicals?

I have noticed similarities in my fashion and botanical photography. The elements of beauty and texture that interested me shooting fashion, are present in my botanical work, only expressed in a different form. My approach to shooting botanicals/flora has changed, in that there's an internal shift, a more heart-centered approach. There's an intimacy, a stillness within, an emotional experience and sense of belonging shooting flora, that wasn't present shooting fashion. It's like stepping into my own secret, magical garden. Photography has become a means of reconnecting with my inner self: my meditation.

Why did you move to New York? Why did you choose New York among all places?

My first trip to New York was in 1991 with my then 2-year-old daughter to visit my brother. I knew within the first few days that I wanted to live in New York, though it was many years later that dream came true. Although Perth is an easy place to live, with beautiful beaches, and a calm, laid-back lifestyle, the vitality, and pace of New York was magnetic. A city of art, design, and infinite possibilities. In spite of the challenges I would face as a photographer, I knew I would regret it if I let my fears stand in the way. Being back in Western Australia last year made me fully appreciate the quality of life Australia has to offer, and eventually I may return there to live, but for now, I call New York home.

How would you describe your style and technique?

I've been drawn to Japanese art, especially calligraphy and artwork depicting nature ever since I studied Japanese in high school. This is particularly visible in the 'Botanical Dance' series which has a Japanese aesthetic incorporating the elements of Miyabi (elegance), Shibui (simplicity) and Wabi-sabi (impermanence). To me, the rhythmic movement of flowers and tree branches in the wind is similar to the strokes of a calligraphy brush. I feel my work captures and expresses that same sense of motion. My technique blends the look of large plate format photography and digital photography. I often apply textured overlays to images giving the photographs a painterly feel; softening the line between photography and painting.

What inspires you? Who are your photography influences?

Whether it be from nature, the whimsical artwork of the English cartoonist and illustrator W. Heath Robinson, or the colors of crushed autumn leaves, inspiration is everywhere. Everyday moments can lead to a creative idea. I find inspiration is often elusive and usually happens at random times when I'm not looking it. A series initially inspired from watching the roses in my father's garden bloom, and die, is 'Rose Garden'.

The sensuous, painterly photographs of Lillian Bassman, and Barbara Bordnick's exquisite close-up photographs of flowers have definitely influenced my own work. I also love Irving Penn's still life series of flowers commissioned by Alexander Liberman in the 1960s for Vogue. Although not a photographer, Western Australian artist Jude Taylor's beautiful linocut hand prints of wildflowers are quite breathtaking.
Interview with fine art photographer Debbie O'Donnell Reviewed by JaamZIN on 7:44:00 PM Rating: 5
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