Interview with photographer Lowell Hutcheson

SHORT BIO OF THE PHOTOGRAPHER: Lowell Hutcheson is the Assistant Director of Arts Programming at SUNY Oswego in Upstate New York as well as a master’s student with a degree focus on The Arts in Higher Education. As an artist herself, she works across multiple mediums including photography, woodworking, fine art and graphic design. She finds inspiration primarily in nature, often shooting self-portraits in settings that blur the lines between woman and natural object, rediscovering the female connection to nature as women’s rights are increasingly stripped away in the United States. Her work has won awards and been exhibited in New York, London, India, Montreal, Ukraine, Barcelona and Bilbao, Spain.

  • How did it all start out of? What inspired you to pursue photography as a profession (or as a hobby)?

I actually started out on the other side of the camera as a model when I was younger.  My modeling career was never very successful but I’ve always loved fashion and the creative process that goes into staging a shoot.  I’ve really discovered that I love to be behind the camera even more than being in front of it and have found my passion in exploring self-portrait photography.  This gives me the freedom to design the scene and insert my creative vision both in front of and behind the camera.

  • Can you tell us about yourself and your background?

I’ve always dabbled in the arts but came to it professionally in a round-about way.  I graduated with a degree in German from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2012 and found my way into the wine industry for a few years before taking up my current position as the Assistant Director of Arts Programming at SUNY Oswego.  Working in a college environment has really helped me explore some of my own passions as I’ve been able to take classes and am currently working on a master’s degree focusing on the arts in higher education.

  • Who were your early influences?

Coming from the modeling industry and having an interest in fashion, some of my major influences have been German photographer Kristian Schuller, whose over the top and often experimental fashion photography has really influenced how I shoot and how I incorporate movement into my photography; Ellen Von Unwerth, whose portrayal of women has pushed me to explore how femininity and female empowerment can be captured on film; as well as portrait photographers like Peter Lindbergh, Rankin and Rodney Smith, whose whimsical photography inspires a lot of my extreme, out-of-place outdoor shoots.              

  • What are the subjects that you enjoy photographing the most? What draws you to a particular scene or subject as a photographer?

My greatest passion is really shooting people, which most often is myself.  I find the challenge of shooting self-portraits to be an exciting additional creative expression. I prefer shooting self-portraits outdoors in settings that blur the lines between human and nature.  Additionally, living near Lake Ontario, the water and the surrounding areas have become a really important part of my photography as we all explore how connected we are to this vital life source that is in critical danger.

  • What has been your most memorable experience related to photography?

My most memorable experience was my first realization that I loved photography.  I was living in Berlin at the time and photographing street markets when someone at the market happened to look right at my camera and smile at the exact moment I shot the photograph. I felt like I had captured not only this person’s face, but also his essence in an image.  While not a great photograph for many other reasons, I still go back to it occasionally because of the strength and emotion the subject.

  • What are some of the challenges of photography?

Shooting self-portraits is always a challenge.  It takes a lot more trial and error to make sure the framing is right, focus is correct and that I’m actually capturing what I have in mind, all without looking through the viewfinder. 

  • How do you balance between what you see and making it as dramatic and beautiful like a standalone artwork?

I think a lot of this is being able to see raw potential and knowing what can and cannot be done in postproduction.  To me, there is a fine line between enhancing the natural state of the image and changing it into something completely different, which is not at all my style.  I think patience is a huge part of photography, as well as being willing and able to dig through hundreds of images to find the single perfect one.  This is additionally challenging when shooting self portraits because not only do I have to find the perfect shot from a photography stand point, but it also has to mirror that perfect moment of the subject.

  • What do you want to capture in your photographs?

To me, the essence of good photography is emotion.  I want my images to both capture emotion and evoke an emotional response from the viewer, which are two separate challenges. I want to see sadness, or power, or joy depicted in my subjects, but also reflected in the staging, framing and postproduction of the photograph. I’m very much a person who can be moved to tears by good art, whether that be music, dance, theatre or photography and I want my art to have that effect on others.  

  • Are you always keeping an eye out for what’s new on the camera market?

As a hobbyist, mostly no.  I did just upgrade my very old Nikon D60 to a Nikon Z7 so I’ve been enjoying what feels like incredibly new technology.  I like to work with what I know, especially shooting self-portraits, which is challenging enough. 

  • What’s the post-production process like?

As I mentioned earlier, I only want to enhance what I’ve already captured.  I work solely in Lightroom and do only basic adjustments to augment the emotion I’ve hopefully already captured.  I’m not a huge believer in bringing elements into a photograph that weren’t already present, which sometimes means reevaluating whether or not I’ve actually captured what I want and going out another day when the conditions are naturally present.

  • Where do you want to take your photography career?

Working in Arts Administration means that I’m really lucky to have a stable job that immerses me in the arts and lets me retain my own art as a hobby, which is really important to me.  I feel really lucky that I don’t have the pressures of making a living impinging upon the choices I make with my art and I think that really gives me the freedom to explore what I’m passionate about in photography.

  • What’s the most difficult part of what you do and what advice would you give to up-and-coming photographers?

Often the most difficult thing is finding inspiration in something and figuring out the best way to capture it.  Sometimes that means putting the camera down when things aren’t working and coming back to it with fresh eyes and a new approach, which can be difficult to do.  My biggest piece of advice to new photographers would be to immerse yourself in the work of photographers that inspire you, and also in the ones that challenge you.  Buy the books, follow the account, and figure out what it is about the images that capture your attention.  Once you can identify what themes really inspire you, you can work to recreate those in your own photography.

Where can our readers find you online?

I can be found on Instagram.