We are very happy to welcome Sharon Popek (pronounced with a long “0”) and her show entitled “Ground Cherries and Farm Images of East Tennessee. Sharon has the distinction of being our very first interview in our new blog, and she had to endure a chain of technical misfortunes, including computer malfunction, and my mishandling of two recording devices that failed us as well. In spite of it all, Sharon was completely gracious!
Just a week ago, Sharon and I met at an outside table at K Brew, just a block from Broadway Studios and Gallery. We shared a bit about her life as a photographer. It was fun to hear how she is striking out on a very individual path in her journey as an artist.
We are exhibiting two areas of Sharon’s recent work. I asked her how “ground cherries” came into her life. Like many of us, she was milling around the Farmer’s Market at Market Square one day, and “spotted these things that I had never seen before...”
Similar to tomatillos, ground cherries are known by some peculiar names here and about. “Ugly tomatoes” and “pichu berries” are a few Sharon has heard. She was attracted to their texture, the “little husks” and decided she would take home a small bagful for a photo shoot.
A recent show at the Tomato Head , featuring Popek’s “Ground Cherries” was aptly called “Wings of Fancy.” These cherry-size fruits wear a lacy husk, a wrapping that eventually grows away from their little round green bodies and spreads out like wings.
Popek fills a cut glass bowl full of ground cherries that look like elegantly wrapped candies, while she picks one, two, or more, and lines them up on a rough, painted wood railing with titles like “Three Wings Out” or “Just the Four of Us”. It seems she is able to capture their character, with obvious whimsy and humor. A single ground cherry is poetic. And the photos you will see are enhanced a little through the use of Topaz, a program we will mention again in a moment.
Photography began for Sharon in college, when she needed to choose an elective. Majoring first in history, then in art studio, Popek found her calling, it seems, after her first photography course. With her experimental nature, she smiles as she tells me, “I printed a lot on alternative surfaces; fabrics, wood, rock, whatever.”
“In college, (it was film) my teachers were very “what you see is what you get.” And because she is such a “huge history buff,” Popek would visit historic sites: homes, museums, wherever she could be inspired to take her camera. Eventually, when she thought to sell her work, she learned that she could not sell photos from historic places.
This, then, became a turning point. She realized that she needed to move from history to fancy and fantasy to pursue new avenues.
“I need to be creating my own scenes!” was her new mantra. With serendipity as her guide, she began to find subjects like ground cherries and cowboy boots, among others. And she has been exploring “Cosplay” fantasy characters, with people who assume a character identity with the purpose of dressing in costumes. And indeed, on her website, I noticed some characters depicted in very dark tones. “My work tends to be a little darker with subdued colors (vibrant colors, at times) vignette dark, black and white.”
For Popek, creating her own fantasy scenes has started with learning every step of the process. “It’s opened up a whole new world for me,” she says, and she is ready to make this a major project now. Her blog on sharonpopek.com, shares her thoughts and feelings as she goes through the process of fashioning costumes, finding models, and working with Topaz, making clouds appear...forming a mood, a feel, a story.
She plans to create images, portraits of the characters she writes about. I asker her if she thought this would lead to making films, video. She is certain that it will not, as she made the decision to make photography her visual arts medium.
There will be a sequel to “Ground Cherries.” Sharon is working on an intriguing series of “lantern photos,” using ground cherries, with a bit of fantasy light rather magically infused into the body of the fruits.
Sharon, like so many of us who make art, has a day job-as a photographer. And when I asked her who has inspired and perhaps guided her, she mentioned Charlie Brooks, with whom she works. Recently, he offered to let her use his own private studio and equipment for a personal project. Mentors in the art world...it is always nice to hear about people like this.
Techies are going to ask about equipment. Her camera of choice is the Sony A7, mirrorless, which is fast and allows for high resolution. This is the camera that Popek used for both the “Ground Cherries” series and the Farm Images of East Tennessee.”
Before our visit was over, Sharon invited me to walk to her car where she showed me a canvas print of one of her cowboy boot series, (which will be hanging in her show at Broadway). I had seen many of her prints on websites, but was taken aback at how a photo online simply does not not do justice to this work. The subject of ornate boots seems curious enough, but with special techniques the result is quite soft and magical. (While she uses Photoshop, she loves Topaz, a plug-in program which Popek likens to how one uses filters in a film camera). I cannot be anyone’s eyes reliably when it comes to art, so, of course I will suggest you see Sharon’s photos for yourself.
This is partly why art needs exposure. There is no substitute for live music either. It is experiential. Sharon Popek shoots a photo and then adds her “paint,” to create something quite surprising. We hope you will join us at Broadway Studios and Gallery for this innovative show.