I first encountered Joanne Mason and her fine art photography just a couple of weeks ago, at the opening reception for her solo exhibit at The First Bank of Greenwich. I was particularly struck by the series Impressions From Nature and her brief explanation of it - I knew I needed an hour of her time.
Joanne, a retired (and accomplished) teacher of math and technology/computer science, agreed to meet me yesterday for a conversation over coffee. She had so much advice for this early-career photographer; I was so taken with what she had to say that I took notes.
Joanne's grandmother was an "avid enthusiast" of photography and gave her a Kodak Brownie box camera when she was just 10 years old. She was hooked, and continued to collect cameras, take and gather pictures, and study photography throughout her career as an educator.
When she retired about a decade ago, she said, she "dove in."
She told me that as she was learning the business she was faced with questions like, "am I - or could I - be any good?"
She learned from experience to be realistic: "You have to be good, and you have to be lucky."
I would argue that Joanne is very good. The Impressions From Nature series is complex, thought-provoking, and very beautiful. And that's kind of what she was going for.
Her more recent and more abstract work, like the Impressions series, is influenced by Kandinsky, who she has long admired, and Viktor Shklovsky, who had some interesting ideas about 'making the familiar unfamiliar.' She added Pollack to that list as well.
Joanne describes this work as having "themes and melodies and tempos and different levels of those interacting," and her aim is to help the viewer see things he or she may not normally see in nature: "We're kind of overwhelmed by what we do see - and we need to look underneath that."
She talked about having a conversation with the viewer: some of her work is meant to be conducive to "peaceful contemplation," while others are intended to be confrontational.
According to Joanne, most of the images in the series didn't have "a meaning - if you can use that term" until she began post-processing them.
"I was painting with the colors and the patterns in post-processing," she said. "What the camera produced was my canvas."
Many of the works from Impressions were taken in local (Westchester and Fairfield County) gardens - gardens that, she mused, she could never look at in the same way again.