Photo Credit: Rachel Gomez
The Art District on Santa Fe is home to dozens of brilliant creatives, not just the talented artists, designers, painters, photographers and sculptors the area is known for. There are a number of new, innovative and inspiring boutiques, marketing agencies, restaurants and small businesses in the neighborhood that all support one another. One example of this community synergy is Wildlife and Landscape Photographer Cheryl Opperman’s work that is on display at the Colorado Voice Clinic, located at 930 W. 7th Avenue. Last week, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Cheryl to chat more about this harmonious marriage between business and art.
1. You’ve won numerous awards for your work. How does it feel to be recognized as one of Outdoor Photographer Magazine’s leading female Nature Photographers in 2010?
It’s an incredible honor to be noticed by one of the leading photography magazines in the U.S. and to get recognition for the quality of my work. The magazine featured 6 female photographers nationally and I was one of them. More importantly, the article emphasized the purpose of our work: conservation and preservation of the environment, which are two important reasons why I became a Wildlife and Landscape Photographer.
2. Your photographs are displayed throughout the Colorado Voice Clinic here in the Art District and I must commend your business savvy. What great exposure given the high profile clientele who frequent the clinic, including well known musicians and performers that come through Denver! Is this how you got involved with the Art District and eventually became a Board member?
My brother, David Opperman, is the owner and physician at the Colorado Voice Clinic. When he decided to move into the District in 2007, it seemed like a natural fit to combine my artwork with his practice, since nature photography can be very soothing to patients. The clinic’s location in the Art District is wonderful because it is also a great venue from which to share my artwork with the community at large. We open up for First Friday when I’m not travelling and allow people to tour the clinic as well as view the artwork. We display traditional prints, run slideshows on LED screens throughout the exam and waiting rooms, and even created custom guitars featuring my photographs that help incorporate the music and voice themes of the clinic. I joined the Board to have a larger role in the Arts community because there is a tremendous benefit in artists working together.
3. You’ve traveled to every continent in the world to photograph nature, wildlife and indigenous cultures. Which continent or country in particular captured your heart?
That’s the most popular question I get asked and, honestly, I don’t have a preference. Every place in the world has something unique to offer and I feel very fortunate to have seen so much of it during my life so far.
4. And I thought I was being original! What about your method for capturing photos? Every photographer’s working style is unique. Can you walk me through your process?
In the past, I’ve worked with all formats of film, but now I shoot all digital photography. I like to pre-visualize the images I hope to capture. With nature shots, you can’t predict exactly what you’re going to see, but you can have a general idea in your mind of the types of photographs that might be possible. That’s the difference between taking documentary photos and creating artwork. Envisioning how to interpret an image from capture to print is more of a creative process. Ansel Adams said, “You don’t take a photograph, you make it.” I don’t do a lot of Photoshop manipulation, but I do optimize every file to bring out as much detail and color as possible. Occasionally, I’ll utilize Photoshop to combine images together – but I always label those images as “composites.”
5. What about the people you admire- can you name two photographers (past and/or present) who have influenced your work?
Ansel Adams, of course. He’s one of the most well known Nature Photographers. He really understood both the art and the technical aspects of photography, which is rare. To be a good photographer, you need to understand both, and Ansel was a pioneer for pre-visualization and understanding how to turn film into an effective print. I am also inspired by people who have dedicated their lives to preservation, like Jane Goodall. Especially as a woman – it takes guts to go out into the wilderness alone to gain intimate knowledge of species and their habitats. I like to capture animals in their natural surroundings to tell the most compelling stories about the animals and environments in which they live.
6. Are there any animals you enjoy photographing the most?
[Laughing] This would be the second most popular question I get asked! I don’t have a preference but I tend to photograph a lot of birds because they’re everywhere. They’re not as difficult to find as larger animals and they are often colorful and beautiful subjects .
7. Which item of equipment is most important to you and are you a self-taught photographer or did you have a mentor?
The sensor in the camera- that’s what determines the quality of an image these days. My high school photography teacher Barbara Hirokawa Gal was probably the most instrumental person that encouraged me to pursue a career in photography. I attended Brooks Institute of Photography in Santa Barbara, California and received a B.A. in Industrial Scientific Photography. College gave me a strong technical foundation and once I understood the technical aspects, my creativity had more room to flourish. Although creativity was emphasized in school, it’s difficult to teach - that’s something that evolves and develops individually for artists. We are always trying to find new ways of looking at things and new ways of challenging ourselves.
8. Was there ever a deciding moment that made you realize you wanted to be a Photographer? And if you weren’t a professional Photographer, what else would you be doing?
I can’t imagine doing anything else! I knew from an early age that I wanted to be a photographer. I grew up in Colorado surrounded by nature and, naturally, developed an appreciation for it. The mountains were only about a half hour drive from our house and I would often embark on weekend journeys to the high country to camp, raft, fish or ski. I discovered my passion for photography when I was about 15 years old. I remember standing on a hotel balcony trying to capture the moonrise over the ocean - the amber glow of the moon reflecting on the ocean’s gentle waves, surrounded by silhouetted palm trees. But my point and shoot camera wasn’t capable of achieving the results I wanted, nor was my technical knowledge or skill advanced enough. That’s when I became more serious about developing my photographic skills.
9. As a Nature Photographer, you’re probably involved with multiple nonprofits and environmental organizations. Where do you devote your time outside of the Colorado Voice Clinic, Art District and your studio in Littleton?
Although I don’t work formally with any specific nonprofits, several have published my work in their magazines. I also enjoy speaking in conjunction with my exhibits or whenever there’s another good opportunity to share my knowledge or experiences. I’ve spoken at schools, colleges, camera clubs and for other organizations. Giving slideshow presentations and speaking to groups allows me to share my passion while educating people about critical nature related issues.
10. Do you have advice for up and coming photographers on how to make a successful living?
It’s difficult to make a living and there’s a lot of competition. Generally, photography is not something you start to do for the money, it’s more of a passion. I encourage anyone who has the slightest interest in photography to work to perfect their craft. Pursuing it as a business, however, should be carefully considered because as a career, photography can require many personal sacrifices. I know people who felt trying to navigate the business took away the enjoyment they were seeking in the first place, but you have to go with what you feel is the right thing for you. No one else can tell you what that “right” thing is, and once you find it, don’t let anyone discourage you from pursuing it. If photography as a career is it, great! If not, you will still have an excellent hobby that enables you to record, in tangible form, many wonderful moments and life experiences.
11. Do you have any new work or exhibits coming up?
I will have a print on display at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. as part of the “Nature’s Best Photography Windland Smith Rice International Awards Exhibition” opening in April 2012. Other than that, feel free to visit the clinic sometime! First Friday’s coming up on December 2nd and we’ll be open.