How does artist and photographer Amy Hambrecht use criticism of her work to fuel and drive her creativity? Find out all about her artistic process, background, and where she finds inspiration.
Many of your images feature nature as a subject and are shot in locations far from Connecticut, your home state. Have you always been a traveler? Or is photography the reason that you travel?
I have traveled a lot, my father used to work for American Airlines so I had the chance to travel often; he would take my siblings and me on trips to the location of our choosing and that was always fun as a child. Now I haven’t had much of a chance. A few years ago, however, I raised money by selling my own artwork and had the opportunity to go to China as well as the Dominican Republic. In these places, I took many photographs to document the trip.
Photography is not necessarily the reason I travel, I feel like I gain so much more by traveling with other intentions rather than just traveling to get a great photograph. So I definitely travel and bring along my cameras with me – to use photography as a tool to remember what I saw and the experiences I gained.
I initially travel to gain creative inspiration – whether it’s through the environment, the culture, the food, the structure of the buildings, etc. These inspire my artwork.
What type of equipment do you take with you on the road?
I will take my Canon EOS Rebel T3i and I bring my Minolta x-700, which I actually lost when I went to a beach in Westport, MA. I may also bring my phone, however, these photographs end up on my Instagram.
How has your formal training as a painter influenced your eye as a photographer? And, vice versa.
I have been formally trained in my college years with fine art, so I learned how to create a composition that contained all of the art elements such as rhythm or balance, or hierarchy. Now, I trust my intuition and simply paint.
Photography in my life is mainly used to inform my paintings. When I paint I use photo references; all of which are my own original photographs. I may take multiple photos and then later decide on one or rather take one single photograph and decide at the moment that that is the one. I utilize Adobe Photoshop to manipulate the photos that I have developed to find the composition that I am most interested in painting and then from there I begin the painting process. The process is just as important to me as the outcome.
Applying this process has both hindered me and helped me grow. Using a photograph as a reference can be challenging because transferring the photo into a medium such as oil paint is like translating the ingredients for ketchup into a wax candle. The two are so uniquely different. As I paint, I need to constantly remind myself to break free from the photograph and allow my intuition to complete the painting. In short, the photograph is a helpful tool, yet is never the outcome of the painting.
Who are some of your favorite photographers and how have you been influenced by their style?
I didn’t study photography in college, I did, however, take a photo class and the professor gave me tons of resources, not many of which stuck out to me.
In terms of my painting, I am influenced by many artists – Jesica Lewit, Jenny Saville, Christopher Brown, Michele Lauriat, Julie Mehretu, Molly Zuckerman Hartung, Mark Tennant, and Alex Kanevsky.
How did you decide that you wanted to pursue an education in photography or art in general?
I’ve always been interested in creating and I’ve always wanted to get formal training, as you asked earlier. By becoming an art student I was able to achieve these things. I wanted to learn how to talk about art – rather than just say something is good or bad – I wanted to really delve into the conceptual aspects of the artwork, how the artwork relates to the real world, how art relates to politics or the environment or cultures, etc. I had a lot of questions and felt that getting an art degree would help answer these. Additionally, by pursuing an education in art, I was able to grow as an artist myself – critical feedback, 24/7 access to laboratories, individual studios, etc.
What is your favorite thing to photograph? Where do you find the most beauty? What is your eye drawn to the most?
It is definitely circumstantial; I find that my eye gets drawn to things that are beautiful – such as emotionally beautiful, so seeing a child and a mother embracing, that’s something beautiful to me. I also get drawn to the obscure – things that don’t make sense or things that draw questions. This can be seen in my own artwork; for instance, the layering of images, the altered perspective, or the use of multimedia.
Additionally, when I see someone has spent a lot of time creating, I am especially attracted. I find myself being drawn to pieces that have clearly been labored over – I enjoy getting up close and speculating on the intentional decisions the artist made, questioning how they achieved the texture they did, or thinking about what a certain line may signify.
What do you think is the most important thing you’ve learned from studying photography? Any words of wisdom passed down from a professor, a mentor, or a fellow student?
In my photography class, I was given technical wisdom but lacked critical feedback about my work. This is something I constantly struggled with as a student, rarely receiving feedback that would help me positively grow as an artist. There was one particular moment, however, when my printmaking professor criticized a work-in-progress. She exclaimed after looking at my piece, “There are enough beautiful things in the world!” I began to consider these thoughts and critically began to create with a more intentional mindset. Throughout the rest of the semester, I created what she considered ‘beautiful things’ in spite of her comment. My professor’s criticism altered my thinking in a positive way, although it took time to realize it. Now, I have learned to create for myself, I create because I am driven to create.
When Vincent van Gogh was 29 years old he wrote a letter to his younger brother Theo van Gogh stating, “That what that word (artist) implies is looking for something all the time without ever finding it in full. It is the very opposite of saying, ‘I know all about it, I’ve already found it.’ As far as I am concerned, the word means, ‘I am looking, I am hunting for it, I am deeply involved.’” This is what I am exploring; to never stop searching.
You can see more of Amy’s photography in her portfolio on Instagram.