Finding beauty using Art & Science – an interview with Photographer, Jerry Mudge.

Part Artist, part Scientist, Jerry Mudge says beauty can be found everywhere, and he’s got the photos to prove it.

His photographs first caught my eye when I wandered into local art gallery, Avenue West. A brightly colored photo of something I couldn’t identify, something glossy and oddly geometric despite the randomness of shapes and colors, drew me across the space. I’d never seen anything quite like it, and I wanted to know more about the artist. Lucky for me, when I inquired at the register, the person manning the station was Jerry himself. He showed me more of his photos, explained a bit of how he captured the images – using skills that ranged from traditional to experimental – and I was hooked. 

Keep reading to learn more about the creative photography of Jerry Mudge.

SnS: Hello Jerry, thanks for interviewing with me. I’ve admired your work for a while. Now I’d like to learn more about you, the artist. Please tell us (my readers and I) where you are from.

Jerry: Glad to be here, and that you like my work. I was born and raised in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. My family homesteaded the Wolf Lodge area, just east of CDA, so my roots are dep in the area. I moved to the Spokane Valley about 14 years ago. I was getting ready to retire from Kaiser Aluminum, and Sandy (my wife) had a few years left to work in Spokane, so we purchased a home in Spokane Valley.

SnS: What did you do at the aluminum plant, and how long were you there?

Jerry: I was there for 31 years and I did everything from driving fork truck to making Safety videos and posters. We called them Impact posters because they were fairly graphic, but they got the message across. I retired as a Supervisor.

SnS: Wow, so even at an aluminum foundry you still got to be somewhat artistic?

Jerry: Somewhat, yes. We did all our own filming and editing. I got to use the company’s cameras and video equipment, and even got to drop an ingot onto a Jeep for one safety film. Of course when news of the ingot drop got out, everybody came to watch!

SnS: *LOL* I would too! So what got you interested in photography in the first place?

Jerry: In the early seventies, my uncle was getting into photography. I became interested after watching him and bought my first Minolta camera. We worked together on some black and white photos. You know, the kind. We’d take a profile picture of someone’s head then add gears and things to indicate the workings of their brains. We just played with it, and had fun. I went further with photography than he did, though, and as my interest grew, I soon set up my own dark room where I processed and printed my own color, and black and white photos.

As time passed and family became a priority, my love of photography was placed on the back burner but was always there.

SnS: So did you uncle train you in photography?

Jerry: I am 99% self-taught. The only real training I’ve had were a couple of 4 hour afternoons with a professional photographer. I already knew all the technical stuff, but he really helped my composition. 

SnS: How did you learn all the technical stuff?

Jerry: I learned most of it through experimentation and reading. A lot of reading. 

SnS: Is there a moment from your learning process that stands out to you, where something went terribly wrong, or incredibly right?

Jerry: When I first started using digital. When I bought my first digital camera it was like a foreign world to me, because instead of the dark room, you had to use the computer. I was computer literate, but not in the programs for photography. It took me a long time to figure that out. 

I’ve never really had anything go amazingly wrong, but I’ve had EUREKA moments with certain pictures like “Flowering Beauty” and “Fire & Ice”. 

SnS: Okay, well now I have to ask. What is that blue stuff in “Flowering Beauty”?

Jerry: *Smiling widely* Table cream and food coloring. The flower was submerged too. There was a lot of experimentation to get that shot.

SnS: That’s amazing!  So what’s “Fire & Ice” made out of? I haven’t been able to figure that one out.

Jerry: Ferrofluid. That’s a black, magnetic fluid that looks like oil. It’s one of the messiest things you’ll ever come across. You put a magnet next to it and it creates these forms. That’s the geeky part. I really like using science to base, and get cool photos from. You don’t see photos of this stuff very often, but I love it. 

SnS: You sound like a bit of a creative scientist, Jerry. I’m picturing your photography space full of beakers and Bunsen burners.

Jerry: Well, uh, no. But truth be told, there’s a card table in my basement. It’s all finished down there, so I have to put a big tarp down or I’d be in a lot of trouble if I messed up the carpet. 

SnS: *LOL* So how did you come up with the idea for those shots?

Jerry: Well, I saw the ferrofluid on a TED Talk. The flowers were my own idea.

SnS: Excellent! So do you use lots of different cameras for certain shots?

Jerry: I only use one camera, but I do use specialized lenses for different types of images (i.e. macro, landscape, etc.).

SnS: Do you enhance your photos on the computer?

Jerry: I’ve done a few, but for the most part, I don’t manipulate a lot. Generally, I may sharpen, increase contrast, or enhance color if needed. Occasionally I use HDR (High Dynamic Range) to capture fine detail and to lighten shadows. I try to keep HDR looking natural though, and not over processed.

SnS: So is photography your job or your hobby?

Jerry: It’s a hobby to me. I do it in my retirement. I enjoy pushing myself to learn new techniques and processes while capturing the beauty around us.

SnS: So if you could travel anywhere in time or space for your photography, where would you go?

Jerry: Although I am a sci-fi geek and also like to travel, I don’t need to go far to find amazing things to shoot with my lens. From the largest landscape to everyday things that we take for granted. For example, take a couple of forks from the kitchen, light them at an angle on white paper, and you can come up with great shots. A drop of water on a blade of grass, the colors in a soap bubble. Beauty is everywhere, you just have to look around and you’ll find it no matter where you are on the planet. 

SnS: Okay, so do you have a photographer you admire, or a favorite photo that inspires you?

Jerry: My favorite photograph is of an Afghan refugee girl taken by Steve McCurry and published on the cover of National Geographic magazine in June, 1985. The way the photographer has captured her intensity has always stuck with me.

SnS: That is a memorable photo. Beyond photography, do you have any other hobbies?

Jerry: I do woodworking. I create handmade boxes, bud vases, and candle holders. My wife upcycles furniture, so I get to help her with that too. 

When I retired, I got into remote controlled airplanes and I competed in large scale aerobatics all over the Western US & Canada. I flew really big stuff, with ten foot wing spans, and I built them all from scratch. When I got older and couldn’t see as well, I couldn’t compete as well against the younger folks, so I got out of that and got back into photography. That was around 2006 or 2007. 

SnS: What got you into woodworking?

Jerry: I just wanted to do it. I saw some band saw boxes, they interested me, so I went out and bought a band saw and started making them. I’ve always worked with my hands. I enjoy it, and I like to do things that are different. My band saw boxes aren’t shaped like normal boxes, they are all different and you can’t find things like them in regular stores.

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SnS: No you can’t. They are really neat! So how did you land here at Avenue West Gallery ?

Jerry: I did a brief stint in another gallery for a while, but wasn’t happy with how it was going. I took my items back and didn’t show for a year because I had to work up the guts. I didn’t think my work was good enough. Eventually I heard there were openings here, and I already knew someone who had their art here. I was nervous because this is a juried gallery, but here I am.

SnS: Yes you are, and that’s great! If you were to give advice or encouragement to other artists afraid to put their work out there, what would you say?

Jerry: Just do it. Just try to get through that fear because it’s very rewarding when somebody likes your work. Not everybody is going to like it, and you’ve got to be prepared for that, but it’s still very rewarding. Especially when you sell something. It’s just like, HEY look at that! 

Also, one thing is that I strive to be a little different than anybody else. The thing to remember is that you might have a hundred artists all looking at the same thing (painting or photographing it), but every one of their interpretations is going to look different, and be unique. That makes it worthwhile. 

SnS: Good advice. Thank you, Jerry. Now where can our readers find and enjoy your incredible works?

Jerry: I currently have photos on display and to purchase at Avenue West Gallery – 907 W. Boone Ave. in Spokane, WA. I also have photos to view on 500px  My photos are available in many sizes and mediums; canvas, metal, paper, etc. and I may be contacted at JerryMphotography@comcast.net. 

 

 

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