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Daily Inspiration: Meet Wendi Schneider

Today we’d like to introduce you to Wendi Schneider.

Hi Wendi, we’re thrilled to have a chance to learn your story today. So, before we get into specifics, maybe you can briefly walk us through how you got to where you are today?
Growing up in an artistic family in the lush Southern beauty of Memphis set me on my path. Both my mother and grandmother painted when I was a child; my mother was also a gifted designer and instilled my love of collecting old things. I doodled my way through school, watched old movies, read novels, studied art history catalogs and cookbooks, then studied painting and art history in college. After graduating from Newcomb College in New Orleans, I worked in the hotel and restaurant business in the French Quarter, which further enhanced my love of the city and cuisine. In 1982, while working by day as a designer, illustrator and creative in the marketing department of The Times-Picayune newspaper, I bought a camera to create references for my oil paintings. Spellbound with the speed of creating an image and the alchemy of the darkroom, photography quickly became my chosen art form. Photographs expressed my feelings in a more powerful yet subtle way than my paintings, even more so after I merged the two by layering oils on my silver gelatin prints.

My last project at the newspaper was recreating the 1901 Picayune’s Creole Cook Book, which I was assigned to design, photograph, art direct, copy edit, and oversee production. The project wed my love of cooking, books, photography, antiques, and my somewhat obsessive attention to detail. I then moved to New York in 1988 to open my photography business and added advertising and editorial to my fine artwork, including book covers and many years of freelancing for the original Victoria Magazine. I continued working in these areas when I moved to Denver to marry in 1994, adding web and print design and art direction as we raised our child. By 2010, I felt the need to return to my personal work, and in 2012, I began an ongoing series of photographs gilded with precious metals called ‘States of Grace.’

We all face challenges, but looking back would you describe it as a relatively smooth road?
I have reinvented myself several times over the decades when I felt the desire to try something different or the necessity to find another path for income. Each experience has somehow paved the way for the next and offered me time to create. Before I moved to NY, I visited three times to show my work to galleries, editors and art directors. The first two trips were deeply disappointing, though eventually educational. On the third exploration, I was fortunate to be introduced to friends of friends and fruitful connections began to be made. It was a leap of faith and determination to make the move, as I had limited experience in the medium and no knowledge of running a photography studio or business. I kept things small, worked out of my apartment, promoted my work to art directors and work followed. I made mistakes that offered opportunities for growth.

Thanks for sharing that. So, maybe next you can tell us a bit more about your work?
My work is guided by the serenity I find in the sinuous elegance of organic forms. I’m transformed in capturing the stillness of the suspended movement of light and compelled to preserve the visual poetry of these fleeting moments of vanishing beauty in our vulnerable environment. My reverence for the natural world began as a child seeking solace under the undulating limbs of a weeping willow tree in our backyard. I crave the concentration and connection that comes with looking deeply for the essence of a subject and photograph intuitively – to capture what I feel, as much as what I see.

While my early work in the 1980s and ‘90s was layered with oils, the images in the ‘States of Grace’ series are layered digitally with color and texture to manipulate the boundaries between the real and imagined and are often altered within the edition, honoring the variations. Printed on translucent vellum or Japanese kozo papers, these ethereal impressions of grace are illuminated with white gold, moon gold, or 24k gold behind the image, creating a luminosity that varies as the viewer’s position and ambient light transition. My process infuses the artist’s hand and suffuses the treasured subjects with the implied spirituality and sanctity of the precious metals – echoing the moment of capture and ensuring each print is a unique object of reverence. My work is testament and tribute, adoration and obligation.

Within the series, there are images that can be curated by subject, theme or treatment. In ‘Evenings with the Moon’, I contemplate the power of universal experiences to unify and find transcendence, engaging the moon as muse. My images of the night echo the luminosity of their celestial inspiration to express our shared longing for freedom, peace, love, and harmony amidst the chaos of the world. This synthesis of form and content, paired with poetry and music, encourages the viewer to consider the commonalities in our collective consciousness. We all live under the same moon.

Another curation of images – ‘The Patina Collection’ – created the perfect opportunity to combine my work with my life-long love of collecting antiques that began when haunting antique shops with my mother. ‘The Patina Collection’ is an assemblage of gilded prints paired with antique frames – the synthesis of 40 years of collecting turn-of-the-twentieth-century art and objects and creating images inspired by organic forms. The serpentine shapes are echoed in the subjects I photograph and the curves of the Art Nouveau and Arts & Crafts frames that house these works, adding yet another layer of uniqueness to the final print.

I am proud to have found paths to engage my creativity and reveal my heart in my work. My search for grace probably dates back to the stunning images I was fortunate to be exposed to through the magazines of my youth, art history, and the evocative cinematography of vintage films. There have been technical challenges with my work that I grew to view differently with age – there is a beauty in the imperfections that contributes to the uniqueness of the prints. I later discovered the ancient Japanese aesthetic of Wabi-Sabi, which embraces quirks and imperfections – the beauty of the object is glorified by its own patina. I’ve also found serenity in accepting my own limitations. More than proud, I feel lucky to have inherited gifts that challenge me and allow me to express myself and to have the support of family and community. If I can make work, I am fulfilled. My goal is for viewers to not only experience the magic of the shifting light but to revel in that moment of exaltation I felt when capturing and creating the image. If my work resonates in any way with viewers, I am deeply touched and honored. We all have our gifts to share.

Now in my 60s, I have found time to give back to the photography community that has been so good to me over the years. I enjoy the challenge of jurying photography competitions to support and promote up-and-coming artists and I relish the challenge of curating diverse and compelling exhibitions. I also sit on the executive board of the Colorado Photographic Arts Center here in Denver, which fosters appreciation for photography through exhibitions, education and community outreach.

What quality or characteristic do you feel is most important to your success?
Dedication. For as long as I can remember, I have found sanctuary in the focus of flow – those moments when everything else disappears and I am completely absorbed in the creative process. It’s that magical moment when the senses align – when my eyes and essence are engaged and intertwined. An introvert, I’ve always required a great deal of alone time to make work and am probably a workaholic. My work is an obsession – calming and centering, exciting and enchanting.

Contact Info:

Image Credits
Portrait by Paul J. Miller Other images © Wendi Schneider

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