Terry Donnelly Q & A
What motivates your work?
I am motivated by a desire to be present in the world and see it in a new way; a way that is creative to me. It is a quest for discovery. An equal part of that motivation is to capture and express that vision. I would be content if I could express my emotional reaction with words (hate that), a brush (tried that) or music (tried that too and it’s a close second) but I’ve found photography to be a very satisfying medium since the mid 1970’s.
So for me, photography is a way of journaling, recording my travels, my experiences, observations of life in general. On a deeper level I find it quite useful as a measure of my personal growth and of the depth of my understanding.
Plus, I cannot not do it; it is integral part of my life experience.
I am immediately drawn to subject matter revealing the mystery and beauty of the natural world however, I am fascinated to explore the harmonic interactions between culture and environment; sometimes it is harmonic, sometimes it’s “nature bats last”.
What skills or qualities are most important to the success of your work?
Close observation, awareness, attention to detail and the control of all technical aspects which facilitates expression. I feel that to be successful, one must feel passionately about the subject and be driven to express that passion.
What was your biggest break professionally?
My first decade of photography was spent developing my vision and technique for creating and exhibiting black and white fine art prints. When, in the early 80’s I discovered that changing my 4x5 film holders from Tri-X to Ektachrome opened doors to a well-funded publishing world, my passion for photography became a fulltime profession.
While this change of film created a full time professional involvement in image making, it also created a gap between my personal and professional endeavors. While both are expressive bodies of work and they do influence each other, I’ve found a much wider and lucrative audience in the publishing world with “commercial” images and simultaneously, my “personal” work has been un-tethered from the quest to sell. This is a fine win-win. It raises the issue of the role of an audience in our work, but that’s another story.
My images are marketed in conjunction with Mary Liz Austin via Donnelly-Austin Photography and featured in numerous calendars, books, cards and magazines as well as corporate reports and brochures for environmental organizations and wildlife protection agencies. Clients include Sierra Club, Audubon, Hallmark, National Wildlife Federation, Nature Conservancy, National Geographic, National Wildlife Federation, American Art Resources, Brown Trout Publishers, Horizon and Alaska Air Magazines.
How do you break out of a creative block?
One huge advantage of living and traveling with a world class photographer in the person of Mary Liz Austin, is that if I am having a bad eye day or just not resonating with a particular location I can dependably look through her viewfinder and see what a true creative mind will do in that given situation. Wonderful lessons for me. While that experience does hold the potential to devastate to my morale, the real lesson is to relax with the knowledge that slumps are temporary and that the harder you try to dig your way out, the longer they last.
Who are your most significant photographic influences and why?
Invariably students will answer this question by citing St. Ansel, the Westons, Elliott Porter, maybe Cartier-Bresson, Ruth Bernard or even Wright Morris. It is vital to be familiar with the work of these historic photographers; they have created the framework within which we all operate. However, it’s of equal importance to be aware of contemporary photographers working among us today. We are working in a completely changed technological and cultural environment than that of our iconic heroes. To be unaware of how living photographers are using this evolving technology, exploring the creative and perceptive envelope is a huge loss.
My influences are the above mentioned historic icons, and more importantly, examples of the best working photographers today include:
Charles Cramer, http://charlescramer.com/
George Ward, http://www.georgeward.com/
Carr Clifton, http://www.carrclifton.com/
Jeff Foott, http://jfoottphotography.com/
Lori Kinkaid, http://kincaidphoto.com/index.html/
Michael Frye, http://www.michaelfrye.com/
Jason Langer, http://jasonlanger.com/
and yes, ...Jack, http://www.dykinga.com/Welcome.html/
This stuff all ROCKS! Any photographer unmoved by the work of these people should seriously reconsider their medium of expression.
The criteria for photographers making my list are that they are actively seeking creative, dynamic ways of seeing and communicating visually; they are immersed in our medium and they are taking it someplace new.
My list is pretty long and I like to peruse web sites on a regular basis just to see what’s happening. It can be pretty disappointing at times - as well as inspiring.
Of all the places you've photographed, where would you most like to go back again?
This is another long list and, like my list of photographic influences, it grows with time. Places making the list are those in which I’ve photographed and discovered an unusual personal connection or energy. My desire to return grows from a desire to become more intimate with that place, to observe its light, to watch how the seasons progress, to discover its many guises.
As an example, there is a specific location in Yellowstone National Park on an overlook of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River. I’ve been there at least a dozen times in all seasons looking at a view of a collection of trees and rock watching the light bounce and reflect in the orange canyon backlighting the pine trees. It’s an amazing show. One of the most joyous moments of my life was discovering that it absolutely glows best in full sun at 10:15 on a late June morning. A marvelous moment! After photographing I couldn’t walk away from it; I just had to continue watching. The light and intense glow only lasts about 20 minutes and then it’s gone as the sun rises higher.
I am thinking about taking that one off my list. But I’d welcome the chance to watch it again!
Another fascinating aspect of going back to any location is to observe how I react to those places over time. Those locations become milestones and measure of my growth and evolution as an expressive photographer.
Why are you excited to be working with Visionary Wild?
Justin’s approach in designing VW activities emphasizes a thoughtful approach, creativity and personal growth. A rather brave business plan in a photo world obsessed with the latest and greatest software, lens, camera, sensor array, bean-bag mount, etc. And then, my god, I wanted to cheer when I saw a “recommended reading list”!!!
What are your greatest strengths as a teacher and workshop leader?
My teaching assets relate to my experience and passion for photography coupled with a strong desire to save others from some of the circuitous paths I’ve taken and the mistakes I’ve made. I guess empathy is part of the equation.
What are your favorite things about teaching?
I love the challenge of determining the level of competence and the specific interests of the participants and then tailoring my presentation in a manner that will best fulfill their needs. That is one of the most enjoyable parts of teaching photography. I see my teaching role as an improvisational endeavor. I have a full kit of instructional tools but they are seldom employed or presented the same way twice.
Another reward for an me as an instructor is watching a person conceive and hold a new concept, discovering there are infinite ways to interpret a specific place and that the their vision comes from within. Helping people with technical problems is rewarding, but for me the real joy relates to opening pathways to visual expression. That for me is watching the lightbulb turning on, the bat hitting the ball, the wind filling a trimmed sail.
What do you think is the most important role for (your) photography today?
Rising above today’s visual clutter, there are many vital ways in which photography influences our world: affecting social change, advocating for, and informing environmental issues, etc. However I feel photography’s under utilized potential exists in its role as a personal endeavor; I believe it to be a great tool for self-examination and awareness. While very few photographers have the necessary talent or the access to venues affecting change on a massive scale, any photographer with a conscious approach can use the medium to enhance personal growth and enrichment. It is that “conscious approach” I seek to cultivate in my photographic relationships.
Terry Donnelly interview:
Podcast #37 Photographic Vision http://www.7photographyquestions.com/2009/01/podcast-34-seeing-photographically----an-interview-with-terr-1.html
Terry has had six books published featuring his photography, the first two using solely his own images and the final four created in conjunction with his partner Mary Liz Austin:
• Heaven on Earth, Abbeville Press Publishers ©1999
• Seattle, Beautiful America, ©1999
• Washington, the Spirit of the Land, Voyageur Press © 1999
• Oregon, Preserving the Spirit and Beauty of Our Land, Voyageur Press © 2003
• California Wild, Preserving the Spirit and Beauty of Our Land, Voyageur Press © 2004
• Wild Seattle, A Celebration of the Natural Areas in and around the City, Sierra Club Books © 2004
Selected Honors and Awards
1999 First Place Pictorial Photograph, Excellence in Journalism Competition by The Society of Professional Journalists
2000 Benjamin Franklin Award, Travel Essay Book for Washington, the Spirit of the Land by PMA The Independent Book Sellers Association
2003 Highly Honored – Plant Life by Nature’s Best International Photography Awards
2008 First Place Photography Magazine Feature, Excellence in Journalism Competition by The Society of Professional Journalists
May 1983 Prouty Community Center; Princeton, IL Solo show Historic Rural Architecture of Bureau County
May 1986 Kroch’s & Brentano’s Bookstore & Gallery; Chicago Solo Show of Recent Black & White Work
July 1987 Anne Thomas Gallery; Princeton, IL Solo Show of Recent Black & White Work
April 1997 Blue Heron Gallery; Vashon, WA Sharing Common Ground a Solo show of color landscape photographs
1997-2000 Juried participant in the Northwest Exhibition of Environmental Photography
July 1998 Maryhill Museum of Art; Goldendale, WA Northwest Vistas featuring the work of eleven Northwest photographers
September 1999 Blue Heron Gallery; Commissioned Artist for the Vashon Allied Arts annual auction
June 2001 Blue Heron Gallery; Vashon, WA Vashon Visions: Habitats, History and Home landscape photographs of two contemporary photographers with historic images
March 2004 Blue Heron Gallery; Vashon, WA Curated The Art of Travel - a multimedia exhibit of art influenced by travel
May 2008 Barn Works Gallery; Vashon WA Spring Studio Tour
December 2008 and 2010; Blue Heron Gallery; Vashon, WA
Invitational Miniature Show
February 2010 Silverwood Gallery, Vashon Islan, WA Invitational Flower Show
April 2011 Blue Heron Art Center, Vashon Island, WA Invitational Partners in Art – Couples Sharing Creativity
American Art Resources, Huston, TX
Art Advice, New York, NY
Arterra, Bellevue, WA
Boston Art Image, Boston, MA
“…WOWing presentation! I was very impressed with your flexibility in adapting the class to meet the specific needs of this group.”
J.G. Yellowstone, Summer 2011
“Excellent teaching in a stunning location”.
L.H. Yellowstone, Summer 2011
“I found Terry and Mary to be incredibly generous of themselves and their time, and tireless in the field helping every class participant. Kudos to both!”
B.Z. Yellowstone, Summer 2011
“…instructors were superb – very patient, helpful, knowledgeable and fun.”
T.L. Yellowstone, Winter 2011
“You can’t come away from this course without being able to improve your picture taking and editing skills.”
C.L. Yellowstone, Summer 2010
“…instructors were artists not just technical photographers.”
Yellowstone, Summer 2010
“This course is excellent for any level photographer ….the inspiration from the instructors was excellent.” Yellowstone, Fall 2008
“Your knowledge, experience and ability as an instructor are admirable. …a positive and informative experience!”
R. F. Vashon Allied Arts, January, 2010