INTERVIEW: Edward Schmunes, Photographer by Mary Catherine Ballou

Schmunes

Local artist Edward Shmunes incorporates photography and mixed media to create two-dimensional art.  Shmunes has been photographing for twenty-six years and counting, with pieces in shows, collections, and galleries across the country.  In the following interview, Shmunes kindly discusses his artistic background, inspirations, and process, revealing the importance of passion and instinct in his artwork.

 

Jasper: How did your interest in photography develop?

Shmunes: “I’ve been coloring since I was three, so I’ve always done that, I colored instead of [making] model airplanes.  I had limited interest in most things like Erector sets, similar to Legos, the Legos of my years – I really didn’t like that stuff.  I always wanted to color, color, color.  I never had an expensive camera until I became a dermatologist.  My partner and I decided to buy one for our practice…a 35 mm camera for the first time in my life.

 

I went to Charleston in the 70s and took some pictures.  I was a good friend with the Chair of the Department of Photography at USC, he saw them and said they were good and that I ought to do something with that.  I put something in the State Fair and won top prize in the amateur section, then I started putting stuff in galleries because it seemed to work.  At that time they had some art fairs downtown [in Columbia] before Vista Lights [existed] – things in the spring like a May festival. I remember I had a booth set up on the museum grounds, and the director came and bought a piece for the museum – that made me feel really good. I started entering shows…I’ve entered hundreds of national art shows [and] I got these affirmations that the stuff was good.”

 

Jasper: Have your artistic interests always been confined to photography, or have you explored other mediums?

Shmunes: “I’ve never had any training, just a natural eye for what’s good and what’s bad.  I painted a little bit in medical school…[but] photography is instantaneously satisfying.  I do better with a jumpstart, so even if I may take a picture and run with it and change it, that jumpstart is helpful for me, as opposed to a blank canvas.  [I] use photography as a quick springboard to start with an image…because my work is described as somewhat surreal, it does involve manipulation.  Early on [in the pre-digital age], I used to add dyes to glossy photographs (when glossy photos are printed they are in a water system…these are water soluble dyes, you can put them on a shiny surface and [they] dissolve into the surface so it doesn’t leave a mark but you can add colors).  Part of my approach to art in general is to have something that is engaging and fresh, hooks the viewer…[it] might not be on a conscious level at first.”

 

Jasper: What role does digital photography now play in your artistic process?

Shmunes: “I have a friend named Dixie Allen, [she] used to teach computer graphics at USC, layout the Riverbanks Zoo Magazine, [and currently] makes Clipart on a national level.  She helped me learn Photoshop, for which I’m immensely grateful.  She gave me the basics…I’m no Photoshop whiz, but I have enough knowledge.  It’s just another paintbrush…as with all tools you can manipulate things differently.  I’m careful not to have something look [too manipulated]…if it screams manipulation before you can even see it, that’s a blockade to the viewer’s enjoyment.  You have to know what works.

 

I go on lots of trips, I look at every picture [I take] in Photoshop because it can be blurry as can be, and I might say, ‘Wow look at this blur!’  Or I wasn’t even aware that [something] wasn’t even over there…[so I] crop it and store it to be used for another photograph – it’s very time consuming.”

 

Jasper: Where does your artistic inspiration come from?

Shmunes: “It comes from the things that shout ‘take me!’  I like to be in a fresh, new area because your mind is open to new [things]…there are so many things that shout ‘take me!’ and so I listen to it and take it, because to me, they’re yelling! Sometimes you get it. [Other times] you’ll see the picture and wonder why it said ‘take me!’ and sometimes you’ll see in the middle is where something was screaming…you usually can find it when you look at the picture. It’s pretty true, follow your instincts…I do get rid of a lot of stuff, there’s so much that’s distracting in a picture, whether it’s a line leading you out or a chandelier that looks like it’s growing out of a person’s head.”

 

Jasper: Are there any parallels between your artistic and professional career?

Shmunes: “Dermatology is visual.  I went into something that I could see – you recognize clinical presentations by the nuances of their color, also feel – but visuals are hugely important.  That’s why they have Teledermatology – that whole field of having rural access to specialists via television cameras is very important for rural [practices].”

 

Jasper: If you could give some advice to aspiring photographers, what would it be?

Shmunes: “My advice would be to not let people tell you what to do, because they’re going to tell you the conventional things to do.  When work stands out, it’s usually not conventional, so if you want to be a conventional artist, go take a lot of courses.  I’ve never had any courses, I resist it…

 

I love looking at other people’s stuff, taking it in, I get very vitalized and enervated by looking at other people’s work and listening to them – [but] that’s different from going to a photography course.  I’m not a nature photographer.  If I was, then I’d see why I’d want to take courses from a master nature photographer.  Or if you’re doing darkroom work then you need to learn technique like that…I’m not doing stuff like that.

 

Just when you look at other people’s works and go to museums and shows, that is a lesson, or you hear somebody talk about their work – those are what I love doing, as opposed to taking a workshop.  Now, I might benefit from a technical, Photoshop workshop…

 

Photography has been a stepchild of art for a long time.  Particularly in the South…photography is new on the scene.  A lot of big cities have art shows and they are multimedia [as opposed to just photography shows]. In terms of advice to people, the materials you use really do matter.  Starting out, you are limited in your budget…it can really detract from a piece to have a [cheap] frame.  If you really love your piece, then use good materials to show off your piece.”

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Shmunes is fortunate to have exhibits at galleries such as City Art in Columbia.  He states, “I’m very proud of City Art – the caliber of the people, they have not turned it into a gift shop.  They have the building space to rent out and the art supply store downstairs.  It’s a very hard business, selling art…but they’re going to keep it mainly a gallery, they have high standards.  And the gallery I’m in in Charleston is an interior design place (Mitchell Hill Interiors) that’s very high-end.”

 

Shmunes is currently working on photos he took in Australia of various subjects, ranging from animals to Aborigines.  However, Shmunes explains: “I’m not a nature photographer, I don’t normally photograph animals…[also] I love to write and have tangential commentary that hopefully compliments the piece, [and] adds to the humor or mystery.  I gravitate basically to things that are surreal…they are going to be edgy and sometimes quirky.  That’s normally what I like because it’s fresh and different, so I try to put that into a landscape if I can do something that makes it special.”

 

For more information and to view portfolio images, please visit edward-shmunes.pixels.co

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Greg Slatery’s Summer 6 TV Binges w/ a note from Cindi

Jasper is not impressed by folks who say, “I don’t watch TV,” or “I don’t even own a television,” because usually we’re distracted by the nose hairs they’re waving at us as they regard us from above, and because anyone who gives a flip flop about art knows that we are living in the age of great television.

Some of the most transgressive, provocative, insightful writing and some of the most poignant, multidimensional acting the airwaves (forgive our archaic idiom) have ever seen is happening now. And with alt sources like Hulu, Netflix, Amazon, Youtube, Crackle, Twitch, and Sling, cordcutters don’t even have to own a dreaded television in order to partake of rich, mind-expanding culture.

I won’t indulge in an essay about my 6 favorite TV retrospective binges (Six Feet Under, West Wing/Sports Night/Studio 60 (love me some Sorkin), Northern Exposure, Breaking Bad, The Riches, Hamish McBeth), but Stereofly’s Greg Slattery put together a thoughtful list of surprises that makes me want to take another look at my choices the next time I hunker down with a pile of cats and some Ben & Jerry’s Coffee, Coffee, Buzz, Buzz, Buzz for a little me-expanding-my-mind time.

Here are Greg’s top 6 TV Series indulgences for those hellacious summer afternoons in the Soda City when you’ve got nothing but AC and a remote control in your sites. - Cindi

 

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Adventures of Pete & Pete

While pegged as a children’s show, Nickelodeon’s Adventures of Pete & Pete holds up over time, offering the same joy to show veterans while still maintaining a level of quirky genius to appeal to those who missed out on the show when it first broadcast. Big Pete’s voice of reason collides with his younger brother Pete’s resistance to both authority and the mainstream, offering hilarious and relatable tales of growing up. You can pick up the first two seasons on DVD and online, but the third season has yet to be officially released…but the mighty power of YouTube has all three seasons available if you can put up with some video quality issues (it’s worth it).

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Show Me A Hero

This HBO mini-series is based on the non-fiction book by Lisa Belkin, following former police officer Nick Wasicsko as he runs for mayor of Yonkers, NY, in 1987 and the effect of a federal mandate to scatter public housing among the white middle-class neighborhoods in the city. If you are a fan of the work David Simon and William F. Zorzi have done together on The Wire and Treme, their six part mini-series holds the same investigative flame they’re known for to both race and wealth.

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Other Space

Paul Feig, most loved (by me) for his role in Freaks and Geeks and Undeclared, produced a science-fiction original series for Yahoo! last year called Other Space that never got much attention and was canceled when Yahoo! axed its on-demand streaming service division. The series follows a highly inexperienced crew who accidentally get launched into space with no clear vision on how to return. Mystery Science Theater 3000 fans may notice creator Joel Hodgson starring as the ship’s mechanic and his robot sidekick A.R.T. sharing the voice of Crow T. Robot. The only stars in the series are the ones outside the ship, but Feig’s direction provides a goofy science-fiction series for those looking for a less technical trip through space. A Yahoo! search for Other Space will pull up the only season, but according to Feig a second season will come even if he has to shoot it on his iPhone.

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Marvel’s Daredevil

If you’ve missed this Netflix exclusive, you have two incredible seasons for binge watching. Following the story of a blind lawyer with superhuman powers, Matt Murdock (a.k.a. Daredevil) takes to the streets to clean up the mess the justice system leaves to leave unscathed. This is one of the greatest comic book screen adaptations, using appropriately grimy scenery to set the dark tone for this action-packed superhero drama. If you felt the Daredevil film with Ben Affleck was a travesty, this series will bring you sweet relief. If you need more after two seasons of Daredevil, give Marvel’s Jessica Jones a watch.

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Wilfred

Following a failed suicide attempt, Elijah Wood’s character Ryan can now hear his neighbor’s dog Wilfred talk. This dark, twisted comedy explores the difficulties we all face in life with a canine serving as the voice of good and evil, though the line between the two is almost always blurred. Life lessons are common themes shrouded in pot smoking and debauchery. Though the series was ultimately canceled by FX, the crew was given enough warning to tie up loose ends for a satisfying, four season show that might be one of the stranger TV programs to date.

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Stargate: Universe

I highly recommend watching the 1994 film Stargate prior to the series, only because it’s a great film and offers some foundation for the story. If you’ve seen Stargate SG-1 and weren’t a fan, I understand. This is different. This is better. As a crew flees an attack on their base on a remote planet, the team’s scientist dials the Stargate to the ninth chevron to avoid taking the battle to Earth. As they cross through the Stargate they find themselves aboard an abandoned spacecraft known as Destiny. If you like the 2004 reboot of Battlestar Galactica, you’ll appreciate Stargate Universe‘s dark exploration of what makes us human.

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Greg Slattery is a tireless concert promoter and editor of the zine Stereofly and one of the founders of the independent record label 10 Foot Woody Records. Slattery is also a guitarist and singer/songwriter in the rock band Shallow Palace and plays guitar and bass for a variety of other acts around town, including Brian Robert & The Hollerin’ River Talkers, among others. 

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REVIEW: What Happened, Miss Simone? by Ony Ratsimbaharison

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One interesting thing about being an artist is the dichotomy that exists between producing one’s art and then performing or releasing it for audiences to experience. Much of the time, the production of the art comes from a place of isolation and comfort-seeking. The performance aspect then sometimes comes as a need to support oneself, as in the case of Nina Simone, the classically trained pianist, who was forced to sing and perform other styles of music to support herself financially.

Something for which we will always thank her.

What Happened, Miss Simone? follows the life of the illustrious Nina Simone who was revered as an exceptionally talented singer, pianist, and civil rights activist. She put everything she had into her music and it showed. Like many artists, her portrayal is often tragic, but she was more than just a “tortured artist,” she was a dynamo.

Many things came to mind as I watched this film, directed by Liz Garbus and released in 2015. As a musician, I am always interested in observing the way famous musicians and artists are treated and portrayed in the media. Oftentimes their lives are far more nuanced than are the images we are offered of them, but this documentary, which opened the 2015 Sundance Film Festival and went onto be nominated for the Academy Award, does an admirable job of showing the viewer as much of the artist’s dynamic life as possible in an hour and forty minutes.

What happens when the spotlight becomes just too much for someone? Once producing art becomes someone’s livelihood, is it then their responsibility to keep making and performing their art for audiences, even when it’s hurting them? And what is our responsibility to artists, like Nina Simone, who may be affected by mental illness? These are just some of the questions I asked myself after watching this film.

It is important to remember Simone as not just as an artist, but as an activist as well. She was a black woman songstress living during the middle of the Civil Rights movement, who joined forces with many of the other key leaders of the movement, including Malcolm X, Betty Shabazz, and Martin Luther King. She was never quiet about who she was and how her black identity shaped her life and the lives of those she loved. I was pleased to see this aspect was not left out.

To see a musician portrayed as genuinely as they experience life, is rare in the media, but this documentary is successful at showing us the true Nina Simone. She was a star in her own right, and made her presence timelessly known. But only she truly knows “what happened,” as the title asks.

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