Sheila Rodgers is a photographer based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Her photography primarily focuses on botanical subjects and location portraiture. She's been creating photographs for over four decades, and in Spring 2011, received her Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) from Chatham University in Visual Arts: Photography Concentration.
The artist has published her photographs in Good Weed Bad Weed: Who's Who, What to Do, and Why Some Deserve a Second Chance (All You Need to Know About the Weeds in Your Yard) with author Nancy Gift, PhD, which sold over 5,000 copies within its first year of being published (including sales in Canada).
Sheila has held photography exhibits at Chatham, < c > space: collective, and at the Arboretum at the State Botanical Garden, University of Kentucky in Lexington.
Blast Furnace recently caught up with the photographer and conducted the following interview via email. [Click on any of the photographic images below to enlarge them]
How did you become interested in photography, and who are your influences? Whose work do you admire?
I’ve been taking pictures since my childhood, I was interested initially because my father had a 35-millimeter black&white Kodak camera and his mother had a Kodak box camera before that. I was interested in the captured moments from their earlier lives, and I wanted to be able to do that as well. I had inexpensive instamatic cameras through my teens and did not get to explore shooting and developing my own 35mm B&W photos until my early college years when I first majored in Industrial Arts. I didn’t finish that degree, but went on many years later to pursue a Visual Arts degree with a concentration in Photography. So personally, my early influences were my father and grandmother, then professionally, Dr. Robert Cooley at Chatham [University], who really taught me all I know now about both B&W and digital photography. His work has always been a source of admiration for me as we both were interested in many same areas of subject matter. On the level of professional photographers, most of the work that I admire was produced by three famous West Coast photographers: Ansel Adams, Imogen Cunningham, and Edward Weston who formed Group f64.
Cirque du Soleil tents: f5.6, 1/2 sec. exposure, ISO-100, 26mm focal length, 6/4/11 in the Strip District, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania before dawn on my 56th birthday. I was meeting a friend to shoot some pre-dawn photos, and we came upon these festive tents with no activity around them, quite the opposite of what one thinks of when they see circus tents. - SR
Like the Group f64 photographers, I am drawn to nature photography primarily, both landscape and macro images. My portraiture work tends to be shot in natural settings as well to draw upon natural light. I am not a big fan of studio portraiture, as I find the equipment gets in the way of interacting comfortably with my subjects. I haven’t considered other subject matter for awhile, as I am enjoying what I am doing enough right now—there is so much to see in the natural world.
I first learned some rudimentary skills in my late teens/early twenties but never really had the time then to get really skilled in the darkroom. Once I began working with Dr. Cooley, he gave us as much access to the darkroom as we wished, and we often worked in self-formed groups to support each other's developing skills. Being able to successfully develop B&W film takes a blend of exacting science and also the willingness to push the envelope to get more out of out images. Sometimes it was exhilarating to see what formed on the paper, and sometimes it was sheer frustration, but always a great learning experience. I do wish we had had more time to pursue our darkroom skills. Sadly, with Dr. Cooley’s passing, I no longer have access to the darkroom.
I have at least eight books on Imogen Cunningham’s photography; I love her work in particular. I go back to them periodically to study what she was able to capture in her plant photographs. I have also read Beaumont Newhall's The History of Photography thoroughly just to learn about all of the marvelous predecessors in the field. Compared to today’s digital photographers, many of them faced extraordinary obstacles in terms of bulky equipment, limited darkroom access, fragile glass negatives, corrosive chemicals, travel restrictions, etc., that we take for granted today.
My primary camera is a Nikon D40x which has served me well for five years so far. The standard 18-55mm kit lens is the one I use most, although I sometimes use a 55-200mm zoom lens for close-up plant shots. The only filter I use regularly is a polarizing filter for outdoor work. If I still had regular access to the darkroom, I would still like to use the older Nikon and Minolta 35mm cameras that I have.
resolution setting? Where do you print your digital photos and on what kind of paper?
I would have to say I prefer digital over film; it just lends itself to more versatility. The instantaneous results allow me to make adjustments on the spot, and the quality of the images is astounding at times. My D40x resolution is 10.2 megapixels. Dr. Cooley taught us that the human eye cannot really discern the difference once you get over 6 megapixels, so it is certainly enough digital information from my point of view. I print both at home on a Canon photo printer from a Mac computer, and I also use commercial services from Costco for larger images, up to poster sizes. I have used both glossy and matte papers, depending on the subject matter and where I will be displaying my images.
See more of Sheila's work on the web at http://srodgersimages.weebly.com/