It’s hard to improve on Mother Nature’s own work, but somehow Denver photographer Wendi Schneider does. Schneider grew up in Memphis in an artistic family (paintings by her mother and grandmother hang on the walls of her beautiful, eclectically appointed home). After earning a bachelor’s degree in painting from Newcomb-Tulane College in New Orleans, she later lived in New York, where she photographed for the original Victoria magazine and shot more than 100 book covers (including for best-selling author Mary Higgins Clark), before moving to Colorado in 1994 to be with her now-husband. “When I decided to move here, I was like, ‘Another chapter, another life.’ I feel like I’ve had so many different lives,” she says. Since then, Schneider, who has won many awards for her work, has seen her fine art photography go through several periods, but she is known for her nature-inspired photographs of flowers and trees, as well as her portraits of birds, to which she often adds thin layers of oil paint, hand-gilds, or prints on metallic paper. Gilded vellum photos from her “States of Grace” series have been exhibited in more than 60 places.
What did you learn about photography from your time in New York?
I learned that I loved to shoot within the parameters of an assignment. Sometimes, I would just be told, “Read the book and do what you want,” but sometimes they would say, “We need to use this and then incorporate a still life.” From the time I photographed for Victoria magazine, I have been very drawn to graceful, art nouveau, sensuous lines and simple, beautiful detail. And decades later, my photographs are still about nature and grace, though I spend more time outside now, searching for serenity.
When you add colors to your photographs, it can give them an earthy, old-fashioned feeling….
I would say they are painterly. They are rich. I am more interested in representing what something feels like to me, rather than what it looks like. I am not a documentarian, even though the environments that I shoot today are so fragile and are changing so dramatically. But I would also describe my work as romantic, organic, and impressionistic.
So many of your pieces do feel like paintings.
Maybe that’s why so many of the people who collect my work are more painting collectors than photography collectors. In fact, most of my work is influenced by the painters that I love: Turner. Whistler.
How do you find your subjects?
I shoot wherever I am. Sometimes I am out driving, sometimes I am walking, and then sometimes I travel somewhere to shoot. I went to Canada to shoot owls. I really prefer to shoot large birds: flamingos in Florida, crows in Park Hill, great blue herons in Delray Beach, Fla. I am shooting more these days with a handheld camera or with my phone, so I can go wherever I want to go quickly—I like to be free and to experiment.