Art Through a Lens
Text by Cheryl Alexander | Photos by Ellen Barron O’Reilly
Imagination And Wonder Are Benchmarks Of Woodlands’ Artist Ellen Barron O’Reilly’s Photographic Creations
Ellen Barron O’Reilly sums up her journey as an artist with a quote from writer Abraham Hicks: “You will know your path by the fun of it.” Her creations confirm that fun is a common theme. Whether she’s adding glitter to a photo to create her “Jewelry for the Walls” or adding digital elements to a photo of cowboy boots, or adding original poetry to a photo to create a greeting card, one thing is clear — when Ellen is hard at work, she is also enjoying herself.
Ellen has been a photographer since her childhood in Detroit. Her first lessons were from her mother, Eleanor Barron, who shared the basic elements of composition and exposure. Ellen’s first subject was her baby brother, Jim. Throughout her adolescence she played with a camera and experimented. Eventually this hobby led her to the Glassell School of Art at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, where she studied film photography, and to the Art Institute of Houston, where she learned digital photography, along with other required courses.
Ellen has never lost the sense of childhood wonder that began her artistic journey. A sense of wonder is what inspires her creativity. “I wonder how something will look if I do this or that, and that’s how my ideas are born,” she explained
Her first collection, “Jewelry for the Walls,” grew from wondering what glitter would look like on a photo. From that idea, Ellen stumbled upon a technique that has been very successful for her. It starts by printing photos onto transparent paper. “Then I hand-glitter choice areas. It is framed between two pieces of glass, so the elements are wholly visible, kind of like stained glass,” she said. “The fun part is that the entire picture can change moods depending on the color of the wall where it’s hung, or if it’s hung or placed by a window to allow the sun to shine through.”
Ellen prefers to work in color photography because of its vibrancy and ability to uplift the human spirit, and she enjoys digitally manipulating the color, along with other elements, in her art. “When I play with my photos digitally, I may or may not have an idea of what I want to do until I experiment with different tools and effects,” she said. “Also, every picture is different in how it accepts or rejects treatments, so I basically work with the images until something pops for me.”
Ellen has created some pretty amazing work in black and white as well, finding that the black and white image will be more interesting and dramatic. “With absence of color, you tend to focus more on the subject,” she said.
Ellen takes thousands of personal, traditional pictures both on her phone and with her cameras to record everyday events. “I approach those with the mindset of simply capturing the fleeting moments that I want to save. I’m not as focused on technique, composition or other details.”
But when she’s photographing subjects or events with the thought of eventually transforming them into art, the act becomes more demanding. She becomes particular about the details in order to elevate the quality of the work. She said, “Anyone these days can take a decent picture with their phone or a point-and-shoot camera. However, a great photo has to include the basic elements of composition, exposure, etc., plus have something of interest such as the particular subject, the design of it, color combination, or an unusual capture of a moment. To make a great picture, both vision and knowledge are required.”
The process begins with a traditional picture, and then using the tools (digital paint brushes, filters, techniques, colors and tonal values) and her creative vision, the picture becomes art. She is like a painter who starts with a drawing, then uses brushes and paints and specific techniques to transform the drawing. “It’s a long, involved process most times, but very satisfying.”
From the classroom, Ellen says her most important lesson was learning to see beyond the surface to record details the brain doesn’t ordinarily single out, such as shadows, tones, depth of field, etc. From her self-study, she says that her most important lesson has been learning to always have backups – a backup battery, a backup memory card, a backup of every picture she loads to the computer and even a backup camera (for those once-in-a-lifetime event photos).
The mission of her work is twofold. First, she aspires to add a sense of joy and wonder to the observer’s life or perhaps even change their perception of the world. Second, her art should serve as a vehicle to capture life and history as it happens, an opportunity unavailable with a paintbrush or pen. “With my camera, I can instantly freeze and preserve a moment in time.”
Ellen usually feels her current work is her best because it is the culmination of all she’s learned up until that moment, using all of the techniques she’s recently discovered. Custom commissions are her favorite type of works because she knows she is giving her client just what they asked her for. She recently had two recent commissions that presented challenges because they were things she hadn’t done before. “ I wasn’t sure about the outcome, but I accepted the challenge. I used my sense of wonder and ingenuity to accomplish what became a great piece of work.”
Ellen plans to upgrade her camera soon. Once she becomes familiar with the new one and starts using it to create art, she feels those photos will become her best works. “I’m constantly evolving and loving every minute of it!”
Ellen’s works have been displayed in numerous art shows and have won recognition from the Lone Star Art Guild. She is a member of the Conroe Art League and The Woodlands Art League. For more information, find Ellen on Facebook or visit ellen-oreilly.pixels.com.