Bonnie McCarthy seems to take advantage of every opportunity that knocks on her door.
Aside from photography, she is a writer, member of the Long Beach Arts Council, contributor to the Stylelist Home Blog for the Huffington Post and a blogger in her own right.
Although she was busy on the East Coast, she graciously took some time from her busy schedule to talk about her career and inspirations. Here are some highlights from our online conversation:
How did you get started in photography? Did you receive any education in this field?
I have been interested in photography for as long as I can remember. However, when I was younger, and dinosaurs walked the earth, cameras, film and developing were really expensive– which made experimenting a pricey hobby. It wasn’t until I studied art and design in college that I borrowed a camera from a friend and was able to take courses.
After graduating from college with a degree in fashion design, I began working in fashion editorial and spent the next 12 years producing photo shoots and watching professional photographers in action. I learned a lot.
My own foray into exhibiting my photography came about when I decided to answer a call for artists that had been posted by artist and entrepreneur Doug Orr, then co-owner of a local Bixby Knolls restaurant. It was a big leap and, to be honest, more than a little scary. It’s one thing to show photos to a supportive husband and another to hang them out for all the world to see. Worse yet, to call myself “an artist” seemed incredibly presumptuous.
As luck and grace would have it, however, my work was graciously received, and I discovered I was living in a community that is extremely supportive of emerging local artists. I joined the Long Beach Arts Council and began participating in events. It was the start of a journey that has enriched my life and shows no signs of stopping. I will never be Ansel Adams, but that life was never mine to begin with; on the other hand, he doesn’t get to live my life either, which probably kept him up nights, but I digress…
In photography, what is the biggest challenge you have faced?
I believe the biggest challenge I have faced in regard to photography is creating images that are strong enough to stand out in a world filled with iPhone cameras and Instagram (an online photo-sharing service). Most importantly, I want to create images I would be proud to hang on the wall of a restaurant, in a gallery, or in the home of an art collector– with their permission of course…in case you were imagining guerilla art hanging.
After that, I would say it is simply believing in myself and putting my work– and therefore, myself– “out there.”
Is there a special technique or theme that had become a staple of your photos?
I am a firm believer in the idea that beauty surrounds us every day– the trick is to notice. I like the idea of creating images that celebrate the extraordinary within the ordinary. I also love natural light and the dramatic play of light and dark. Some of my favorite photos are the ones that are sometimes mistaken as paintings, and that’s because of the light, it’s magical.
What artists have influenced you?
I am grateful for the inspiration of so many artists. I am thankful for Grandma Moses and all the artists who picked up their first pencils, or brushes or cameras later in life, then learned their craft and followed their passion.
I am inspired by William Wegman, the photographer who got his start right here in Long Beach and rose to worldwide popularity for photographing his beloved Weimaraner dogs– if I could just get my dog to sit still.
I am also inspired by the imagery of Margaret Bourke-White, Annie Leibovitz, Scott Schuman and Bill Cunningham. Honestly, the list goes on, although I don’t think you have to be famous to inspire someone, or to create something absolutely amazing that may never see the inside of a gallery or museum. In fact, the most inspiring people perhaps are the anonymous ones who don’t let that stop them. I hope I’m in that category.
One of my favorite quotes is by Pablo Picasso, who said, “Every child is born an artist, the problem is how to remain one once they grow up.”
You are an accomplished artist; your work has been featured in best-selling bookazines, in the art collection at St. Mary [Medical Center] in Long Beach, and much more. What have you learned from these experiences?
I have had the amazing fortune to have my photography purchased by private collectors and institutions like the Women’s Heart Center at St. Mary Hospital in Long Beach, and it happened because I said yes to participating in the Long Beach Open Studio Tour. Those successes encouraged me and showed me that if I am willing to take a risk, good things can happen. I have also learned that little steps build on each other, and over the years, the little things add up until someone actually wants to interview you about what you’re doing. It’s mind-blowing.
You also run a blog called This American Home. What is it all about? What inspired you to create it?
I started my lifestyle blog This American Home because I wanted to combine my love of photography, writing and design to showcase the things that make a house a home and make life sparkle. Creating the blog has encouraged me to get out of my own home, take more photos, see more places and meet new people. It has been a blast. I would like to invite every single Signal Tribune reader to become a member of This American Home– or just come visit online.
As a result of my blog, and contributing articles to the Huffington Post Stylelist Home pages, I recently wrote and contributed photography to Flea Market Finds, a nationally distributed bookazine that is on news stands now. Flea market fans, unite!
Having been a participant in the LB Open Studio Tour for the past four years, can you talk about the effect it has on your art and the community?
I am absolutely in awe of Long Beach Open Studio Tour (LBOST) organizers, especially artist Lisa Wibroe. She has taken her passion for art and grown it into an inclusive, city-wide event that nutures the talent in our community. The LBOST is a labor of love, and I don’t think it’s possible to know exactly how far-reaching the ripples of her endeavor will extend. Personally, the tour has encouraged me to push myself beyond my comfort zone, increased my confidence and made me proud to be part of this community.