Briefly describe the work you do.
Experimentation with alternative process is a key element in my photographic art. I incorporate contemporary concepts and iconic imagery with early photographic techniques such as Daguerreotype, wet plate collodion, lumen prints, pinhole photography, chemigrams, instant film, various cameraless photography, and traditional silver printing. Balancing the conceptual and the technical aspects of my work is important to me.
Tell us a little about your background and how that influences you as an artist.
Art has always been present in my life. My father designed and built our home while my mother enjoyed flower arranging. With my parents interested in artistic expression, there was no surprise that I too had the love of art and of expressing myself through various avenues. My high school art teacher, Willis Hildebrandt, was instrumental in my early years with art. He saw that I had a drive for investigation and he encouraged me to put together a darkroom in the classroom. Ever since then every place I have lived has had a darkroom. Looking back, I see how the encouragement I received from elementary and high school teachers gave me the confidence I needed as a young artist. In turn, I too, find it rewarding to help younger artists along their path.
The concept of the “artist studio” has a broad range of meanings, especially in contemporary practice. The idea of the artist toiling away alone in a room may not necessarily reflect what many artists do from day to day anymore. Describe your studio practice and how it differs from (or is the same as) traditional notions of “being in the studio.”
I believe that I am capable of art making in any circumstance but I do adore having my traditional studio as my refuge. I collect objects that inspire my art making and I place them in my line of sight in my studio. These antique and sometimes quirky objects may stay on the shelf for years before the right idea comes in play. My studio has a darkroom, a dry room where I sort and view my negatives, a larger area for matt cutting and print storage, and a light studio for indoor shooting. The studio gets reorganized and transformed depending on the work I am creating. Right now I have blacked out all the windows and have installed safelights in each room so I may work with mural sized photographic paper for contact printing and developing.
What unique roles do you see yourself as the artist playing that you may not have envisioned yourself in when you first started making art?
When I first started working with photography I was only interested in the end result of having produced a beautiful silver print. Now that I work with antiquated techniques and learn the intricate details of each process, I feel as if I am an ambassador for the history of photography.
When do you find is the best time of day to make art? Do you have time set aside every day, every week or do you just work whenever you can?
I am in “art mode” every day. But when the light is right I must take advantage of that time and take my 14-foot pinhole camera truck, lovingly named Little Miss Sunshine, out for a shoot. Depending on how bright the sun is shining, she requires exposures ranging from 14 minutes to 40 minutes.
How has your work changed in the last five years? How is it the same?
For the last five years I have worked in the Art Department at Colorado College as the Print Workshop Supervisor. Printmaking has opened my mind to new possibilities for artistic expression and to ways of approaching photographic techniques that I have known for 25 years. Being introduced to zinc plate etching while experimenting with chemigrams in the darkroom seemed to be fate. This openness toward new ideas while working on mastering a familiar technique is an energy that I hope I carry with me throughout my life.
Are there people such as family, friends, writers, philosophers or even pop icons that have had an impact on the work you do?
My fourteen year old daughter, Cyan, has been my patient muse. I do not believe I would have made the work I love the most if it were not for her presence in my life. She has given me an immeasurable perspective towards family, life, loss, world events, learning, love, and myself. I can only wish to be as big as an artistic influence in her life as she has been in mine. Sometimes I daydream about my Great Great Grandchildren hanging my art on their walls. I wonder if they will get a sense of the kind of person I am and if they will create stories behind my images.
If you had an occupation outside of being an artist, what would that be and why?
I would want to be a surfer. Even though I have never surfed or been in the ocean for more than ten minutes, I most definitely would be a surfer. They seem to have such passion and respect for surfing. They are driven to go after that “feeling” that cannot be described unless you do it yourself.
Heather Oelklaus (1972, LeGrand, Iowa) is the Print Workshop Supervisor at Colorado College in Colorado Springs. Her photographic art has one foot in the darkroom and the other in alternative processes. Heather utilizes historic techniques such as Daguerreotype, wet plate collodion, instant film, cyanotype, salt prints, pinhole photography, mordancage, lumen, and chemigram. Experimentation within these processes is a foundation for her work. Tongue in cheek humor is a common thread throughout her art.
In 1991, Heather attended the Kansas City Art Institute where she majored in sculpture. She moved to Colorado Springs in 1997 with her husband, Jeffrey Oelklaus.
Heather is preparing work for her upcoming show “One of a Kind” at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center this summer. The work will include abstract and experiment photography.
All images copyright of the artist and used with their permission.