The first time I met Shae was on a cool spring day at a little French restaurant, Cafe Figaro in the Los Feliz area of Los Angeles. I've been captivated by her work for a while now so it was a great pleasure sitting down to talk with the artist. In no time we were discussing everything from film, family, music, fashion and of course her process and impeccable body of work.
I find your photos so intriguing as they portray this wonderland of divine feminine beings much like ancient times where women were revered as goddesses. Is this intentional?
I have a deep love of art history, mythology and literature and I think one of the consistent themes that I am drawn to is women being really true to who they are and leaning into their strength. Strength cannot be attained without vulnerability and for one to be vulnerable you have to push past your fears and insecurities and stand on your courage. I think men and women are both capable of incredible things, we both have beautiful capacities for kindness, empathy, creativity, love, forgiveness, playfulness, strength and we also have the ability to hurt others, to be hurt and to forgive and to be forgiven. Life is so fragile and complicated and nuanced for all genders, but the human spirit really prevails in the end, regardless. I think this book is very much a love letter to women, nature and color, but it wouldn’t have been possible without the female form and her connectedness to nature.
Women have certainly struggled throughout time, but they have also endured and their spirit has continued to shine bright throughout the ages and I look back to all of my favorite poets, writers and painters from the past and even though most of my favorites are men, the women creators I greatly esteem for their courage and bravery to follow their heart and dreams in a time when it was looked down upon to stand out, to speak out and to be artists.
Can you tell us a little about your process with hand painting the images and how you select the colors?
I started out about 14 years ago teaching myself to shoot film, and work in a darkroom. In the beginning years I was colorizing my images in a traditional more historical way, developing my film and printing it in my darkroom and colorizing the silver gelatin prints with Marshall oils. I didn’t want the images to feel historical, so I spent about 3 years experimenting and testing out tons of different papers and paints. I was searching for a process that would feel right to me, but I had to figure it out on my own by trial and error. I eventually landed on water colors and that became the process that I have now. I take photographs and then I print them out and then paint color into the images with watercolor by hand. When I am finished, I coat it with varnish and lately I have been building wood panels, mounting the pieces to that and then covering it in layers of epoxy resin.
Selecting colors is really just about me being in a certain mood at any given time and allowing myself to be in the moment. What colors are chosen really depends on the music I am listening to, things I am going through at the time or magical elements of chance and in the end the creation moment is inexplicable and mysterious. I get fixated on colors, so sometimes if I am really feeling yellow, it seems like everything I am making is yellow, and right now I am working on a new series and everything this last week has ended up being some version of green. There is no rhyme or reason to it, I just follow my gut feeling.
What would you say is your biggest source of inspiration?
Music, poetry, literature, nature and oil paintings from long ago.
There is a mythical element of sacred spirituality in your work uniting nature's landscape and women in our truest natural form. Is this something that progressed naturally?
I started photographing women in nature initially because I wanted the images to feel timeless and I knew that eliminating costumes and shooting in locations that were devoid of buildings and modern day life would allow me to create a world of my own around the landscapes.
I have been to so many incredible places, deep in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by nothing but trees, mountains, deserts, rivers and oceans and sometimes you are so far out in the middle of nowhere that it feels sort of scary. There is hardly ever any reception or gas stations and it makes you feel a little vulnerable. These landscapes have a very powerful energy and there definitely is a spiritual sense you get out there, and sometimes it feels like maybe whoever lived there long long ago, are sort of there with you. I have had a few sort of unnerving trips, where we felt like we were not alone out there…and it definitely makes you think about the spirit world. I have so much respect for these incredible places and shooting this series over the last 14 years is how I fell in love with nature.
How do you go about choosing locations?
I spend hours and hours, days and days just looking for locations online that hit me in a certain way and then the day of the shoot is when I hope they are as magical in person as they were in the photos online.
It’s so refreshing to see how you revere women in such a beautiful way. What advice do you have for women today?
My advice would be to read a lot, to stay really open, to be in the moment, to be kind and when you make a mistake, own up to it, apologize and ask for forgiveness and even if you aren’t forgiven, you forgive yourself and keep going knowing that you tried to make it right. Stay curious, and try to remember that each day is a gift. I love to read because it ignites my creativity and I always learn new things and feel inspired.
I love this quote by Emerson:
“Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day. You shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson
What are 5 albums you can’t live without?
Townes Van Zandt: Live at the old Quarter Houston, Texas
Jimmy Eat World: Clarity
Elliott Smith: XO
Brett Detar: Bird In The Tangle
Excellent choices! We would like to thank the lovely Shae Detar for taking the time to speak with us! Be sure to check out her breathtaking body of work available now.