— At first you don’t notice that she is there, but she is definitely aware of you. Her camera has already shot five, maybe six frames of you as you study the new exhibit at the Akron Art Museum, or as you check out the latest speaker at a Creative Cog event. Shane Wynn is one of Akron’s best-known photographers. You might have seen her work in magazines like Akron Life or Edible Cleveland, or in local magazines like the Devil Strip.
If there’s an event Akron, she’s likely there with camera in hand. She even created a vast collection of stock photographs for a Knight Foundation funded project called Akron Stock, which offers beautiful images of Akron free of charge. And most recently, she was the sole photographer for the “You Had Me at Akron” campaign. She seems to be wherever things are happening.
Pinning her down proved to be a little daunting. This woman has to eat sometime, so I invited her out for lunch. In typical Shane Wynn fashion, her entrance went almost without notice. She blended right in with the other hat-wearing, jacket-wrapped women in the restaurant, but when she turned to face the room, her smile gave her away almost instantly. We ordered our food and sat down to wait. It was the perfect time to begin to pepper her with questions and comments.
I start by asking Shane about her nonstop work schedule and she replies, “I shoot a lot. I mean, when I am having fun I am very good at focusing on that. When I have my kids I put my camera away and I focus on them, but otherwise that is what I do. I do enjoy my work so I don’t mind doing it all the time. And I have to. If you are going to do this as a career in Akron, Ohio, you have to hustle.” She laughs ironically and reiterates, “You have to hustle it man. I’m hustling.”
I ask Shane about her life as a working mother and she says, “I kind of changed the focus of my life about a year and a half ago. I was shooting weddings. (I) Shot weddings for 21 years. I appreciated it. That is where I learned a lot of my skills, where I accumulated all of my equipment. I am very grateful for it.”
She goes on to say that while she was ready for new challenges after 21 years of weddings, she sis thankful for the flexibility working as a wedding photographer gave her.
“I held on to it for as long as I did because it was a great job to have with young children,” she says. “I nursed my children. I co-slept with my children. I did that close mothering so that worked out for me.”
While photographing weddings, Shane also worked for eight years taking photographs for Akron Life Magazine. She really enjoyed it, but she knew that to pay the bills, freelancing for one magazine would not be enough. “I knew I needed many more of those and so, for about a year and a half that was my goal. I needed to get on people’s radar.”
Creating her own opportunities
The waitress arrives with our food, interrupting the flow of words for the second time that afternoon. The table is rearranged, we begin to eat, and Shane continues, “I engaged people. Sometimes I would just shoot something and then I would post it. People would say ‘I want you to do some more of that.’”
Shane began seeking out work with numerous publications while simultaneously rediscovering her love for creating art. She had studied fine art photography, but put it aside while her kids were really young, a recurring theme in Shane’s life.
Gradually, Shane created opportunities for herself. She met lots of new people she wanted to work with and began to build a client base. As she became more involved in the civic world and the arts world, she learned about the Knight Foundation and GAR Foundation’s Arts and Culture Landscape Study. She views that first arts and culture meeting as the time and place she started to re-emerge in the arts community.
When I ask Shane about her work with clients she says that she works with a number of clients, many of whom she rarely sees. She explains, “They e-mail me. They give me an assignment. I don’t really see them. Actually, I work for people I’ve never met, which is interesting. It’s like working for Charlie, like you’re Charlie’s angel and they are over the intercom. So I show up and I do my job. It is all virtual. I upload it, I Dropbox it, I email it, and it’s in the paper.”
One advantage of Shane’s 21st-century working arrangement is she avoids the pitfalls of office drama. “I do well bopping in and out.” She waves her hand in the air and laughs. ”The politics are not there.”
Next I ask Shane about the photographs themselves and her ability to spot photographic moments. She shares that her process is simple: she is always looking, always searching so she is ready when those moments present themselves.
Her secret to taking good photographs is really not a secret at all. “You have to take a lot of pictures. Well, at least I do. I can’t speak for anyone else. You shoot a lot and then there is a process; it’s like learning a language you have observed over time. You become your own curator of moments. Then you learn to see them. For me it was difficult. I feel like there are people who learn this skill much quicker than I did. It wasn’t easy for me. It took a lot of looking and learning by myself, a lot of shooting and failing.”
Surprised that this confident and talented photographer was ever unsure of her ability, I ask if she realizes at this point how good she is at what she does and if she feels like she has a firm grasp on what she is doing. Shane responds, “I do feel like that now, honestly, but I feel like it took every single one of those twenty-one years.”
She adds, ”I have my bag of equipment. I can show up and I can pretty much do almost anything. It’s not saying that to brag, it took me all that time. I can do that now, but it took forever. I think that’s why a lot of people don’t make it all the way through, it’s painful for your ego. It’s painful.”
Shane has moved past that stage in her career and I wonder if she feels like an artist now. “I do, I am a creative person. Honestly, I don’t get to make artwork as much as I would like. It’s actually pretty rare, but the things I do are artistic. I’ve avoided calling myself anything, but if people call you something enough than I guess you are that.
“I spent a long time building up the simple skills, but then when you get to a certain level it’s more about the nuances. Then it’s a lot more fun. I show up anywhere and I’m like ‘I can shoot this,’ but then I‘m like, ‘I CAN SHOOT THIS! Yeah!’ It’s really awesome.”
Knowing from an early age
Shane’s determination, work ethic, and artistic dreams were nurtured from an early age. Says Shane of her upbringing, “My mom is very cool. She supported any of us in whatever we wanted to do. She said (to me), ‘you’re an artist,’ however she figured that out. ‘You need to talk to your art teacher and go do something after school.’ So I told my art teacher, who is an amazing man, Mr. Hoyt (She’s still friends with him). I told him I wanted to do ceramics. I did what my mom said. I went in after school and he said, ‘Well, my ceramic wheel is broken. Here’s a camera.’”
Shane had a talent and she worked for the school yearbook and newspaper, the Buchtelite at the University of Akron, and for the West Side Leader.
“I really love it. I love magazines; pictures in magazines. I can go to a bookstore and just look at pictures in magazines all day. So beautiful.” She smiles big. “I guess I just like everything. My room when I was 13, was wallpapered from top to bottom with black and white magazine pictures.”
When I ask her to tell me about a recent project, Shane’s eyes grow big and she smiles. “I shot for the Popsmith recently. That was fun because melting popsicles, you know? That was so fun. I was having a blast. I was so excited to work with them. I was like ‘I get to shoot popsicles, and yeah, they melt; drippy stick and the frosty-like ice particles. That was fun!”
Next, she shares the story of photographing a Nepali jewelry maker in North Hill. “They brought out all this exotic, beautiful jewelry. It was cool. There was foreign writing on the wall and I got a nice shot. They were really happy to see me and I was really happy to be with them. It was a cool scene.”
What is next for Shane Wynn? The possibilities are wide-open and she couldn’t be happier about it.
“You know what? I am totally wired. I am excitable when I talk about things that excite me. As of late, my brain is exploding and i am like so excited! There are so many exciting things happening for me.”
She adds, “I have the Arts Challenge, and I am also a finalist on the City Challenge. I have to focus on those. I don’t know what happened. I am on cloud nine.”
The Knight Arts Challenge grant she was recently awarded will involve photos of empowered women in underused spaces throughout Akron. She received matching funds for this project last year from the Torchbearers’ SPARK program.
Before our time together is finished, Shane shares some final thoughts about her future: “I would love, when I retire, and like I said I am a planner, I know what I want to do when I retire. I would like to work for travel magazines. The only way to work for magazines is to work for magazines. So, I am putting in my time. I will have a ton of experience by then. I guess I am kind of dogged. I can concentrate on one thing for a long time.”
This ever-gracious creature laughing so happily at the way her life has unfolded in the last two years is eager to get back to work. Her happiness is contagious. People smile at us from other tables, most of then unaware that at any given time they too might become the subject of her craft. After sitting for an hour and a half she gets up, still full of energy and ready to go on to her next assignment. She picks up her bag, slings it over her shoulder and walks toward the door.