“My artwork examines the place where creativity, science, and spirituality meet…”
Paul Zimmerman in conversation with Leslie Ebert
Paul Zimmerman: How did you develop an interest in abstract photography?
Leslie Ebert: I was painting abstracts from the concept of interconnectedness when photography found me with the help of a muse. A cross form randomly appeared in my living room with no origin and moved over the course of several weeks almost entirely around the room, where it appeared again at a micro-scale in a bowl of fruit. Since that day, abstraction through close-up photography is my chosen point of view on the world. For me, this is where the poetry and mystery of life reside. I appreciate how abstracts challenge us to step out of our preconceived ideas. They ask us to take a closer look, to reconsider what we are looking at, what it reminds us of, and how it makes us feel. I am interested in making work that invokes a physical sensation of expansiveness when you take a moment to stop and look into one of my images. I am interested in capturing a glimpse of what else there is. In the words of Minor White, ‘One does not photograph something simply for what it is, but for what else it is.’
PZ: What is the most challenging aspect of your work?
LE: Keeping up with technology. Between the constant improvements in image quality and upgrades to editing programs, it is a continuous challenge to reach a level of mastery over your tools. How to store digital image files long term without them degrading or the format becoming obsolete are an ongoing dilemma.
PZ: How do you find the balance between technology and artist expression?
LE: This is a challenge, a camera is tech., as soon as you pick it up you are including technology, so your always somewhere along the spiraling figure 8 of creativity, with varying degrees of expression and technology. One thing I do is limit my post production time on the computer, by limiting my editing to a few basic tools. This helps me to stay in alignment with photography and my intention to show you what I have found, rather than inventing imagery which is the role of digital artists. If I have been working with electronics too much my thinking will get frenzied, I have learned to identify this before I get there and I will go ground myself in nature, by taking a walk, working in my garden or doing some yoga on the back porch, feet planted firmly on the ground. I have been lucky to be able to immerse myself in a creative life. No matter what demands my attention, I return to my creative practice over and over again; If I don’t get to use my creativity regularly I get short tempered. Being creative is my center, it is the place where I feel most myself.
PZ: What is your goal when your start a new piece? Do you have something in mind?
LE: Ultimately my goal is to reveal some essential truth about the nature of our world. I work in series; each series starts with the premise to capture the play of light in motion around us at the micro-scale. Something will trigger me to want to take a picture, a feeling or a glint of light, a shadow or reflection. Once I have identified a location or an object I want to work with, I use the zoom lens of the camera to look for something I have not seen before, a mark or collection of shapes or textures I have not encountered. This discovery happens through a process of meditation when I connect with what I am photographing, being in stillness with my subject, and expecting to find something unique about it.
PZ: Where do you find inspiration?
LE: Curiosity has never failed to lead me to inspiration. As an only child creativity was my constant companion, with supplies of materials always ready to entertain me. I became fascinated with the creative process, how it works, why it sometimes feels like an actual guiding presence, while other times a connection can not be made. My artwork examines the place where creativity, science, and spirituality meet, providing visual metaphors for how all of life is interconnected, possibly through these subtle vibrations of light, sound, and energy.
PZ: How has your practice changed over time?
LE: As I have evolved, my art also has changed to reflect that growth. My work with digital photography is the continuation of this journey of passing threw life phases. Answering for myself the big questions, what does it all mean? Why am I here? How am I contributing?
PZ: Which artists are you most influenced by?
LE: As a student of art history, my artwork has many touch points to the past. I share the Impressionist painter’s fascination with the changing qualities of light. I use color as a visual language, much like Lyrical Abstraction and Expressionism. I am interested in finding a spiritual reality, just as the Symbolists were striving to make the spiritual world visible through metaphorical imagery. I cross over with the brief Rayonism movement of Russia that brought science and metaphysical ideas together to develop new ways of expressing the radiant energy and directional quality of light. More recently, I have been particularly delighted to find the spiritual imagery of Hilma AF Klint. As well as Thomas Wilfred’s light projections. My work does not fit clearly into any of these approaches yet crosses through all of them.
PZ: How do you define art?
LE: “All art is self-expression, but all self-expression is not art.” Borrowing this quote from Matthew McConaughey’s book – Greenlights, I leave this question about defining art to the curators, educators, and art writers. Defining art does not interest me; making it does.
PZ: What are you working on now?
LE: I have been shooting video clips of these light forms, capturing how the marks and colors transform as they move and you move around them. Wondering how sound waves might affect these patterns. There is something mesmerizing about the translucency and the layering of colors and shapes that brings to mind changing elemental states of matter, as they sometimes appear as layers of liquids, gaseous haze, flames, and streaks of lightning. The shapes morph and transform, sometimes appearing as scenes before reappear much as they were. There is a depth of beauty in the ever-changing form of the light that makes these images meaningful for me. They are more than the documentation of light forms at a micro-scale. They suggest to me the existence of other dimensions, parallel realities, the possibility of spiritual realms or afterlife.
PZ: How does the pandemic influence your work and sensibility?
LE: Like all of us, where I look for inspiration has gone inward. I have kept my creative practice going by continuing to look to my home/studio as a place to photograph, tuning into the changing light conditions of the day and the objects around my house for playful optical phenomena. I have turned online to sites like Etsy and eBay to source and repurpose all kinds of lenses for their optical properties. I have spent more time reading about other abstract photographers. I am keep up with what other contemporary photographers do through social media, while working to increase my online presence.
PZ: How do you see the roll of the artist in society at this time?
LE: I believe strongly in the power of art to transform us. Artists can open minds by revealing optional points of view. Everyone has experienced the – what we focus on expands; I don’t believe in rehashing the past for that very reason. The point of the current trend of social justice art, should be to move us forward to what we want, not dwell in creating more of what has been. The creative process is an excellent instrument of personal healing. Art produced with a universal healing intention becomes a medicinal that gives back to our communities through its subtle radiance of that healing intention. Our world desperately needs more art made from a healing place to rebalance the current uncertainty with positive emotions ranging from peaceful tranquility to optimism, passion, and bliss.