Photographer John A. Barrett, Jr is a dedicated nature lover who was born and raised in Texas. He received a BA in Philosophy and Political Science from Amherst College and a JD from Harvard Law School. After practicing international business law in Colorado, John moved to Ohio to become a law professor at the University of Toledo. He is currently serving as the Interim Provost at the University and will be returning to the law faculty at the end of his appointment. John teaches a variety of business law courses, including International Business Law, NAFTA, EU Law, International Environmental Law, Comparative Law, Federal Income Tax and Business Organizations.
When his schedule permits, John packs his photography gear and travels to remote locations to photograph wildlife and nature. To date, John has visited all seven continents, climbed the Matterhorn and Mt Kilimanjaro and trekked to the Everest Base Camp. At home, he likes to dabble in molecular gastronomy.
John presently resides in Toledo, Ohio, with his wife (a fellow photographer and traveling companion) of 28 years, Valerie, and their dog, Koda. Recently, John spoke to the Examiner about his experiences working as a photographer:
Meagan Meehan (M.M.): How and when did you decide to become a photographer?
John Barrett (J.B.): I have been interested in photography since I was a teenager. I set up a darkroom in a spare bathroom and would take photographs of nature, experimenting with composition and angles. As an adult, photography has always been a big part of my travels. However, my emphasis shifted heavily toward wildlife after my first trip to Africa in 2001. During that trip, I travelled to Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda and fell in love with photographing animals. Since then, I have travelled to all seven continents in search of interesting animal experiences.
M.M.: Growing up, which artists/types of art interested you?
J.B.: I have been fortunate to be able to visit many of the world’s great museums in my travels, and my taste in art is quite broad. I am particularly fond of the paintings of Miro and Matisse and the sculptures of Moore and Giacometti. Of course, as a wildlife and nature photographer, I am also a big fan of Ansel Adams and Philip Hyde.
M.M.: How would you describe your photography and what inspires it?
J.B.: I think of myself as an animal portraitist and storyteller. While I enjoy taking action photographs, my real passion is capturing emotions. Much of my work is focused on animals’ expressive faces. My photographs show joy, playfulness, anger, fear, pride and vulnerability. These emotions resonate with the viewer, drawing them into the photographs. My inspiration comes from the animals themselves as they go about their routines, and I strive to convey something unique about them. It was fascinating to watch the response to my work at ArtExpo in New York City in April 2016. I heard from a lot of the attendees that they felt a connection to one or more of my photographs because they were either moved by the emotions captured in the image or were intrigued by the story. One of my photographs in particular was a crowd favorite – a 20×30 picture of a baby Japanese Macaque (also known as a Snow Monkey). The monkey is sitting on a rock, slightly submerged in the water with snow falling around her. The expression on her face is one of forlorn and vulnerability. Many of the people who visited my booth were drawn to this image and told me they had the urge to console the monkey and give her a hug. It was not surprising that it was the first image to sell off my booth wall!
M.M.: How did you go about getting into galleries and/or public showcases?
J.B.: I am relatively new to public showcases. My first exhibit was last year at the University of Toledo. The Dean of the arts college approached me about displaying my work in a three-month exhibit, featuring eighteen photographs. Based on the success of that exhibit, I presented a portfolio of my work to the National Center for Nature Photography (NCNP) and was accepted for a three-month show, which begins in August 2016. Based on the reaction to my first exhibit and of the Director of the NCNP, I decided to try selling my work at a trade show and applied to FotoSolo, a juried show that is part of ArtExpo in New York City. The four day show ran from April 14-17, with the first day designated as trade only, followed by three days of general public attendance. It was an extremely interesting experience. Never having done a trade show before, the learning curve was a little steep and I made a few rookie mistakes. However, the reaction to my work was extremely positive, and the feedback I got from the trade and general public was invaluable. Not only did I make some great contacts, but I also sold work at the show and have made web sales since that show.
M.M.: Do you have a favorite image? If so, which one and why?
J.B.: It is difficult to choose just one image from my body of work, but I am partial to “Squawk,” a photograph of a Galapagos Gull with a wide-open mouth. I am drawn to the piercing stare of the large black eyes trimmed in red, and love the straight-on view into the bird’s mouth, something one rarely sees.
M.M.: What are your mediums of choice?
J.B.: I like bold, colorful prints and I produce all my images as Paper, Canvas and Metal Prints. I really like the effect you get from Metal Prints. Like paper, the medium is unforgiving, in the sense that your images must be crisp and clear. With Metal Prints, the image is infused into the aluminum giving the final product a brilliance and vibrancy, which is also durable, scratch-resistant and lightweight. I love the fact that my images can stand on their own, without the need for matting and framing.
M.M.: Are there any mediums that you haven’t worked with yet but hope to soon?
J.B.: Silver Gelatin prints
M.M.: How did you develop your unique style?
J.B.: My style has developed after years of photographing wildlife and nature around the world. I have learned that patience and time can lead to some very interesting photographs. Predominately, I focus on the faces of animals, trying to capture an expression. Photographing animals can be challenging – they do whatever they want, whenever they want, often closing their eyes or turning their heads at just the wrong moment, so I put a lot of time in and am always grateful for whatever nature gives me.
M.M.: To date, what has been the most rewarding experience involving your photography and/or being a photographer?
J.B.: My photography is an outgrowth of my love for nature, so my first joy is being out in nature observing and experiencing a moment with an animal, and capturing that moment. Now that I have begun to show my work, I find it very gratifying, and humbling, when someone makes an emotional connection to one of my images.
M.M.: What advice would you give to someone who is aspiring to become an artist?
J.B.: First, try to find a viewpoint that is uniquely your own. There is a lot of competition in the photography world and you need to stand-out from the crowd. Second, you have to decide whether you are going to try to make a living as an artist, because this will likely impact your lifestyle or what you produce. I am fortunate that I can pursue my photography on my own terms since I make my living as a professor. Although I would happily live out of a duffle bag travelling around the world photographing animals if the opportunity presented itself (Hello “National Geographic”!), this would be a major change in how my wife and I live our lives. Finally, I would encourage an aspiring artist to get your work out in any way possible. Hang your art in your home, your parent’s home, your workspace (if permitted), etc. Use your images in your daily life, as gift cards, calendars and screen savers. Don’t be afraid to put your images and yourself out there. You never know who will take an interest in your work.
M.M.: Are there any upcoming projects and/or events that you would like to mention?
J.B.: The next showing of my work will be at Art on the Mall, a local art fair, in Toledo on Sunday, July 31, 2016. The National Center for Nature Photography (NCNP) has graciously offered me a three-month exhibit starting in August 2016. My exhibit will feature around 150 photographs and I will be conducting several workshops during the three-month run. The NCNP is located in Sylvania, Ohio in the Secor Metropark. My work can also be viewed on my website where I add new pieces on an ongoing basis.
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To learn more about John Barrett visit his official website and Facebook.