EK Interview: Shae Detar

Shae Detar

Shae Detar‘s photography portrays the world she wishes to see. Borrowing from the surreality of nature, Shae paints photographs in brilliant pastels, making work that is visually stunning. Her models are predominantly naked, taking the photographs out of time, and giving them an other worldly sensation that, to quote Goldilocks, is just right. Check out her interview for more about how rad she is:

You use a technique that dates back to the early 1900s to hand paint your negatives, how did you discover the technique? Can you tell us about your first explorations with this medium?
I don’t hand paint negatives. I paint on my photographs, after I have printed them out. I started painting on magazine photos when I was really young, like 12 or 13. I made collages and painted magazine photos all through my childhood, but I never thought of it as anything other than just something fun I would do. I was training to be an actor from around 12 yrs old & on-wards, and I did theater and commercials and auditioned for films, etc. So I was dead set on being a full-time actor and didn’t think of art at all. When I took a break from acting to model in Milan around 18 years old, my roommate there saw my painted photo collages and suggested I go to art school. I had literally never even thought of the idea. So, I came home to NYC and applied to SVA and got in. But I went to SVA for Graphic design, which I didn’t enjoy, so I quit after 2 years and did other things in life. I never liked being on the computer, I wanted to make everything with my hands and paint and cut things up, but they wanted us to be in photoshop and use text and obsess over fonts and I just didn’t vibe it. So, it wasn’t until I was 30 years old that I picked up a camera, began taking my own photos and started painting and collaging my prints, as I had always done, but this time on my very own photos. It was all very natural.


How has the way you approach a photograph, the composition, and the framing changed since you began? How has your use of color on negatives changed your approach? How have you evolved or advanced from a technical perspective in that time and how has your choice of medium mediated or assisted that evolution?
I wasn’t formally trained, and I learned everything I know by trial and error, or through watching youtube video tutorials about lighting or cameras, basically just throwing myself out there and trying things and learning as I go. Little by little I’ve learned about light, shadows, composition, how to be a leader on set, and how to be selective about who or what you photograph, how to save time, how to say no, when to say yes. You learn all these valuable lessons by constantly doing, by making a lot of mistakes, by taking chances, by facing fears. Through all of that, just like anything in life, you grow and you find your vision and you hone in on specific areas that seem to be your strengths or maybe you get down and dirty for awhile with areas you don’t excel at in order to become good at them. As for color, truly not much has changed for me there, except that I have retired painting things certain colors, because people start to copy on the internet and I just lose interest when that happens. I move to the next thing, constantly trying to excite myself and challenge myself to be more and more inventive. I never want to stay in one style, I have to feel like I am growing or I get bored. I love color, it’s my muse, so I am generally pretty adventurous with color. As for techniques, aside from what I already mentioned, I am not shooting film much anymore. In 2015 I had to choose between a few things, one being that I paint these images at very large scales (6 and 7 feet), which costs a lot of money, and takes a lot of time. I don’t have the time and money to spend on both film (and all that entails) PLUS printing huge pieces to paint (which, as I said is expensive and time-consuming). I had to pick and choose somewhere and I made choices that I felt would suit my process and output flow best. 😉


As far as I can tell, all of your models are female, can you tell us why? What is different about the female form from the male form that appeals to you artistically? How do you think your viewers will interpret the prevalence of female form in your work?
It’s true indeed. I AM a woman, I know what it’s like to walk around and be a woman, how the world looks at us and how it feels to interact with people in different environments. I know firsthand of the fears we have as women, the extra lengths you have to go to, to be safe as a woman, the injustices we’ve faced and continue to take on. I know the emotional world we encompass within ourselves, the complexities of sexuality and how it affects us and men and all of it…it’s just all so apart of me, that I suppose when I step out to make a piece of art, I’m just expressing myself in this world that I live in…as a woman!


I don’t know how viewers will interpret my use of predominately female subjects, nor do I really think it matters. I’m just expressing myself and if they want to see men in paintings or photos…the internet is over-saturated with everything you could possibly want, so they can surely have their needs met, somewhere! 🙂
I try to stay true to myself and if I want to paint a guy, I will…and maybe I will at some point…but right now, I’m just making whatever comes to me or feels important to me in the moment.


What can you say with a naked body that you cannot with one that is clothed? Are their expressions, emotions, parts of language, culture, or ideology that you can only access with nudity or covered skin? What does the use of nudity in your work mean to you, why is it important to you?
Well, for one, clothing immediately can date a photo or painting. Nudity is so classical…it’s hard to put a time and place on a nude body in art and I love that. Most of my favorite pieces of art were either nudes, landscapes, or epic scenes with women and men in next to nothing, maybe a cloth covering private areas. I think the body in general makes for a beautiful image and when I use it in my work, I’m in no way trying to send out any sexual messages. I personally don’t try to do that, I’m not trying to be controversial, or turn anyone on…but if that happens, well, that’s just how the viewer sees it and that’s totally fine. I make these images and I send them out into the world, and one person is affected by them one way while another is moved by it in another way and that’s great! But my intention from the start is just to make something that I like, and sometimes that’s a very classical image, sometimes it’s surrealism, sometimes it’s collage based, or psychedelic, or more impressionistic….I just follow my instincts and make what I feel.


Much of your work involves nature, and often in locations that look far from remote or far out. How do you find these places? What drives you to shoot there? What kind of logistical challenges have you faced shooting in nature and how have you overcome them?
I love nature. Color and nature are the most exciting muses for me. Nature is SOOO creative and animals are SOOO amazing. Animals and plants and everything in nature…they are a million times more creative than any painting I have ever seen. I’m blown away by nature. I’m also very moved by the idea of how life must have been when humans lived in more remote areas, or when people’s worlds seemed so much smaller…because they didn’t have ways to travel like we do now, or lines of communication like today. I always tend to place my subjects in places that are cinematic…or otherworldly, because those are things I love. I’m an NYC girl, no doubt, but there’s this part of me that loves the idea of a life on a hill in England, with horses and a farm and living life like a scene from “Far From the Madding Crowd”. But there’s also this very surrealist, universe obsessed, futuristic, and A.I. type stuff that fascinates me and sometimes my mind goes there and things end up being way more surreal and wacky. It all depends on my mood, but whatever mood it is, there’s a landscape that can match my inner visuals perfectly.


What does nature mean to you, what value does it have? A number of your pieces have a color palette and saturation that is unnatural, and bordering on hallucinogenic. How do you expect this contrast to strike the viewer? Is there something in particular you are trying to say by imposing colors that are unnatural to the world but recognizable and accessible, if not commonplace, in the world of humans?
I know the way color affects me, and I assume it affects some people in similar ways. So I can only make what feels natural and inspiring to myself and hope that it will move someone else in one way or another. I think nature is incredible, and if you look at certain places in the world, like remote areas of China, Turkey, Iceland, Alaska, deep in the seas, Yellowstone, even parts of Utah and AZ, the Northern Lights, sunsets, Aurora Borealis, volcanoes, Lavender fields, the incredible colors of fish in the sea, or crystals in caves…I mean this list can go on and on and on…these are all VERY surreal images…and they are just natural things that happen in nature. So what I do, is really just exaggerate landscapes the way I wish they were all the time…but the world has some wild things happening in nature…more trippy than any watercolor or acrylic I make!


What was the most recent thing you shot? What are you working on next?
I photographed 2 plus sized women in Pennsylvania a month ago, which was amazing, they were beautiful. I climbed some very tall trees for that shoot. I have yet to paint them because I am trying to paint a ton of large-scale works for my first solo show this year, which will be in Berlin and also prepping for a show in NYC. I have a lot of painting to do!