Interview With Visual Artist Sarah Rauner

There are two Texas towns on my 'favorites' list of places we can drive to in a reasonable amount of time on a Saturday. One town is McKinney, and the other is Waxahachie. Why do I consider them favorites?

They have preserved a large number of houses built in a bygone era. The beauty and grandeur of those homes still stand for eyes to behold. I have driven through the neighborhoods and I have walked through them.

For me, the sense of a connection to the past is soothing. Not everything about the past, of course. The good things. The sense of family gathered and drinking lemonade on the wrap-around porch. Taking time to just be.

The first thing I noticed about Sarah Rauner's work is her use of homes and buildings from the past in her pictures. However, what really got my attention was the way they are distorted in some ways, leaning heavily, or somehow twisting to my eyes. To my interpretation, the houses are sturdy. Hearty. Survivors.

There is more to Sarah Rauner's work than older homes. There is a sense of community and place. However, as you will see, she is a versatile artist who draws from a number of influences and genres to create an eclectic collection of work.

Sarah Rauner

The Last Bearing

In your Etsy profile, you make several statements I think are very interesting. To start with, you write “I am organized chaos” and “I am an artist in my mind, still trying to deliver it from my mind...” Could you explain these statements and how they color what you do?

I diagnosed myself as organized chaos about three years ago when asked to do a self portrait for a challenge. We were to create a photo describing ourselves and after several days I came to the conclusion that I am “organized chaos“. Chaos is where I live. Everything I do is chaotic, it's just the way my brain works. And that carries over into my artwork.

I’ve tried to do clean minimal work because I love that kind of art, but my mind just doesn’t see it that way. If you were to open a window and take a peek into my brain, first you would probably be scared, then you would find it exhausting, I find it exhausting. But definitely don’t try to fix me because then I would be lost. There is a method to my madness. My house and mind may be chaos but I know the where and why of every random object and thought there. Which leads to the delivering it from my mind.

I constantly see pictures in my mind. I have always felt I had the heart of an artist. I started drawing and writing poetry at a very young age. I received my first camera at the age of five and took art classes in school. But I’ve always struggled with the feeling of mediocre. I couldn’t produce the intensity I saw in my mind. But the digital world has allowed me to start doing so.

How does what you do affect your state of mind?

Creating has been the best therapy for my mind. It's kind of a release for me, gets out some of the clutter and makes room for more. Sometimes I have such random thoughts and images go through my mind that I feel they will make me crazy. My art calms my thinking. It helps me not feel confined.

How does a sense of chaos help you create your work?

I think the chaos helps to keep me creative. I have so many things going through my mind at one time that they overlap and pile up and that, a lot of the time, is what  inspires a vision. I am able to process many thoughts at one time.

Glyndon Hotel

If I Could

Late Again

When viewing your work, I thought I saw influences of realism, surrealism, and abstract art. Would you say that is true? What would you say are your influences and inspirations?

That is definitely true. My first love is abstract, which seems ,for me, to be the hardest to create. But most of my work I would describe as surrealism. I love to create whimsical or fantasy images. I like to create a scene that almost looks normal but is definitely not. I want my viewer to get a glimpse into my imagination.

Some of my influences are Norman Rockwell and Salvador Dali….yes two different worlds, but I love the everyday people in NR stuff, but love the chaos and sickness of Dali. Call me weird, oh yeah most people already do.
How did you get started in your craft?

About 7 years ago I started working with a friend of mine as a photographer, mostly portraits and such. It was my first digital camera and my first experience with Photoshop. I started with Photoshop 7 and she and I together, one day at a time, figured it out. At the time I was also working as a nail tech and did photography part time. Two years ago I went full time into photography and digital art. And in the two years I have been full time,  I have acquired Photoshop CS2. And with the help of tutorials online have spent hours learning as much as I can to help in this process of creating "Art".

Dreams Do Come True

Paint This Town

The Rising Sun Cafe

Some of your pictures have a vibrant, heightened-color type feel, such as 'Dreams Do Come True,' while others feel as though the final effect is watercolor or is muted in some way, such as 'Paint This Town.' Some subjects within your images are proportionally in tact, while others have obvious distortions, such as in the proportions of the buildings in 'Rising Sun Cafe'. Many times these elements seem to be mixed within one picture.

How would you describe your art?

I often don’t even realize I am mixing distortions with realistic objects, it just happens. I guess this comes from a little personality quirk I have. I hate perfection in the sense of perfectly neat and straight. Objects in my home are never centered or even. My furniture, if I can get away with it, is slightly crooked. Nothing ever matches perfectly, my photography is always a little off from what is considered technically correct. Although I try to do “normal”, my brain isn’t wired that way. So my art is almost never “perfect”, it is always, in some form I guess, flawed. So I guess there it is – “Flawed”.

But we’ll just call it photo manipulation/digital painting or digital collage.

I think it is fair to say that many of your pictures utilize a heightened imagination, even fantasy. Do you see the images in your minds' eye before you begin, or do ideas come to you as you manipulate the images?

I have been asked this many times and the answer is both. Some come to me as images, some in words, some even in dreams, some never take on a recognizable form, just a feeling.  But sometimes I have no idea what to do until I start manipulating and throwing everything but the kitchen sink into the image. But some are truly inspired and those are my favorites. Like “The Last Bearing” or “Freedom Dancer”.

Little Cowboys

The distortions in the houses in many of your images got my attention first. In the case of “Little Cowboys”, the juxtaposition of the house makes it seem as though the house is climbing skyward to my eyes. What inspired you to use distortions in that way?

Again the dislike of perfect form I guess. And I like to evoke "unrestricted thought" and create distractions from reality. Normal is highly overrated.

You mention in your Etsy profile, “ I need to photograph.” However, your work goes beyond the photograph. Most if not all are additionally manipulated in some way, with varying degrees of departure from photo to painting in effect depending on the image. What drives your need to photograph? What drives your art thereafter?

I once started asking people around me if they could have 3 superpowers what would they be, and mine were to take pictures with my eyes (for obvious reasons), to be invisible ( I could take pics anywhere of anything/anyone without compromising the scene) and to be able to teleport (so I could go anywhere I wanted in the world and take photos).

Everything I do is motivated by photography. Everything I see is a potential photo op. If I don’t carry a camera with me everywhere and take photos, I am haunted by moments I missed, you can't get them back, you can try to recreate them, but its not the same as catching that untainted moment.

When I upload photos onto my computer I immediately start to imagine these captured scenes or objects combined. Some photos are perfect left alone, but most can be better. I always imagine the six million dollar man theme song…Gentlemen I can rebuild it, I have the technology, I have the capability…lol.

I often wondered why my photography was so odd now I know it was meant for something different.

Taking 'Bville 3' as an example, would you mind describing your creative process of photo manipulation?

Bville 3 was a commission piece, two of the homes included belong to my customer and her sister and she wanted to create a Brooksville scene including their homes and surprise her sister with it. This piece was one of the easiest for me because the sisters' home has Halloween-like decorations on it year round, so I immediately was drawn to a somewhat eerie feel.

Every piece is inspired by a thought, a statement, a request, a dream, a fear…etc. The manipulations just sort of follow how I am feeling at the moment. Some days they are more extreme. It is actually quite a process that can take hours to days to weeks to complete. Some pieces can include a hundred different photos, some only a few.

The hardest thing for me creatively is sometimes I can spend days on a piece and trash it because I don’t want empty images. I have to feel some emotion when I look at it, even if it just makes me laugh, or say to myself “what is wrong with you?”

What tools are essential to you for what you do?

Well first of course is my Nikon. Then, obviously a computer, in my case a [1-terabyte] laptop.

I use several different programs, but the main one being Photoshop. Then the greatest invention ever the Wacom tablet. The tablet and pen has changed my world. Not only does it make my work much more precise, I can draw and paint digitally to create original pieces.

There are a series of images in your work from your hometown of Brooksville, Florida. Would you mind describing Brooksville?

I have lived in Brooksville for about 16 years now, most people have been here their whole lives. It’s a small town where everybody either knows you are someone related to you. We are about 50-60 miles north of Tampa. My family and I moved here from Tampa. We wanted to move our children out of the city and give them a different lifestyle than we had experienced.

Parts of our little town have hills, believe or not, in Florida, which is what attracted us to this area in the first place. The downtown area is small but has a beautiful courthouse and the old homes are amazing.

There are two homes you see in several of my pieces, one is referred to as “The Lemon House” sometimes (the house in “The Parsonage” and the other is sometimes referred to as “The Saxon Home” (the house in “If I could”) . The Saxon home is literally falling apart, which makes it that more interesting, but sad…It is my dream home, although I will never own it. Another home in some of my pieces is actually a museum and is haunted if you like that sort of thing. There are still many homes I have yet to photograph that are beautiful old homes. I just love the Victorian era and I guess that is the style of a lot of these homes.

I really love this town, I feel like it is “home”.

Welcome to Bville

Christmas on Main

Bville 3

How did you become interested in using Brooksville as a subject for your work?

It all started with “The Saxon Home” , I was so in love with it, I just had to photograph it. Then of course I knew the resident of “The Lemon House” and asked if I could photograph it. Then as I was admiring the photos one day my daughter walked up behind me and said, “You should make a cityscape of our little town of Brooksville.” My mind started reeling. A few weeks later “Welcome to B-ville” was unveiled, just in time for my first art show ever. Art in the Park in Brooksville .

It was such a huge hit that I have just continued with the theme. The Brooksville pieces are one of the biggest sellers in our little café downtown “The Rising Sun Café” ,which is the focus in the second of the Brooksville series.

I do love this town, we are struggling (businesses) but we have hope. Our biggest attraction to the town of Brooksville was The Christmas House which closed a few years ago, it was sad, and it has hurt our community. But we try to support each other. The Rising Sun Café has done a great job of supporting the local artists and farmers by displaying many different talents in their café , they rotate artists to display, and have been a big part of our Brooksville market every Saturday for local vendors to set up and offer their products to the community.

When I viewed, “Lyrical Beauty,” I felt there were so many possible interpretations to the picture.  Was that intentional?  If you had a specific meaning in mind, does it bother you if the viewer has a different interpretation?

Absolutely not, that is my greatest joy to create something that can have so many different meanings. I have had people in tears telling me what a certain piece means to them, while others just shake their head. Its just like poetry, the many interpretations is what makes you want to read it over and over….makes it more interesting to talk about.

But don't worry if you don't get it....you are not always supposed to, that is what makes it fun, the "Why?"

I just recently had a customer ask to be put into the “Zooscape” piece. This piece was a request from my oldest daughter who had just finished college with a zoo animal technology degree, so it was just a silly, fun creation. But this customer saw it as a representation of his life….he said he feels like he lives in a zoo most of the time, and it showed the chaos of his kids, grandkids, work, etc. So I incorporated him and his family into the piece and it hangs in his office. I found this funny, but interesting that such a silly piece still spoke to someone in someway.

Would you mind telling about 'Freedom Dancer'? How did you create this image?

Freedom Dancer

Well I was hired to take photos of the child and later requested permission to use her in the piece. The field is actually is a field in Brooksville, but the barn and road leading to the barn are from Kentucky. I added a sky and texture, an owl in the tree and there it was.

This barn was one of my first distortions, it just fit. The tricycle in the piece actually sits on my porch and was added later to add the sense of play. It started out much more muted but I wasn’t happy until it was brightened up and more texture added. I painted over the grass quite a bit to get the color and depth right. It came together fairly easy because it was so inspired.

In terms of visual perspective, the viewer sees the girl at a distance, as if being removed from her emotions might be part of the point of the image. Was that intended?

I tend to put objects in the forefront of most of my pieces, but this one was different. I felt putting her in the distance portrayed the illusion of being completely unaware of onlookers or even caring if they were there. I wanted the viewer to almost feel as if looking through a window and accidentally coming across a private moment, and then finding themselves so captivated that they want to be a part of it.

Would you mind telling about what is going on in this image?

“Freedom Dancer” is one of my favorites and always attracts attention at shows. Its one of my more simple pieces that came about after a photo shoot with a little girl and her horse. A customer had adopted this little girl from China when she was 9 months old. Her head was shaved, her motor skills not developed well, speech not where it should be….but you would never know any of that now. She came dressed in a tutu and boots and I asked her if she could dance….and she did. It just struck me how free a child is, not only innocent and naïve but uninhibited. What is going on here is freedom. Freedom from the worry of judgment.

What appeals to you most about what you do?

I love that my photography is still the main ingredient in my artwork. If I don’t take the picture first I can not manipulate it into a piece of art. And when using the wacom tablet and pen I can draw and paint digitally as well.  And with digital technology, the more I learn, the more I realize the possibilities are endless.

Thank you, Sarah! I appreciate the opportunity to get to know more about you and your work!

To see more of Sarah's work, stop by Sarah Jane Images or her Facebook page. Additionally, you can see her work on Flickr or visit her Etsy shop.

All images in this interview are used by permission, are the property of Sarah Rauner, and are copyright protected.

This interview can also be read on the blog Scoop.it!: All About Arts curated by Karen Steffensen. Her blog states "“This collection is dedicated to learning in and through the arts- (drama, dance, music, visual arts).”

Post Script:

I was intrigued by Sarah's descriptions of the Saxon House. Sarah graciously provided me with some links for more information about it. Additionally, I found some photos online by various photographers, sort of cataloging this house. I have an interest in preservation so this topic appeals to me. It helps me to see why Sarah felt a strong connection to it.

I am including this one since it also shows the state of the inside of the house. Then there is this one, and finally this one.

I want to add my sentiments to all who hope it will be rehabilitated and restored. The mind reels at the splendor that this house, no doubt, once was.


Interview With Photographer Jim Nooney

What is it about a camera image that tends to pull us like a magnet? I have some theories. Here are a few of them:

The word 'capture' is apt. The moment is recorded in living color (or black and white) and can be revisited at will.

It is one thing to be a live spectator, and another thing all together to see what we may have missed, or to see it from another person's artistic spin or point-of-view.

An image is a window into worlds we may never physically travel, but through the photographer's lens, we are given a glimpse of understanding.

Though we may not know the whole story behind an image, pictures carry meaning without needing words.

When we are anticipating beauty, and the photograph does not disappoint, it is a positive experience. It is a visual high.

The work of Photographer Jim Nooney is definitely a visual high.

Jim Nooney

The Pain Passes But the Beauty Remains

How long have you been working in photography?

I bought my first Nikon in 1985 and got pretty serious about photography soon afterwards.

How did you get into photography? What was your "Ah-hah!" moment?

I think the main reason I got into photography was being exposed at a very young age to the brilliant images in LIFE magazine. My parents had a subscription and I remember eagerly waiting for each week’s new issue to arrive in the mail.

My “Ah hah” moment was probably when I got the first roll of film back from my Nikon. While none of the photos were particularly great I remember being thrilled that I could permanently capture on film a scene that in some way spoke to me.

Is there a favorite camera type you use? Other favorite photographic equipment or software?

I currently use a Nikon D70 and an Olympus E-P1 camera. I can’t call either one a favorite because both have pluses and minuses but both produce great photos.

If I had to choose an essential piece of equipment I’d have to say Adobe Photoshop. Photoshop is almost as important to my work as my cameras because so often the files from the cameras are just the initial starting point for the final images that I’ll produce with Photoshop.

What do you like about participating in photography as an art form? How does photography serve as self-expression for you?

I like to think of photography as the art of creating images. Creating my images makes me feel alive...creating my images makes me feel a connection to the world...creating my images makes my soul smile.

This Must Be What Paradise Is Like

Looking at pictures like “This Must Be What Paradise Is Like” as an example, I noticed that some of your pictures are color and some are black and white. How do you decide which way to go? How do you think the visual message is affected using black and white versus color in a photograph?

Except on very rare occasions I shoot all my work in color and then decide which way to go when I’m editing the images. I’d say black and white has a more timeless feel while color often feels more contemporary. For my work color often seems to have more energy while black and white says “tranquility”.

An exercise I like to suggest to people is taking a favorite color image from their computer and converting it black and white (or vice versa). I’m always amazed how the two different styles can convey totally different feelings and moods from the exact same subject.

What do you think a photo needs to make it 'good'?

A good photo should always provoke a reaction from the viewer. You may love the image or totally dislike it but if it makes you feel nothing then I have failed to make a “good” photo.

What makes you see the potential for a photograph as something needing to be recorded visually?

A lot of things can make me see the potential for a good photo. After all these years I sort of run a subconscious checklist through my mind when I look at a scene. A few of the questions might be: Is the subject doing something extraordinary or something very ordinary? Is there a quality to the light that demands attention? Is there a pattern or combination of colors, textures, shapes , etc. that caught my eye and demands to be photographed?

Eleanor Rigby

When I viewed the photo “Eleanor Rigby,” I thought this was a very striking image. Leafless trees, massive church, cemetery stones. Then I read the description you wrote underneath, which I will here quote verbatim: “ This shot was taken in the graveyard at Trinity Church in the spring of 2005. Located just a few blocks from the former site of the World Trade Center, Trinity Church is an oasis of tranquility in the frenzied blur of lower Manhattan life.” The actual place gives the photo some extra poignancy. Would you mind talking about what you felt when you took that photo in terms of what you wanted to capture?

That day in the Trinity Church cemetery I was very conscious of the proximity to Ground Zero. I think I was in some way trying to capture the inescapable bond between life and death and how a place like Trinity really drives that idea home.

Do you set out on photographic expeditions, or do you take a camera with you everywhere just in case you see a picture you want to take?

Most of the time I have a destination in mind but sometimes when I reach my destination I will just wander around and let the images develop spontaneously.

Is there a particular subject matter you find yourself drawn to when you photograph?

In terms of subjects I’m definitely a generalist…I like to shoot everything. Landscapes, architecture, sports, portraits, abstracts and flowers would be a few of my favorites but I don’t think I could ever just shoot one subject consistently.

Would you mind describing your creative process?

The process varies with the image. Sometimes I’ll have a very strong preconceived idea for an image and will just work until I know I have what I want. Other times seeing one image on the screen of my camera will almost immediately inspire a whole series of related images. Sometimes a quote or song lyric will pop into my head and inspire a change in direction as well.

Abandoned Barn

When I was looking at "Abandoned Barn" I was struck by its remoteness and, of course, its state of ruin at the time it was taken. Why do you think pictures like that strike a chord with viewers?

I think viewers respond to images like this one because it reminds us of the ongoing struggle between a need for solitude and a desire for companionship. The ruined barn could be a metaphor for our mortality…or maybe people just like old decrepit barns!

Beneath the Kisses of Night

I noticed you refer to songs and poetry often in the descriptions. Your titles themselves tend to be very poetic, such as "Beneath the Kisses of Night." I am guessing that music and poetry have had an impact in your life?

Music is my other passion in life. I’ve always wanted to learn to play an instrument but so far I haven’t done that. In college a good friend once told me that I look like a guitar player. I do like working with words and images to try and find those that really complement each other.

Come Fly With Me


You seem to value nostalgia as a subject for some of your photos. “Come Fly With Me" and "Just Play It Cool Boy"and definitely "Carnival."There is definitely a sense of the past. Why do you think we are so fascinated with nostalgia in our culture? What do you think the photos speak to?

I think we are fascinated with nostalgia because our modern culture relentlessly tries to keep us in the here and now. I don’t think you should totally live in the past but you also shouldn’t discount your history. I think nostalgic images speak to a desire to simplify life…to get back to the “good old days”.


When you took the picture for "Snake" I wonder how close you actually had to get to the snake to get the shot you wanted? :)

Well I could tell you a tall tale but in fact that snake was behind a reassuringly thick piece of glass! I also used a zoom lens for that “in your face” feeling.

Bring On the Night

"Bring On the Night." There is something so stately about the building and yet it looks like it has been abandoned. It has a very mysterious quality. Could you tell about where this one was taken?

That shot was taken in Hoboken, New Jersey which is a city best known for hosting the first baseball game in America and for being the setting for the classic film “On The Waterfront”. Hoboken is just across the Hudson River from New York City and there’s a definite mixture of old and new throughout the town.

We'll Always Have Paris

"We'll Always Have Paris." There is the duality of a letter and a flower fused together so subtly. What made you think of the potential of using an envelope for a photograph?

I had seen images from some other photographers using the same idea. It kind of goes back also to that nostalgic yearning we discussed earlier. Handwriting is almost becoming endangered these days and using it as an element in an image is a subtle yet very effective way to add impact and appeal.

Are there photographers whose work you admire?

Absolutely. I love Lewis Hines’ work documenting the construction of the Empire State Building. For years I’ve enjoyed the results of Anton Corbijn’s dream job as U2’s main photographer. Just recently I discovered the incredible photo essays of David H Wells. Also the web is filled with fantastic work on sites like flickr, Red Bubble, Etsy and Google+.

Is there a 'dream place' you wish you could visit for a photo shoot? Why would you choose to go there?

My dream is to someday do an extended shoot in Ireland. I’d go there because I’m often drawn to places where the old and new are constantly in contact.

What inspires you?

That could be another interview in itself! A few of the things that never fail to inspire me are the first rays of morning light on Cape Cod beaches...Hoboken brownstones...gloriously overcast days...colors in motion...the magic of visualizing a perfect black and white image...the smiles of my wife and my daughter.

Thank you, Jim! I enjoyed the opportunity to learn more about you and your work!

Jim Nooney is a lifelong resident of New Jersey and lives about 20 minutes from New York City. To see more of his work, visit his Etsy shop at Hillcrest Visuals or his Facebook page. You can also find him on his Google + Photography Page

All images in this interview are used by permission, are the property of Jim Nooney, and are copyright protected.