Patricia Bender–Making Magic in Black and White

Patricia Bender

Making Magic in Black and White

Our exhibiting artist for May and June is black and white photographer Patricia Bender, and we are so excited to feature her exhibit, Just Outside my Door, on our exhibit wall. With each new exhibit, we also take some time to learn about the artist and their work, and we are pleased to share Patricia’s story, which starts with this simple question: 

Arts Council: Patricia, how long have you been taking photographs? 

Patrica Bender: I began seriously taking pictures in 2001 when I enrolled in a beginning black and white darkroom class at a localNew Jersey community college.  

AC: What was it about that class that made you want to persue photography as an artform? 

Patricia: I was hooked from the very moment I shot and developed my first image. I loved everything about it, even the supposedly “boring” stuff, like developing my own film. To me, it was all magic. 

AC: Did you continue on the college path? 

Partricia: I took several community college darkroom and technique courses and a couple photography workshops, but that’s as far as it went. I consider myself largely self-taught, particularly in the area of photographic history.  

AC: And what does being “self-taught” look like for you? 

Partricia: Well let’s just say I’m very grateful for the internet! It has been a great boon in my photographic education because I can easily research photographers and their work, and I can find out all I need to know about photographic processes and techniques.  

AC: Speaking of technique, all of your current work is shot in black and white. Have you ever experimented with color? 

Partricia: I never shoot in color. I have no eye for it; and for the most part, color photography leaves me cold. Any color work I do like, tends to have a black-and-white palette with more muted and subtle tones. 

AC: That’s really interesting, as some would find black and white to be cold. Can you explain your draw to using black-and-white film a little further? 

Partricia: The black-and-white photographer Cole Thompson, says he gets this question a lot, and he always answers that it’s because he grew up in a “black-and-white world.” The same is actually true for me–magazine illustrations, family snapshots, television and motion pictures were all black and white when I was born in the mid- 1950’s. But it’s more than that; for me, black-and-white work is more evocative, poetic, mysterious and emotional. I see photographically in black and white. 

AC: Tell me a little bit about your early relationship to art? Did you enjoy making art when you were little? 

Partricia: I remember enjoying visual arts as a child, but somehow I lost my interest as I grew older. I don’t think I took a single art class in high school or college.

AC: So where did your interests lie? 

Patricia: I loved dance. I had little time for anything else in my life, and I pursued it passionately, including teaching until my mid-twenties, but then I realized I did not want to continue teaching. 

AC: Was that a scary realization for you? 

Patricia: Yes, it kind of was, because I believed I would never discover anything that I loved as much as I loved dance. 

AC: So it’s been an interesting journey, getting to photography? 

Patricia: Yes, it certainly has. But when it came into my life, I felt an instant connection. Today, it consumes me the way that dance did in my youth, and I am so incredibly happy to have discovered it. 

AC: During your self-teaching, who became your major influences? 

Partricia: I have so many artists and photographers who I admire and who have influenced my work. In regards to painting, I love the Impressionists. With photography, the Pictorialists hugely influence what I create. The mood, the timelessness, the ethereality of the Pictorial works really speaks to me. Some of my favorite photographers include Harry Callahan, Sally Mann, Raymond Meeks, Josef Sudek, Andres Kertesz, Masao Yamamoto, Judith Joy Ross and Susan Derges. I could go on and on. I know I’ll be sorry later on when I read this and see that I missed someone. 

AC: And your inspiration? What inspires your work? 

Patricia: Words and music–words generate ideas and music influences the composition. 

AC: Do you have a favorite subject matter? 

Partricia: My all-time favorite is the big, miraculous, natural world. I have an all-consuming urge to explore and discover the beauty that lies around us. Within the broad category of nature, I positively adore trees. I could photograph trees–he bark, the leaves, the roots, trees in groups, trees standing alone, trees in the concrete jungle for the rest of my life and never grow bored. I’m always discovering something new and exciting. 

AC: What about people? Have you done any studies of humans? 

Partricia: I love photographing people, but I am extremely shy. I have a new portrait project I’m about to begin that will push me out of my comfort zone and will hopefully help me to learn and grow as an artist. I’m a bit scared, but I’m looking forward to beginning this work. 

AC: So, people scare you, photographically speaking–but what would you say surprises you about your work or photography in general? 

Partricia: Two things immediately come to mind in answer to that question: 

First––I have grown to realize that I am always trying to make my images not look like photographs. I don’t want them to be too real, too crisp and clear and wedded to reality. I crave mystery, emotion and some ambiguity in what I create in the darkroom. 

Second––I am devoted to small work. When I first began studying photography, I was chomping at the bit to make my pictures bigger and bigger. I quickly came to realize that big work was not the way I wanted to go. I didn’t want people to step back from what I created, I wanted them to come closer. I love the intimacy of small work. I want people to see what I see when I look through the viewfinder of my camera–a small, intense and beautiful glimpse of the world around them.  

AC: Any last thoughts on the subject you’d like to share?

Patricia: Photography is a visual extension of my brain. I don’t think about making art when I photograph. I think about uncovering truths–about finding answers to the big questions in life–a pursuit that will never end, if I’m lucky.