E.K. WALLER began her photographic career working as a photojournalist in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. After relocating to Los Angeles she worked in advertising while continuing to exhibit fine art photography. She has been a teacher of photography as well as a juror for exhibitions, most recently at Emeritus College and Santa Monica College. In 2014 she retired from commercial practice to focus exclusively on Fine Art Photography. Her latest exhibit, BEFORE THE CHANGE – CUBA opens with a reception at The Perfect Exposure Gallery on May 4, 2019 and runs through June 1, 2019.
We caught up with E.K. to talk about her work.
L.A.Splash: Hi, E.K. Tell us about your first camera. Who gave it to you and what were some of the early photos you took with it.
E.K. Waller: I received a Brownie as my first camera when I was in grade school. It was given to me by my Aunt Annette and taken over by my mother, Doris, who had no camera. I still have that camera. I was allowed to use it and I loved to take photos of people in all situations. I got my first Single Lens Reflex camera in college when I enrolled in all the photography classes. One of the first things I did with my new SLR was to go into city areas of poverty and country farms to shoot families there.
Splash: When did you decide on a career in photography?
E.K: After college graduation, I taught art in a high school for one year and before the school year was over, I was hired to be a photojournalist at the Daily News Journal in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. This changed my life trajectory and even though I was actively painting, I became addicted to photography. I carried my large camera bag everywhere I went, for decades. At 26 years old I decided I needed to live in a large city to have access to many things like museums, galleries and all that a city has to offer. I chose Los Angeles and I never looked back.
Splash: Was it a tough choice choosing photography over painting?
E.K: I never considered eliminating one over the other, but when I read an article called “Painting Is Dead” in the L.A. Times, I was totally dismayed. Some time after that, I gradually let painting go and for the most part focused on photography. But I have a current idea I intend to pursue using encaustic painting with photography.
Splash: What’s been the biggest challenges you faced pursuing your goals?
E.K: When I first moved to LA, I barely missed being hired by the Los Angeles Times. The photo staff was all white men and they ended up hiring a minority woman. I also barely missed being hired by the Herald Examiner because there was a recession at the time. Breaking into the advertising photography world where all the male photographers had access to money for their equipment, studios, Art Center educations, photo representatives and ads. But as a 20-something, I had all the guts in the world and I persevered and successfully pursued editorial photography first, then advertising photography. When digital cameras came along, the whole photo scene changed. A lot of photographers went out of business or changed careers. I continued shooting and eventually was able to pursue my life’s work in fine art photography.
Splash: You’ve shot images all over the world. What’s been your favorite location to shoot so far?
E.K: I love shooting in places I have never seen or visited. It is a very fresh experience and my eyes are totally open to visuals and the experience. But the most profound experience I had was shooting photos in Cuba. I visited all kinds of places there and had the opportunity to shoot the Cuban people in all the varied aspects of their lives. I found them extremely open and friendly, even though I did not speak their language.
Splash: Is that what makes your current exhibit, “Before the Change – Cuba” so meaningful?
E.K: Yes. These photos are of a special time, especially for me as a photographer, before modernity becomes a reality on the Cuban island. I wanted to record what was and is beautiful and meaningful to me in this wondrous and heartfelt landscape with all of the struggle of its people.
Splash: Were you welcomed in Cuba or looked at as another American looking to capitalize on their struggle?
E.K: I found the Cuban people to be utterly open, accommodating, anxious to interact, like when I finished shooting children hanging on a wooden bar in front of their school and shot the image Schoolboys Hang. Afterwards, I noticed some homes down the hill. The man who lived there with his family was motioning for me to come for a visit and I did, without shared language. There I took many photos, like Pig and Clothesline, as well as a portrait of the man lighting his cigar by igniting a stick in a fire used for boiling water. I felt they were hungry for interaction with foreigners who had a different life.
We had a party on a roof top where people danced “story dances” (my term) in satin costumes, to the beat of a line of conga drums. On this roof was a shed where birds lived and I assume were fed. At one point, someone directed us to stand at the edge of the roof and be ready to shoot. When they opened the shed door, 20-30 white homing doves were released to fly in circles, which they did for about 30 minuets. Eventually, they all came back to the shed that also housed some baby birds. That is where I shot Birds Over Havana, my best selling photograph.
Splash: What else can we look forward to seeing from you after this exhibit?
E.K: I am working on photos I shot in Italy, which is a wondrous place. High heels on a cobblestone street, ancient layers of Rome which you can actually see in a valley of the layers, a different way of life, art and cultured people, humbled in a boat ride in the river or a canal. I am also working on a series of pictures employing abstraction of place called Displacement Dreamscape, which entertains the notion of a visual fusion of two places.
Splash: Thanks, E.K. We look forward to seeing your “Before The Change – Cuba” exhibit and all your other work.
When: May 4, 2019 – June 1, 2019.
Where: The Perfect Exposure Gallery, 2424 W. Valley Blvd. Alhambra, CA 91803. Opening Wine and Cheese Reception May 4, 2019 6pm – 9pm