Sandra Herber is a super talented photographer. She also happens to work at a [sort of, kind of] sister institution to where I work. She also took a course I taught in the Faculty of Information and Media Studies a bunch of years ago. Which is to say that I’ve been fortunate to cross paths with Sandra, virtually and in real space, many times in the last few years. However, it was only when we connected on Facebook and Flickr that I really got exposed to Sandra’s creative output and I’ve been marveling at everything she captures ever since. Sandra was kind enough to take the time to answer my questions about how she manages the fine balance between being a Sunday Artist, Monday Librarian.
Oh and pro tip: you’re going to want to click on the images below to see the larger versions of Sandra’s photos (they’re stunning).
Thanks for doing this, Sandra! To kick things off, can you tell us about your day job?
I’m the Liaison Librarian for Business, Early Childhood Education and Family & Community Social Services at the University of Guelph-Humber, and have been since early 2011. This is my first position as a librarian; I got my MLIS in 2010. Librarianship is a third career for me – after business (marketing) and teaching (high school) – and I think it’s a very good fit. I can’t see a fourth career in my future!
Whew! Happy to hear librarianship gets to keep you. But let’s talk about your work behind the lens!I am continually delighted by the photographs you post on Facebook — you’re an amazing photographer. Could you tell us a bit more about your work? How you got started, what inspires you, your favourite subjects, that sort of thing.
What a lovely thing to say, Amanda. I have been taking photographs for a long time but wasn’t really very good at it until recently. In high school I actually had a darkroom in our basement at home, but my pictures were horrible. : ) I got back into photography about 10 or 12 years ago when I started taking photo workshops. Taking workshops with inspiring and accomplished photographers improved my work, but the biggest growth in my photography came when I connected with other photographers (mostly through social media) who shot regularly and suddenly I was shooting almost every weekend, instead of only twice a year on holiday. With regular practice and the support of those photographer friends, I really saw my photography improving and now it’s become a huge part of my life.
These days I try to shoot to a project. For instance, I’ve been working for two summers on a photo project on old, abandoned Prairie grain elevators, so that would be a favourite subject, but I shoot general landscapes, too. As for techniques, I process mostly in black and white and I’m addicted to long exposure photography (I use filters to prolong the exposure time – sometimes to 2, 3, or even 10 minutes long).
I’m glad you brought up techniques. I’d love to explore that some more, particularly with respect to the creative process. I’m thoroughly fascinated by the creative process and how artists come to create what they do. Can you tell me more about your practice? How do you fit it into your life? What does your creative process look like?
I’ll answer the easiest question first – how do I fit photography into my life? The answer is ‘not very well’. There was a period of a couple of years where I connected with a wonderful community of photographers in Detroit and I visited often and took photographs regularly, but these days I mostly only take photographs on vacation and those, obviously for an academic liaison librarian, mostly take place in the summer. That leaves long periods when I don’t even pick up my camera. I’m in one of those barren periods right now and it can be quite demoralizing. I would love to find a project which inspires me and which is located close to home, but I haven’t managed to do that yet.
As I said, I’ve been working for 2 summers now on a photo project on old, abandoned grain elevators in Alberta and Saskatchewan. I saw some images another (very good) photographer had taken of those elevators and that’s what got me started. But then, as I did some research into the history of the elevators, how at one time the were everywhere in the Prairies, what they meant to local communities and how they have slowly disappeared, I began to feel that the project had become my own. I need to connect to my subject in some way. I think that’s vital to my inspiration. On my first visit to Detroit with some friends, we had a fellow photographer show us around for the weekend. Over meals and while travelling from site to site, we talked with him about his experiences with the city and I was completely riveted by his stories about the city, his love for it and his lived experience there. I felt more connected to what I was shooting than if I’d just driven in, photographed it, and left. Since then, I’ve been back many times and find the city incredibly fascinating and compelling.
I love that concept of connecting with your subjects. Which brings me back to your work and this notion of influence. Does your practice as a photographer influence your work as a librarian? And vice versa, does your work as a librarian influence your practice?
I’m not sure that my photography influences my work as a librarian. I do think the reverse is true, though, as I mentioned that I do love the research that comes before a trip – learning the history of a place or even just finding sites to visit and photograph and best times of day (or night) to shoot. I will put hours of research into a trip and, to me, that’s part of the joy of it.
So speaking of trips, one of the things I most look forward to from you is seeing where you’re heading next to shoot! Your art has taken you to all sorts of cool places and the images you share from those places are always stunning. Can you talk a bit about your travels as a photographer? How did you get into it? How do you fit it into your work life?
Travelling somewhere for photography is how I do most of my photography these days. These trips are a complete immersion. Except for eating and sleeping (and sometimes not much of either of those) I’m photographing or travelling to sites I want to photograph all day. Holidays aren’t relaxing for me, they’re strenuous, sometimes exhausting, but the immersion in a place and into photography takes me away from the everyday, the mundane and I love it.
I think my travel exclusively for photography started with workshops. Over 10 years ago I started taking photo workshops located in some wonderfully exotic places – places like southern Ethiopia or northern India (Ladakh) or Cuba. They were immersive processes. Everyone on the trip was a photographer, we talked about photography constantly and the the goal of every day was to photograph non-stop. Now that I’m more restricted by my job as to when I can travel (summers, maybe December) there aren’t so many workshops I can take anymore, so I do these trips on my own – recently to Iceland or Maine or Saskatchewan. On occasion, though, I still love doing workshops to learn new skills – like the night photography workshop I did this year in Utah. What a great experience that was.
Perfect segue into my last question! As you’ve noted, and as I’ve heard many times, it’s tough to balance the day job and the art you are compelled to create on the side. Are you happy with the balance you’ve struck between working your day job and your photography practice? Do you ever dream of quitting your day job and being a full-time photographer?
The answer to both questions is ‘no’. I find myself unhappy with the balance between photography and my day job – I often wish I could be travelling and photographing in the fall or at other times, other than the summer and December break, but as a liaison librarian that just isn’t possible. On the other hand, I would never consider being a full-time photographer. Photography is something I do for the sheer joy of it. I think if I tried to make a living from it, it would take a lot of the joy out of it for me. So, this is the compromise I make – my job allows me time (and money) to travel and photograph and I only travel when my job allows it.
Big thanks to Sandra for taking the time to do this! You’d do well to follow Sandra on Flickr to keep up with her beautiful work and interesting travels. And, don’t forget to get in touch if you, too, are balancing the joys of being a Sunday Artist, Monday Librarian!