Emergence: Touching the Infinite Source of Being at the Urbana-Champaign Independent Media Center Gallery is a photography exhibition exploring nature through Lynn Anderson’s camera lens. Sponsored by the City of Urbana Public Arts Grant, Anderson is a graphic designer and photographer from Naperville, IL who explores the play of light, color, and contrast in various natural environments. Skewing from documentary photography and its ability to capture our reality in an instant, Anderson prefers to explore the medium in a more painterly and conceptual way. She uses a soft focus along with a tight framing of her subject to capture the essence of what she is seeing. Specifically, she focus on flora, but she explores all natural plant life from the plains to the desert. To me, her work is reminiscent of Claude Monet’s later paintings of water lilies: the visual  information to read the object as a plant is present, but you find yourself drawn to the interplay of light and color in the image. In order to learn more about her exhibition, her practice, and her background in photography, I interviewed Anderson via e-mail.

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Smile Politely: How did you get started in photography? For example, have you always been interested in photography as an art form or was it a hobby that became a profession for you?

Lynn Anderson: Throughout my life I have experienced a pull to be creative in the visual arts. This manifested in a variety of ways. I was an art major during my first year of undergraduate work (printmaking) and later was sensitive to how I dressed and decorated my home. Eventually, I developed a career as a graphic designer. Looking back, I have always been drawn to a palette of earth colors and abstract composition which included geometric forms and Native American art.

Like many people, I have taken casual scenic and family photos; yet I did not pursue photography seriously until I had a practical need to learn how to use a digital camera to obtain meaningful images for graphic design projects. I took photography classes at my local community college, completing the certificate requirements over several years. It was and continues to be a rich, diverse creative community where I have been exposed to a wide palette of photographic styles from past to present day. In this environment, I received encouragement to discover my own visual voice with abstract nature photography.

For the past ten years I have volunteered with Midwest SOARRING Foundation, a Native American non-profit organization located in the western suburbs of Chicago. I have been active with them as an event photographer and graphic/web designer and now serve as a board member.

Another source of inspiration has been the annual SEA conference (Self Employment in the Arts) held in Lisle, IL every February where I both attended and presented. The conference provides a wide range of presenters and participants pursuing their artistic gifts and passion in music, theater, creative writing, and the visual arts. I also found the portfolio reviews at Filter Photo Festival in Chicago (held every September) helpful in defining my vision of photography.

SP: I’m curious about your process in creating your abstract images. Do you rely on photo manipulation software to crop and edit your base image or do you prefer older techniques like manually focusing your lens to create the distortion?

Anderson: All of my images are created in-camera where I compose the frame with a soft focus. I only use Photoshop to make slight adjustments in color, and occasionally edit/crop an image. I search for contrasting colors and shapes in flowers, cacti, grasses, and fall leaves as subject matter when I wander through gardens, forests, parks, and alleys in the Midwest, Southwest, or Pacific Northwest. 

SP: You mention in your artist’s statement that there is a long history of abstraction by past and present photographers in order to push the boundaries of the field. Who are a few photographers that have inspired your work?

Anderson: As a college student, I was transfixed by the intimate landscapes of Eliot Porter and the paintings of Georgia O’Keeffe. Later I discovered the soft focus pioneering portraits of Julia Cameron, the mystical approach to image making of Minor White, and the more recent experimental work of Chicago photographer Barbara Crane. The book The Edge of Vision: The Rise of Abstraction in Photography by Lyle Rexer (2013) introduced me to a wealth of abstract image makers in the field and provided a larger context in which to place my work.

SP: What drew you to nature as your preferred subject? I find it rather fascinating that photographers like David Plowden and the late Bill Christenberry continually focus on a particular subject. Painters and sculptors tend to do the same thing, but photographers have the ability to create images and develop their approach to achieve the desired effect faster.

Anderson: Since early childhood, nature has always been a respite, a family delight, and the backdrop for a deepening spiritual context. Whether it was exploring the National Parks as a child, paddling trips in Ontario, Michigan and Boundary Waters as an adult, or countless time spent in the north woods of Lake Superior or Lake Michigan’s shores, nature’s landscapes speak to me in endless variation. I delight in beautiful flowers, cacti, and spectrum of fall leaves which become a vehicle to experience stillness, mirroring the words of spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle. My subject matter continues to reveal fresh discoveries. I am moved by what I see. I seek to inspire my viewers’ creativity and touch their inner being. In so doing, my work may evoke a change in perception and a connection to a meditative awareness — with all that-is.

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Emergence: Touching the Infinite Source of Being will be at the IMC Gallery from Sat. Dec. 3rd to Mon. Jan. 2nd. On Saturday Dec. 10th, there will be an artist reception from 5:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. If you would to explore more of Anderson’s work, you can visit her website to view her online portfolio.


Sarah Keim is a contributing writer to Smile Politely’s Arts section. She's a bit of recluse on social media, but you might bump into her out in the wilds of C-U. Frequent sightings occur at you cut Christmas tree farms for free cocoa and at the mall buying video games for herself.