A Conversation With Wendi Schneider


Raptors are glorious. They are fearless. They seek the sun like Icarus.  Icarus, against his father’s warnings, flew too close to the sun and perished in the sea. Most imagery around Icarus is golden. The wax of his wings ignite in golden flame. His silhouette is shown against a blazing, golden sun.  A. A. Milne made an owl an erudite, often stumbling friend of Pooh. Wendi Schneider lights her owls from behind like Icarus denying his father as he willfully, joyfully seeks his end. Wendi’s winged beasts fly glorious, immortal over Pooh Corner.

ST: Wendi, did you read Winnie the Pooh as a child?

Wendi: I don’t have a specific memory of reading it, but my nickname as a little one was Pookie, sometimes shortened to Pooh. I remember reading sections of the World Book Encyclopedias, and if we weren’t familiar with a word, we were directed to the massive Oxford English Dictionary that weighted an oak stand in a corner of the living room. I still enjoy the quest for knowledge and am grateful for the guidance, and for the world discovered beneath the heavy magnifying glass which sat on top. A favorite assignment for one of my painting classes was to cut a small section of an image from a magazine and blow it up. About the same time, I came across an early book on photomicrography. I think all of those experiences contributed to my appreciation of the elegant lines of details of organic forms.


ST: Wendi, your affinity for wildlife and the natural world is so marvelously obvious in your work. Mr. Milne included Roo, a young kangaroo, in his pantheon of lovable characters, however, he chose not to anthropomorphize a wombat, also an Australian animal, as a member of the Poo Corner tribe. It has come to my attention that you also have an affinity for wombats. Three part question: Have you been to Australia, if so, did the experience have an influence on your work, if not, what life experience or experiences initiated your fondness for and aesthetic rapport with nature and its inhabitants?

WS: I have not visited Australia. When I was a wee one, there was a small vegetable farm behind our home in Memphis. It belonged to our neighbors – a frequently absent sea captain and his lovely wife, who we called Grandmommy Hughes. We already had two grandmothers, one of whom lived with us and mostly raised me, but it was the deep South and everyone was an aunt, uncle, or somehow mysteriously related. I recall a large picture to the right of the mantel in their living room of an old man in a boat with a young girl, who I assumed was his daughter. I also concluded that the weather-beaten old man in the boat was the MIA sea captain. I recently learned it was an oft-reproduced painting by Renouf. Anyway, truth be told, I plucked a few carrots from the farm from time to time, both to eat and to entice the rabbits, albeit unsuccessfully. I can still hear the soothing sounds of the great horned owls conversing as I lay awake at night trying to figure out if I fit into this world. While I began as an outgoing child, I became less so as I ‘matured’. I found sanctuary beneath the swaying limbs of the old weeping willow in the far corner of the yard that backed up to the farm until I was nine, when they paved paradise to build homes for humans. I’m still calmed by elegant, sinuous, organic forms in nature, their exquisite whiplash representations in Art Nouveau, and still require a great deal of time alone.

My only connection to the wombat is through the Pre-Raphaelites, who were particularly influential on my early work, and whose vintage prints grace our walls. It was Dante Gabriel Rossetti, after whom my irascible, sooty feline was named, who was obsessed with wombats. He wrote poems about them, painted them, and for time, kept a few in his menagerie. Believe it or not, he reportedly used the wombat as a tool of seduction. He was madly in love with Jane Morris and drew her as a saint, with her poor husband William Morris portrayed as a wombat on a leash. A poem he sent to Jane:

‘Oh how the family affections combat
Within this heart, and each hour
flings a bomb at
My burning soul! Neither from owl nor
from bat
Can peace be gained until I clasp
my wombat.’

– Dante Gabriel Rossetti

So I suppose he also referred to her as his wombat. And according to the article on Frieze, Whistler said that one of the wombats was brought to the table with cigars and brandy, as Swinburne read passages from Whitman’s Leaves of Grass.


ST: The luminosity and life gilding gives your images is extraordinary. My mother ruined the tranquility of our family great room with precociously grinning gilt cherubs and putii and loud, garrulous, obscenely gilded Baroque and Rococo furnishings.  Her lack of finesse in interior design she made up for in her mastery of cuisine, especially Moroccan. How do you decide which images to gild and which ones to leave au naturel?

WS: Oh, thank you ever so much, Lannie! We went from mid-century modern to old English, but that’s another story. I have to laugh when I think of dining Moroccan, as my sister refused to eat with her fingers at our favorite local spot.

Since 2012, I’ve only made a few without gilding – oversized, site-specific prints, or for transfer or encaustic that weren’t to be gilded. As to what to gild, it’s intuitive, as is what I capture. As I have worked with the process, I’m often drawn to images with light areas that might show more of the luminous gilding, but sometimes a pop of light can be dramatic and effective on a darker image. It depends of the desired outcome, though the hands-on journey of each piece may take it in a different direction. While I often know immediately if it’s an image I want to work with, I could probably never make another impression, and edit and print the rest of my life out of Lightroom and Photos and the many file boxes of slides, the latter primarily from the ’90s. I often stumble across images from years ago that I see in a new way and want to work with. The Flamingo is a case in point, as are a few of the images on kozo in my upcoming exhibit, Evenings with the Moon. I did print Twigs without layering or gilding several years ago, a Red Tailed Hawk in the Snow, a Great Horned Owl and a Harris’s Hawk. They are larger than the gilded photographs  and were printed on a luminous metallic paper. Coincidentally, if such thing as coincidence exists, much of my hair is now metallic, a blend of silver, white gold and brown. There may be more to come without gilding, as I’ve been longing to paint on the surface again, though, who knows, perhaps a bit of gold will rise to the top as well…


ST: Yes, Lamb Tangine is a beautiful dish and most certainly appropriately eaten with the fingers.  So, Matisse went to Morocco and Degas went to New Orleans.  Oh so very depressing that Degas now is reported to have been a dreadful man, un homme dégoûtant. But what an angel as an artist.  He called himself “un fils de Louisiane,” as his mother was born in New Orleans, the only truly European city in America.  John James Audubon, the Creator’s cataloger of winged things, was also a resident of New Orleans at one time in his life – they have since awarded him a zoo.   New Orleans, what a delicious milieu of gilded interiors and gilded people, vampires and that most dire cocktail, appropriately named after a natural instrument of destruction. As a scholar and artist that lived and worked in New Orleans – how has your time there influenced your work?

WS: Wow, Lannie! Speaking of elegant – your words are swoonworthy. I fell in love with New Orleans as a seven-year-old, relishing beignets and café au lait on a balcony overlooking Royal St. with my father and scavenging antique shops with my mother. I celebrated my ninth birthday in the Blue Room at the Roosevelt. While I didn’t move there until I transferred from Stephens to Newcomb to paint as a junior, it’s profoundly part of my psyche and my ideas of beauty. As long as I can remember, I’ve been drawn to old things and places. My beloved Nana was born in 1900 and most of my collections date from the turn of that century. While I enjoy the research involved in learning the history of objects, people or places, I’m equally fond of imagined histories, and creating an image that sparks the imagination of the viewer.

I’ve always been drawn to dusk’s darker shade of twilight and the melancholia  and nostalgia that sweeps over me as the languishing light lingers. Those feelings have enveloped me since childhood and everywhere I have lived, but the force is strong in New Orleans, where the air is so heavy with history.

Degas spent time with his family in New Orleans as his eyesight was faltering. He had not yet found the work he would become known for, and his time there was crucial to the development of his style, as it was to mine. Several magical paintings were created there, including the Cotton Office. Coincidentally (ha!) I remember there being a very fine copy of that painting outside the publisher’s office when I worked at The Times-Picayune, though I can’t remember why I was in his office. Perhaps it was related to my last project there, my first “child” – the re-creation of the 1901 Picayune Creole Cook Book for the newspaper’s sesquicentennial.


I once visited Oakley Plantation where Audubon stayed. What a thrill it was to stand by the desk where he worked and gaze out his window! Magical indeed. When I began making reference photographs of my models in 1982, I lived near the river and the back of the zoo, close to one of the early locations of A Gallery For Fine Photography. I spent hours there studying the amazing collection of master works and falling in love with Camera Work photogravures, some of which I would later collect, but it took several years to get up the nerve to speak to the owner. Actually, it was a dear friend who introduced us and pretty much forced me to show Joshua my hand-painted photographs. I was terrified, but of course delighted once I got to know him. He is a beloved friend and an important part of my life and career. He was supportive of my work and began representing me not long after I moved to New York. As to vampires, the art director who gave me my first book cover assignment, and subsequently many others, once picked up one of my figurative images for the cover of an Anne Rice book. I met the AD through the same dear artist friend at newspaper who encouraged me to get a camera. Yet another friend at the newspaper taught me to print, and another gave me an old set of photo oils, as I was beginning to layer paint on the early images, though I did move back to traditional oils and oil sticks applied with brushes and fingers.

So, yes, New Orleans is a huge part of who I am. I spent my formative 20’s and early 30’s there before moving to New York to open my photography business. I still revel in the fabulous blues and jazz, first experienced in Memphis, and often crave the classic cuisine.

ST: I neglected to say that I am also somewhat of a fils de la Louisiane, if only vicariously.  My grand-pere was an exuberant child of New Orleans, an epicurean and bon vivant.  One hot, grotesquely humid, rainy day he handed me a copy of the Kate Chopin book, “The Awakening.”  He simply handed me the book and walked from the room, very out of character of him. I was soon to be married. In hindsight it makes sense. Have you read the book and how has being a woman of the South affected your work?

WS: Brilliant! Perhaps it should be required reading for grooms. Your heritage does not surprise, but I’m quite curious about the book’s effect on you. I read The Awakening many years ago. Her discovery of freedom of thought and action in the male-dominated society is unfortunately still relevant. I’m an incurable romantic, so I wish Edna’s path to independence, solitude and love had led to a different resolution.

“The voice of the sea is seductive; never ceasing, whispering, clamoring, murmuring, inviting the soul to wander for a spell in abysses of solitude; to lose itself in mazes of inward contemplation. The voice of the sea speaks to the soul. The touch of the sea is sensuous, enfolding the body in its soft, close embrace.”


I feel that way about the South – it’s steeped in my bones and blood. I’m still moved by the lush, plush green landscape and the air heavy with romance. I ache for the stillness and scintillating scent before a storm, the dappled light beneath the fragrant, dense leaves of the venerable old oaks, the exquisite grace and enveloping fragrance of the magnolias, the healing kiss of raindrops, rocking chairs and iced tea on screened-in porches, and the magical moment fireflies take flight.

My work is inevitably infused with these feelings. It’s intuitive – an expression of the heart – more about how something feels than appears. Informed by my background in painting and art history, I portray an impression of these feelings by layering the images with color and texture to find balance between the real and the imagined. Printed on vellum or Japanese kozo, white gold, 24k gold or silver leaf is then applied behind the image, suffusing the treasured moments with the spirituality and sanctity of the precious metals. The gilding creates texture and luminosity, a conjured alchemy that celebrates the ethereal and ephemeral, taking wing or captive to the light.

ST: Such marvelous reportage of the exuberant carnival of the heart Wendi! Unfortunately, “The Awakening”, could not save that, passionate, yet ill fated pairing! This has been a pleasure indeed. I wish you many golden moments going forth!

WS: Thank you for this delightful conversation, Lannie. Your whimsical words have both flattered and inspired me – consider me shaken and stirred. I hope the stars align and we will soon continue the conversation in person. It’s been illuminating to get to know you and myself better.


Shutter Talk is the brainchild of photograph collector, Interior decorator and world traveling raconteur, Lannie Versair. Lannie is the only child of a Midwestern Danish furniture designer and a Parisian choreographer and poet. He splits his time with, his third and final wife, Clotilde and a triumvirate of pugs: Emil, Shorty and Victor Hugo, between a Frank Lloyd Wright bungalow in Oak Park, Illinois and the ancestral home in Paris. 

Please visit Wendi’s work at: http://www.wendischneider.com/


A Conversation With Gary Beeber


The amazing thing, the surprise, of this image is the realization that the photographer put their buddy in the jaws of a vice or a stylized pool beast.  The ephemeral reflection magnifies this ingenious creative moment– it is as if the nonchalant poodle is being slowly digested.  The capture of the seemingly mundane or banal in unique ways inspires awe in those that own cameras.

ST:  Gary, were you predominantly into comic books or science fiction in college?

Gary: No, not at all, I was studying the old masters and learning how to draw and paint.

ST: Interesting, I see no attempt at brush marks or mark making of any kind. However, I do possibly see the influence of Sargent, the tall stately hint at portraiture of the evergreens, and, yes, the image does pay homage to Hockney, and possibly Thiebaud. The addition of the dog, the familiar quotidian, gives gentle wafts of Rockwell as well. Do you suppose your work would be different if you had been predominantly into comic books and science fiction?

Gary:  I liked Zap Comix, but who didn’t?  Science fiction, not so much.  In college I mostly focused on learning drawing and painting technique; egg tempera, watercolor, oil.  Come to think of it, I did take a course at The School of Visual Arts in NYC from R.O. Blechman and Charlie Slackman.  They didn’t think much of my cartoons but liked my ideas.  At that point I said fuck it.


ST: Then you must have much in common with Andy Warhol? I know that you also are a filmmaker. He incorporated photography and video in with his art practice.  I can see in your work a unique energy, a creativity of purpose engendered by the proximity of other creatives – not unlike Andy’s “Factory.”  Your photographs of the Burlesque performers are both playfully and achingly wonderful.  Your work has much in common with Andy’s.  The way you use the iconic imagery of Marilyn.  The way he used the multiplier effect to such good result – I can see you painting in additional, multi-colored, images of Marilyn.  There is such playful intensity in your work.  Pathos too.

Gary: In high school and college I absolutely loved “underground movies.” I’d go to the local art cinema and spend whole evenings watching these films.  I see where you’re coming from, those films (most of which were made in NYC) really influenced me, I loved those films. I moved to NYC after college, and met Andy and a lot of other artists.  I loved Andy’s work but there were so many other influences.  I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what motivates me to create art.   People have said that my work reminds them of Diane Arbus, but looking back, even as a kid I always had a soft spot for characters. I was always fascinated by their stories, and would learn things.  In New York City I met characters like Peter Lee (see clip below), whom I used to paint with in Central Park. He was such a nut, but hilarious.  The characters I met in NYC didn’t give a shit about what anybody thought of them.  They were doing their thing and that’s all they cared about, that influenced me as well.


You mentioned Sargent, Hockney and Thiebaud.  Of course I know/knew their work well, but got emotionally involved with the work of Hopper and Atget.  I also really liked The Storyville Portraits. By the way, didn’t Picasso say something like “Bad artists copy, good artists steal”?


ST: Yes, I certainly see the influence of Diane Arbus and a bit of Sherwood Anderson or William Faulkner and, of course, that movie fabulously produced by David Byrne, “True Stories.”  A delicate, and for me mortifying, bit of my family history is that my great aunt worked in Storyville. I can’t look at those photographs – the possibility of uncomfortable recognition.  Uncomfortable recognition – is there not risk involved in getting too close to characters – the risk of recognizing ticklish aspects of yourself in them? They say that Fellini’s camera was actually looking back at him and, of course, there’s Jerry Lewis.

Gary: I think that in any artistic/creative endeavor whether you realize it or not, try to hide it or not, a part of yourself comes out.  How can it not?  I’m not uncomfortable with that.

I grew up in the fifties in suburban Ohio. It was very conservative.  I wanted to wear fantastic clothes and do crazy things, but was seriously held back. The connection to my subjects must have to do with their freedom of lifestyle/expression which I wanted but was denied as a child.

I have worked with subjects like the legendary geek performer Scott Baker, subject of my documentary film BALLY-MASTER. The strange thing about Scott is that even though I spent a lot of time with him, I never knew him.  A lot of my subjects don’t want to get close or in the end push people away.


ST: Have you ever thought about dressing your subjects up in some of your old, fantastic, crazy clothes?  Sherwood Anderson was also born in Ohio. Faulkner was born in Mississippi. David Byrne was born in Scotland. Clothes seem to play a delicious part in their collective creative oeuvre. David Byrne would wear those architecturally startling big suits on stage. You speak of cinema. Do you consider your work theatrical?

Gary: The first time I traveled to Italy (in the late 80’s), I became aware of very elegant people wearing black. That made an impression on me and I became a devotee of black apparel. Years later I was on the street photographing in Florence and a Japanese couple said “scusa” as they walked through the shot I was composing. They thought I was a Florentine, I was so pleased about that.  Since then I’ve evolved, I now wear black and white.  I guess what I’m trying to say is that I outgrew the crazy clothes (I grew up in the 60’s) a long time ago. I think that the clothes I pick for my subjects fits in with my vision for the photograph, not the clothes I’d admired while growing up. I wonder what Dr. Freud would say about that?

Sometimes my photographs are staged and theatrical, sometimes strictly documentary (cinema verite). I know that making films and producing the off-Broadway show influenced my still photographs.  The first time I got my hands on a video camera and started shooting I thought, man these are moving pictures!  Pretty elementary, right?  With a film you have as long as you need to tell a story, but with a photograph you have one single frame. With both making films and producing shows I believe that the result should be entertaining or thought provoking.  My hope is that I am able to do that with my pictures.


ST: Dali also dressed mainly in black. Having spent most of my life in the cultural centers of Europe I see and yet I don’t see a pastiche of European atmospherics and sensibilities, however without the Dutch or German de rigueur, in your Sylvester Manor work. There seems to be an airing of your more romantic, elegiac side in these images?

Gary: Sylvester Manor was founded in 1652 as a slaveholding provisioning plantation, but that was a long time ago, so I don’t want to dwell on that.  The Sylvester Manor photographs were taken over a period of one year, at the time I was suffering from Lyme disease.  Taking these pictures was a very moving experience for me, it was almost as if the place was talking to me.  For me there was something very sad but very spiritual about Sylvester Manor, I hope that I was able to portray that in this series.

ST: “What if everything in the world were a misunderstanding, what if laughter were really tears?” 
― Soren Kierkegaard      

There indeed is worn, accessible poignancy in those images. I possibly detect a latent melancholy in you. Melancholia has relentlessly haunted artists throughout the ages – Rothko chasing Van Gogh as it were. Do you have anything to say in closing about your creative waltzing — the choreography of burlesque and grand estate sartorial decay?

Gary: As an artist I will continue to evolve, I think that once you stop finding joy in exploration/experimentation you might as well hang it up.  I don’t see a psychological link or interplay between the burlesque series and Sylvester Manor, do you?  If so, I’d like to know.    My guess is that most all artists (including me) are at least a tad melancholic. Lots of rejection out there. One thing for sure is that in times of trouble my artwork has been my salvation.

ST: Gary, thank you so much for your candor and generous repartee. Yes, I do see a link between the Burlesque series and the Sylvester Manor series. It is your curiosity and possibly an unconscious understanding of the pathos of life that lies behind a painted smile, a wicked skill or decaying majesty.  Au revoir my friend and as Rod Stewart sang, “Every picture tells a story, don’t it…”

Jimmy on float

Shutter Talk is the brainchild of photograph collector, Interior decorator and world traveling raconteur, Lannie Versair. Lannie is the only child of a Midwestern Danish Furniture designer and a Parisian choreographer and poet. He splits his time with, his third and final wife, Clotilde and a triumvirate of pugs: Emil, Shorty and Victor Hugo, between a Frank Lloyd Wright bungalow in Oak Park, Illinois and the ancestral home in Paris. 

Please visit Gary’s work at https://www.garybeeber.com/