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A home for exclusive interviews with cool people and our favorite musings in fashion, culture, and wellness. 

March 12, 2023

Photography & Surrealism w/ Shelly Mosman

When it comes to Minnesota-based photographers, Shelly Mosman is in a league all her own. Celebrated for her timeless portraiture and colorful surrealism, Mosman’s photos have an arresting brilliance and whimsical flair that keep us coming back for more. We were lucky enough to catch a moment of her time to learn more about inspirations and her journey as a photographer.

BLNCDWORLD: Your photography is celebrated for its colorful surrealism and attention to detail. When do you first remember settling into your very specific artistic point of view? 

SM: After shooting professionally for fourteen years, I was forced to recreate myself.   I needed to stand out.  Work that blends in or is easy to copy was no longer an option for me.  I needed to find a new style of shooting and post-production in order to remain a photographer.  In 2011, I let go of my old ideas and walked blindly into what became my black and white work.  I remained in the black and white world until 2013 when it transformed into color.  I used specific lighting techniques on location to create a cinematic flavor.  In the studio, I stuck to a single light.  It took a while to dial in my color work.  My goal was to make digital look like film.  Then eventually, depending on the image, like a painting.  

BLNCD: What are some of your largest sources of inspiration in art, film, music, or the world at large?

SM: Skimming the very top of my inspiration bucket are paintings of all kinds, many from the romantic era.  I love Rossetti’s portraits and how he uses hand gestures.  In film, I’m influenced by the characters and styling of Wes Anderson and David Lynch, as well as the costume creations by Emma Fryer, whom I discovered through The Great tv series.  I look to Annie Leibowitz for her portrait work and lighting, as well as Helmut Newton for that avant-garde snap shot style and grit. 

BLNCDWORLD: There’s a very eclectic and whimsical look about your portrait work, but when you notice all the fine details, everything is supremely cohesive and intentional. Where do the themes for these photos usually begin? Is the creative sometimes anchored by a specific prop, wallpaper, costume, or subject, or does it start with a larger vision of a place and time? 

SM: All of the above!  I can be inspired by pretty much anything.  I’m also constantly wanting my work to move forward, not stay the same for too long.  I need my work to grow and change.  It’s a fine balance when you’re a commission artist.  

BLNCD: There are so many breathtaking set design elements in your work. How do you hunt down these incredible backdrops and props that bring your environments to life. Are you able to shop locally for these elements? 

SM: Some backdrops are hand-painted, some are vintage bedspreads and tapestries, and others are vintage curtains.  To make my work move forward, I’m always looking for ways to create new environments. I shop some items locally and some on Ebay.  Carter Everbeck is an artist I work with for hand-painted work.  

BLNCD: As a fellow Minnesotan, do you feel your Midwestern roots sometimes show up in your work? 

SM: My own childhood experiences and memories are surely represented in my work.  Born in MN, I live [all four] seasons and bring them into my backdrops.  On location, I use whatever is around me, urban or rural.  Concrete parking lots to woods and lakes, motorcycles to sailboats.  

BLNCD: Photography isn’t the easiest profession to thrive in, especially in the early years. Were there any big forks in the road or intentional choices that lead most impactfully to your success, as an artist and a business person? 

SM: I’m still trying to nail down the business side of things, as I would much rather focus on creativity.  Actually, not focusing on business back in 2011 is what helped me open my eyes artistically.  So I guess you could say it’s a double edge sword. I’m still trying to figure out that business and artist balance.

BLNCD: Any specific advice for aspiring photographers?

SM: To become a photographer, I truly believe you need to shoot every day for about fifteen years, then you can shoot every other day.  I’m just kidding, but it sure feels like that.  I shoot a lot. I feel like the only guidance I could give anyone would be how to find yourself in your own images, how to create the style that represents you and no one else.  Have curiosity and be willing to jump off the deep end. It’s ok to not know what the heck you’re doing.  Actually, I think that’s a great place to be and new things transpire from that kind of experimentation. When you start to inspire yourself, that’s a pretty good place to be.

BLNCD: What’s next for you? 

SM: I’ve recently been inspired to create a new portrait series, because I am involving other people and other designers. I love to be able to create an event around the series to show what we have created together.  Also, I’m very interested in the work that’s done at the Interact Center for the Arts. We will be working together for this event that is happening early October.  I’m still at the very early stages, otherwise I would say more about it, but I do expect to have at least two reveals posted on Instagram in March.

Follow Shelly Mosman on Instagram @shellymosman


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