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Portrait of an Artist Interview with Heather McAllister by Jennifer Bracewell

We are delighted to publish our fifth Portrait of an Artist interview to this very special column, edited by Jennifer Bracewell. This week Jennifer has interviewed Heather McAllister, an incredible artist and one that I am very pleased to learn more about, you will be too. Over to you Jen, (foreword by Joanne Carter).

(We also have a dedicated Facebook group set up for this Column too – please join us here. Jennifer regularly adds and contributes to this. In addition we have set up a Flickr Group dedicated to this column. We would like you to send all your portraiture here and we will select images for curation and showcases as well as commentary – this is the Flickr Group link).

“Heather’s evocative work caught my eye around two years ago when I saw it on Instagram (she is known as @poppybay). Her images are rich, deep, and full of emotion. I am enamored with her entire multi-faceted body of work but it’s her portraits that especially move me. They’re brilliant, always seeming to be sharing a glimpse into a secret world. Heather is a generous, warm person, a great writer and a terrific artist. I’m so happy that she agreed to talk with me here. Here’s Heather!”



Image – ©Heather McAllister

What are your earliest memories of photography and/or art?

My grandfather was a doctor by day and amateur photographer in his spare time.  Although he passed away when I was a year old, he left behind piles of black and white portraits of his 5 children taken throughout the 1950’s and 60’s.  The portraits were taken on his trusty Rolleiflex against white backdrops, developed in the bathtub and tucked into homemade mattes.  I was an introspective child and would spend hours sifting through the portrait enlargements that were stacked artfully throughout my grandmother’s house, not understanding that I was receiving my first lessons in art and photography through my grandfather.

What have you sacrificed for your art?

I might immediately speculate that I have sacrificed time with my children after all of the hours spent behind a camera or editing.  But, I know that they are learning from having a mother who is passionate about an art form and that they in turn have learned to put such practice into their own lives and interests.   On the other hand, I have definitely sacrificed sleep in my pursuit of mobile photo art.  I seem to hit my editing stride at 1am too often.


Image – ©Heather McAllister

What is it that appeals so much to you about portraiture?

As mentioned above, my first lesson in photography was deeply intimate family portraiture.  The stories that can be told simply from the placement of light, an expression in the eyes or nuance in body language fascinate me.  Whether it’s a stranger or a family member, I’m eager to record those stories.

Self-portraiture is something that I did not explore until I discovered mobile photography 3 years ago and tends to account for about a third of the artistic work that I currently produce.  The I-phone makes taking self-portraits almost too easy.  While my kids cringe every time I point the camera their way, I can make my own choices if I’m the subject.  I’m then able to translate my current state of mind and emotions through layering and the myriad of apps at my disposal, leaving the possibilities for redefining the idea of portraiture endless and exciting.  A by-product of this process has been that I find it incredibly healing and cathartic in ways that I did not expect.

Why do you think mobile photography and portraiture work so well together?

Our mobile phone cameras are readily accessible for those perfect moments when light, mood and character all are in alignment and the moment is ripe for capturing.  This makes it the perfect tool in the pursuit of meaningful portraiture!
For years I carried around manual film cameras, point and shoots or hefty DSLRs to any family function or outing.  I’m so grateful for the moments that I captured but to have similar and almost equal capabilities now in the compact convenience of my mobile phone makes life so much simpler and lighter!

Post-processing directly on the I-phone or I-pad also takes portraiture to a whole new level for me.  Although I use Lightroom to edit DSLR work, I have always been intimidated about taking my creative ideas into Photoshop.  Having intuitive tools on my mobile devices that can manipulate images with relative ease took me to that next step that I was always so afraid of.


Image – ©Heather McAllister

Tell me about awards and recognition you’ve received

I have been fortunate to have photos selected as honorable mentions in the 2012 and 2013 Mobile Photo Awards.  A few photos were selected for the beautifully presented (by Dan Marcolina) Mobile Masters e-books 1 and 2.  I have had work selected for the Adobe Art Center Mobile Photography exhibit here in the Bay Area and the Exposure Mobile Art Exhibit (organized by Amy Liebrand) in Columbus, Ohio.  Recently, I was one of 26 artists selected for the MPA Shadow Stories print exhibit with displays in NYC and Toronto, Canada.

Which of your own images are you most proud of and why?

Looking back, I’m most appreciative of images that involve my children, documenting their evolution.


Image – ©Heather McAllister

What have been the high points and low points of your career so far?

I don’t know if I consider mobile art photography a career yet. I still feel like I’m tinkering and finding my voice.  I did have a solo show of my mobile photo art last year, organized by my brilliant artist sister.  I found it an important part of the artistic process to curate, print and frame a collection, forcing me to take a step back and analyze the work that I’m doing.  All in all, being a part of this huge community is always the high point.  The constant education and encouragement is priceless.  My only low points are when I don’t feel like I have enough time or energy to create.


Image – ©Heather McAllister

What would you say the biggest myth is about mobile photography?

I suppose that a myth might still linger out there that we upload images to Instagram and simply add a filter?  Possibly an outdated myth.  Having been to many Mobile Photography exhibitions in person and listening to the comments of passersby, it’s exciting to hear how surprised the general public is that so much can be achieved on these mobile devices.

What/whose work of art would you most like to own?

Ansel Adams, if for nothing more than to marvel at his perfection in printing.  An early abstract work by Georgia O’Keefe.  One of Edward Weston’s Point Lobos series, anything by Lee Friedlander, Frida Kahlo, Jerry Uelsmann.    The rule in our house is to only hang art created by friends and family members.  I still have quite a few friends whose work I would like to own!


Image – ©Heather McAllister

What song would work as the soundtrack to your life?

My Finest Hour” by the Sundays seems to be a song that I come back to throughout the years.  Maybe it’s just because the lyrics mention tea and poetry. Or maybe it’s because it explores the constant grasping to understand the humans around us while attempting to appreciate what we have for what it is.

Jennifer Bracewell is a native of the San Francisco Bay Area, she is a mother, an artist, a photographer, an iPhoneographer, and music lover. Much of Jennifer’s work is an exploration of self and image: the manipulation of self-portraits to bring out elements of humor, angst and beauty. Jennifer’s other works are an eclectic mix of country shots, animals, and captures of ephemeral moments in everyday life. Her images have been featured and displayed at Pixels at an Exhibition where she was featured artist for July, 2011 as well as other sites like Mashable , featured artist on iPhoneogenic in September, 2011, and major iPhoneographic blogs. Her work was recently featured in an article about iPhoneography in the Sydney Morning Herald. her work has been exhibited at the Adobe Shop in San Francisco, the Giorgi Gallery in Berkeley (September 22 – October 30, 2011), ArtsEye Gallery in Tucson in October-November 2011 and was featured at the Stephane Vereecken Gallery in Belgium in November, 2011 through January, 2012, a solo show with another scheduled for July, 2012, and at the SoHo Digital Art Gallery in New York City in December of 2011. Jennifer’s work was included in the iPhoneography Miami 2012 show in January, 2012. Five of Jennifer’s images were selected for display at Miami’s cutting-edge Lunchbox Gallery in their “iPhoneography: Updated Visual Dialogs” show, hanging from March 8 to April 7, 2012. Jennifer also has pieces in gallery shows this April at Orange County Center for Contemporary Arts and a three-month show this spring in San Francisco at the prestigious ArtHaus gallery, and these were recently featured in the San Francisco Examiner and the local CBS News 7.


  • Maria

    Heather all your work sings to me… and rather beautifully too!! You are inspirational and your work just gets better and better.
    Reading what you’ve written up here resonates with me so much, I guess thats why we’re friends…..

    M x