Inside the Studio

Visually Oriented R. Michael Walker Captures Meaningful Portrayals

What are the major themes you pursue in your work?

Back in the ’70s I made it my mission to meet and study with my favorite fine art photographers via workshops and personal critiques. They included Ansel Adams, Robert Heineken, Wynn Bullock, Judy Dater, Ekioh Hose, Lucien Clergue and others. This combined with my college fine art training and 50 years making images about things and people close to me has given me a unique perspective on the world that I hope my work reflects.

I shoot mostly Nude Portraits but have also ventured into more Landscape work in my later years. I use to do a lot of Human condition work but I’ve found that a bit more difficult (and dangerous) in the heavily populated areas I now live in. I prefer the small country towns and the time to actually get to know the people I am photographing there. A good example of this work is my Sadieville KY series. I was up there at least 20 times over a 3 year period making those images. The people of that small town got to know me and I them. I was invited to dinner there numerous times. To me, getting to know your subject leads to more meaningful images. It’s also why, when shooting models, I prefer to shoot the same person as many times as I can. The photos keep getting better and become more actual “portrayals” than just constructs.

What was the best advice given to you as an artist?

Create art about what you love. That will help you develop a style. The more personal the work the more cohesive it will appear, regardless of subject matter. Don’t try forcing “style” by using gimmicks like repeated props or always shooting with the same lens or backgrounds. Instead, let the art flow out of yourself and the interactions with your subject. If that doesn’t create anything meaningful maybe you should rethink making art.

Prefer to work with music or in silence?

In the field I work in silence. Some to take in the environment, since 90% of my work is out in the world and not in the studio. Some is to not draw attention to me since I’m usually shooting nudes. When doing post work I am ALWAYS playing a very eclectic collection of music from Classic Rock to Gillian Welch and Drive-By Truckers.

If you could only have one piece of art in your life, what would it be?

If I could afford it I’d select either “Pepper 30” or “Charis Wilson, Nude Floating, 1939”, both by Edward Weston. Both were early inspirations for me. When I saw Weston’s work I knew photography could be more than “Commercialism” or “Journalism”.

Who are your favorite writers?

I don’t read much except for tech manuals. My inspiration comes more from music and travels plus new people to photograph … not Literature.  On the other hand one of my pics posted is of the author Henry Miller. I did read a couple of his books before I photographed him. But in general I’m more “visually oriented” than print oriented. 

About the Author

Katherine Henning is Senior Associate Curator at Saatchi Art. Need help finding art? Contact her via our free Art Advisory service here.