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Mary K. Shisler - Preserver of the Nature Beauty

through the Lens and Alternative Processing

By Adelina, May 21, 2019

The rural farmland of Wisconsin helped Mary develop a profound love for nature, especially its petals, flowers, leaves, trees, and waters. To Mary, the colors and shapes of these natural wonders not only give her inspiration but also a desire to preserve them through her lens.

She started with traditional black-and-white photography but it did not really grow on her. Later, she began working with alternative processing which has earned her nationwide recognition.

Following in the footsteps of Anna Atkins (accredited with the first book illustrated with photographic images, British Algae, Cyanotype Impressions in 19th century), Mary has always been ahead of her time and become a pioneer in the world of alternative processes. Originating from her keen curiosity, she has ventured out to different mediums including negative gum prints from old family tintypes, scanners, and stainless steel.

After Mary moved to Toronto from San Diego, she worked with Cyanotype impression on stainless steel with the traditional blue color on a single plate. Then she worked on a series of stainless steel plates and extended her images horizontally across multiple plates of steel. Mary even developed her own technique with Van Dyke prints and cyanotypes by experimenting with various chemicals to produce different colors. Later, Mary’s work was shown at the Ryerson Gallery in Toronto, (Dendritic Plates).

When the digital revolution arrived, Mary turned her creativity to working with a scanner. Just another camera really.

To Mary, nature is everything. In her “Faces in the Crowd” and “Wabi Sabi” series, she primarily used scanners to scan parts of flowers and plants. Because the scanning took place in a special room, the background turned black and created the ideal visual contrast. With this process, nature has been beautifully preserved, whether the subject be withered or fully grown.

While the “Faces in the Crowd” series focuses on close up images of individual flowers and plants (inspired by Karl Blossfeld’s UNFORMEN DER KUNST, published in 1929), the “Wabi Sabi” series captures the imperfect world.

(Courtesy: http://www.marykshisler.com/)

From childhood, Mary liked to look at water which she thinks reflects the quality of nature -- sometimes the water is still like a mirror, reflecting the surroundings; other times, the water has ripples or waves which form interesting patterns due to storms or undercurrents.

Even when traveling abroad, Mary enjoys taking photos of the local rivers, ponds, lakes, and beaches. In order to create dramatic effects, she likes to use light to create shadows which add more dimensionality to the images. In order to capture the most precious moments, Mary often waits patiently for the sun to climb to a certain angle to create the desired effects.

Mary, an adventurous and creative artist, has added many colors and dimensions to the world of art through her experimentation and trials. Her work could be seen at various art shows in the San Francisco Bay Area. Just last year alone, her works were presented at the following locations: Art Span Open Studio, Ballroom, General’s Residence, San Francisco, CA, stARTup Fair SF, San Francisco, CA, Pro Arts Open Studio, Studio 39, Sawtooth Building, Berkeley, CA.

I met Mary recently at her current exhibit, “Portraits of Nature” at North Berkeley Investment Partners in Berkeley, CA. Mary was very kind and gracious sharing her experiences in producing her artwork. Through her energetic explanations, I have come to know a lady who relentless charges on in celebrating nature through art.