24. Peter Blanchard Interview

Peter Blanchard on TideBreakers ExchangePeter Blanchard on PatreonPeter Blanchard on FacebookPeter Blanchard on TwitterPeter Blanchard's Manifest Photo Website

Peter Blanchard

1. Hi Peter! Would you like to explain a little about who you are and about your Healing Art Cart project?
My name is Peter Blanchard, and I’m a nature & landscape photographer based in Portland, Oregon. Since very early on I have been focused on providing art for healing spaces in accordance with Evidence Based Art research, and the Healing Art Cart program is my newest and most exciting way of doing this.

The program is designed to let long-term hospital patients choose the art on the walls in their own hospital rooms. In addition to the benefits provided by the art itself, the opportunity to choose what goes in their own rooms provides patients with a much-needed sense of control, at a time when pretty much everything else feels out of control.

The idea is fairly simple, but it is still proving to be a long road from concept to reality. It’s been about a year and a half since I first came up with the idea, and in that time I’ve managed to foster a great relationship with Legacy Emanuel Hospital here in Portland. They have given me approval to pilot the program in the Oregon Burn Center there, which is a huge victory, but we still need to secure the funding to make it happen.

I’ve devoted tons of time to this project, and unfortunately my progress has come at the expense of my regular income generators like art sales and leasing. I’m working now to find a balance between pursuing this big dream while still giving enough enough to other things to make ends meet.

At this stage, the best way for most people to support my work on this project is through Patreon, and you can also follow along through Facebook and Twitter. The best way to see my work online is on my website.

2. I know this is a big question, but I like to ask everyone this – what’s the dream?
Wow. Well, I have lots of (BIG) dreams, but for the sake of brevity, I’ll focus on the dream for the Healing Art Cart: I’d really like to see this program go global. I want it in hospitals all over the world, so that my art and the art of others like me can play a significant role in improving health outcomes and hospital experiences worldwide.

3. How can I/we help you achieve that dream?
You can help by taking a moment to ask yourself what thing of value to this project you are able and willing to give, and then giving it. A few of the specific things I need include:

  • Money. Patreon is great for smaller contributions, or get in touch if you have a bigger funding opportunity for me.
  • Publicity. Do you run a blog (thanks Duncan) or work at a news agency? I’d love to do a story.
  • Outreach. Although I’m still working on the pilot at the first hospital, I’m already looking for connections elsewhere. I would love introductions to people who will advocate to have this program in any other hospital.
  • Gallery Space. The best way for me to spread the word about my art and these programs is to show my work where lots of people can see it. I’m interested in finding a long-term showroom space in Portland, as well as opportunities to show nation-wide.


To connect with me directly about any of these things, you can email me: (Peter [at] manifestphoto [dot] com)

Inspiration

Peter Blanchard 'Bridging Every Chasm'

4. Experiencing the natural world is very clearly a big inspiration for you; can you describe the first time you were really aware of the excitement of being able to document and capture it?
I can’t possibly think of the first time, but I’ll mention that when I was in college I actually had a great time doing some outdoor/night-time charcoal drawings. I spent hours studying the silhouettes of trees and working to get the light from a lamp-post just right.

I guess you were probably expecting a photography story, but that experience has really stuck with me, so I’m going with it.

5. You’ve mentioned the process of photography is a meditative experience for you – as photography is such a visual medium, do you find there are ever times you find it difficult to switch off the composition part of your mind?
Not really, no. I am certainly always noticing things that I find interesting or inspiring, but when I have my camera, I’m composing, and when I don’t, I’m not. It’s almost like the act of looking through the viewfinder puts me in a different mode, focusing my mind on creating an image while turning down the volume on all of my other concerns. This mental shift is one of the big reasons I keep creating as a photographer – it’s a way for me to quiet my mind and be present in a whole other way.

6. One of the inspirations you’ve cited is Zeb Andrews. Whilst there are some similarities in the way you both depict natural landscapes, he seems to use much longer exposure times and he also uses urban landscapes in a lot of his composition. Is there anything in these dissimilar elements that you think informs the way you compose your own photographs?

What I like about Zeb Andrews is precisely that we have very different styles, but the feeling that I often get from his images is similar to the feeling I’m creating in my own images. I am nearly obsessive about fine detail and technical perfection, while his style is much more loose and free-flowing. But his images are still perfect in their way, and very expressive. I don’t seek to emulate his work, I just enjoy seeing the way his passion and creativity continually show through in his images, and that in itself is inspiring to me.

7. You’ve said that another of your inspirations is Rick Stare who, whilst he also uses the natural world as a subject matter, has a very different visual style to you. What is there about his more impressionistic take on photography inspires you? Is there a sensation or experience you take from his photographs that you’d like to recreate? How do you go about doing that?

Rick Stare’s work is a more recent discovery for me, but I found a lot of inspiration in his Coastline and Trees collections. Once again, I think it’s the fact that we have different styles that allows me to simply enjoy his work. I guess I’m a bit of a perfectionist, so when I see work that is very similar to my own, I can tend to pick it apart or find little things I would have done differently. His technique of intentional camera movement fascinates me, and also separates me enough from the technical aspects of the work that I can just dive in and enjoy the feeling he creates.

8. The Healing Art Cart is such a noble and kind-spirited project which I genuinely believe will help a lot of people. Was there ever a time when you found that looking at, or being able to discuss a photograph offered you similar comfort and transcendence from a particular situation?

The best example I can think of comes not from a photograph, but from an actual experience I had many years ago, during a particularly difficult period in my life.

On a cold walk home, very late one night, I looked up and saw a full rainbow, shining brightly in a circle all the way around the moon. Everything stopped for me in that moment; all of my pain and loneliness evaporated, and my mind went still. For a few precious moments, I was fully present, my silent sense of wonder crowding out all of the noise that had been filling my head. Nothing existed except me, the moon, and its brilliant rainbow halo.

As I look back on that night, I can see that the experience helped me in two very profound ways. In the moment, it jolted me out of my immediate difficulties. It gave me a sense of hope where there had been none, and the motivation to go on. But in the bigger picture, I can now see that it also showed me what incredible power even a brief moment of wonder can truly have. The freedom and relief that I felt in that moment are exactly what I’m seeking to give my audience, especially those who are suffering in the hospital.

9. Travelling seems to be an integral part of your photographic work; how do you go about selecting where to travel? Would you say that your photography inspires your destination-choices, or do you find that your choice of destination mainly inspires the photographs?

This goes both ways. Every time I travel for any reason, it is a photographic opportunity, and I’m on the lookout. But I also love to travel, and I do plan trips around things I’d like to see and photograph whenever I can.

Creation

Peter Blanchard 'In Memory'

10. It’s very clear that personal enjoyment is a big reason for how and why you compose your photographs, but as the Healing Art Cart is so focussed on the viewer’s experience, how much do you find you think about the audience’s enjoyment of a picture when you take it?
Well, I’m fortunate in the fact that the kinds of images I like to create overlap a great deal with the kinds of images that Evidence-Based Art has found to be beneficial in healthcare settings. Of course, not every image I create fits, and I do now pay attention when I am creating. The only difficulty this really causes me is that as I establish myself as an artist focused on art for healthcare, it’s harder to know what to do with the smaller portion of images I create that really don’t belong there.

11. How do changing weather conditions affect your perception of a subject? Have you found you have a perceptibly different response from your pictures depending on the weather they were taken in?
Sure. I guess this can be separated into the weather you can see, and the weather you can’t. Snow and rain and clouds and such definitely impact the way the image turns out, and in turn the feeling that the viewer will get. But there are some images where my own personal perceptions are colored by my memory – say if it was extraordinarily cold when I took a picture, even if it doesn’t look so in the image.

12. If the subject or composition of a picture has had a good reception from in the past, do you try and replicate or expand upon it in the future?
Yes, though not always consciously. I think like anyone, I respond to the feedback I’m given, and I like good feedback! But I also enjoy the fact that most of my images are completely unreproducible . . . even if I go back to the same spot around the same time and try to do the same thing, I just won’t get the same result. There’s something pleasing about the transient nature of a scene, that means you had to be there right at that moment to see it exactly this way.

13. What sort of indicators are there for if a picture is not quite right for the Healing Art Cart? How do you learn from images you’ve had less of a positive reaction to, and what sort of things have you learned from?
In choosing images for the Healing Art Cart, I seek to combine all of the research I’ve read with my own intuition about which images will be most effective. The research provides some very concrete guidelines and specific elements that have been shown to be helpful (things like calm/slow-moving water, verdant foliage, foreground openness, etc.). What the research has a harder time with is the more subjective, aesthetic distinctions.

Say you have two different pictures, both containing a lake with a tree and some birds in the sky. Although the elements of each picture are the same, one could be beautiful and calming, while the other was plain or even ugly. Once I have made sure my images follow the guidelines laid out by the research, I then allow myself to apply my own intuitive sense of which images will provide the best experience for patients.

14. To what extent do you allow your camera to be involved in the picture-taking process? Do you search for the right picture with your eyes and imagination and then try to capture it as best you can, or do you allow yourself a little more freedom with the camera, and then select the best pictures later on?
I suppose I do some of both. I definitely don’t subscribe to the “spray and pray” methodology of taking zillions of photos just in the hopes that one will be good, but I do allow myself some latitude to experiment when I’m not sure how to capture something new. There’s no denying that digital photography provides a level of feedback that makes learning new things much faster than it was in the days of film.

Life

Peter Blanchard 'Washed Over'

15. What else is going on in your life at the moment? Have you any other creative outlets which you think inform your photography?
Nearly everything I do informs my photography to some degree or another. Books I read, places I travel, conversations with friends, music I listen to . . . photography is one of the ways that I process my life, so nearly everything in my life shows up there sooner or later.

16. You’ve mentioned that you’ve always had an interest in photography – to what extent has the Healing Art Cart affected your relationship with it?
The Healing Art Cart has given me a new sense of purpose, and a reason to seek out a specific kind of images, but otherwise hasn’t changed much about the way I approach photography. The project was born of my photographic endeavors, so it fit fairly naturally with what I was already doing.

17. What advice would you give to other people just starting out with an online creative project? Has there been anything you’ve learned which you think might be universally applicable?
I don’t really feel like I’m an expert with the online component of what I’m doing. I guess I would just say that it’s important to be genuine and consistent in your communications. People want to hear what’s really driving you.

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