Waterfall © Carol Mollhagen Erb

Rfotofolio is honored to share the work of photographer Carol Mollhagen Erb.

Would you please tell us a little about yourself?

I grew up in a pretty college town in the Midwest. During the summer, I spent a lot of time playing in the woods behind our house. As an adult, I still feel happiest when I am out in the wilderness, hiking, identifying animal tracks, or just sitting and listen to the birds. My parents were very involved in the local art scene, so from a young age we had art lessons, which led to studying art in college. After two years at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago I decided I could make more money with numbers than paint, so I transferred to DePaul for a finance degree. I worked as a financial analyst for a number for years, but left that behind when my husband and I relocated to the west coast. It was a great opportunity to return to making art, which at that point meant painting and drawing. About four years ago I discovered Photoshop, and immediately knew that manipulating photographic imagery was my calling.

Where did you get your photographic training?

Mostly self-taught. I did take a photography/darkroom class in college, but felt that analog photography was too limited for my purposes.

Did you have a mentor?

I’m lucky enough to live in L.A. where Aline Smithson teaches a number of classes. She opened up a whole world of juried competitions and portfolio reviews that I never knew existed. Without her encouragement, support, and guidance, I would not be doing any of this.

Which photographers and other artists work do you admire?

Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s genre paintings captivated me as a child, and continue to influence me today. They are a window into an enchanting long ago world of peasants going about their daily lives. Bruegel’s scenes are full of metaphors, proverbs, and subversive jabs at the Spanish Catholic rule over the Protestant Netherlandish people.
In the photography category, I’ll jump ahead several centuries to Andreas Gursky and Jeff Wall, who both make work that draws me in, and keeps me coming back for more.

Please tell us about an image (not your own) that has stayed with you over time.

By chance, I wandered into the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago in 2002. The main exhibit that summer was the work of Andreas Gursky, an artist that I had never heard of. “The Rhine II” was one of the most beautiful photographs I had ever seen. It’s the kind of thing you have to see in person to really appreciate. That was almost ten years before it fetched $4.3 million at auction.

What image of yours would you say taught you an important lesson?

I took a week-long workshop in street photography a few years ago and came away with one image that I sort of liked. I don’t show it, because the whole experience was so unpleasant for me. It taught me that I am extremely uncomfortable about photographing people, especially people I don’t know. That said, I do love looking at photographs of people and have a great appreciation for street and portrait photographers.

Hut © Carol Mollhagen Erb
Big Old Tree © Carol Mollhagen Erb

What makes a good day for you creatively speaking?

Every day that I can work on my images is a good day. The great thing about working with a technical medium is that if I hit a speed bump creatively, there are many other aspects of an image that need work. I’m always experimenting with the latest tools and techniques in Photoshop. Before I made the switch to photography, when I was painting, there really wasn’t anything else I could do, but paint. It could be very frustrating when the creative juices weren’t flowing.

Fury © Carol Mollhagen Erb

If you could spend a day with any other photographer or artist living or passed who would it be?

Tom Chambers, because I think his Photoshop skills are flawless. I would love to just sit and watch him work.

What equipment have you found essential in the making of your work?

Without a doubt, Photoshop.

What hangs on your walls?

I’ve been collecting art for a long time. My parents were big supporters of local artist, so I try to follow in their path. The pieces that I love the most are the ones that have been made by people I know, and because of that, most of my collection is photography. I do occasionally buy from galleries because I believe in supporting them. They are like small museums with no admission fee. It’s something that we would really miss if they went away.

What’s on the horizon?

Right now I’m challenging myself to work in black and white. In my previous work, color has been an important part of my compositions. I decided to take that element away to see what would happen. Other than that, I have no idea, and really, that’s the fun of it. My focus is on making the best images I can. Anything that happens as a result is frosting on the top.

To learn more about the work of Carol Mollhagen Erb please visit here site, Carol Mollhagen Erb

2 thoughts on “On the Journey with Carol Mollhagen Erb

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