It took Faith Bemiss several years to acquire one of the most important photographer’s tools — a camera — but fellow artists say she has always possessed another important tool: An eye for what looks good.
The current exhibit at the Liberty Center’s Loft Gallery, “Into a New Era,” showcases the Sedalian’s work dating back to 1993, when she was a stay-at-home mom saving up with her husband, Roy, for that elusive first camera.
“In ’93, I got my first film camera, a 35-millimeter, and people started looking at my images and saying ‘You need to try to get these submitted to magazines.’ The first image I got published was on the cover of Birds & Blooms magazine in June of ’96. It was their fourth issue.”
Her first solo exhibit, running through this month, is long overdue. Bemiss’s work has been a fixture in Sedalia Visual Art Association shows, she’s had two pieces in the Missouri State Fair’s “MO 50” exhibit, and a large selection of her commissioned work can be seen at the Sylvia G. Thompson Residence Center.
“She’s gone leaps and bounds with everything she’s done,” said Sedalia artist Madge Gressley, the president of the Liberty Center Board of Directors. “Some pictures are really stylish, some are avant-garde, and then she’s getting into the abstract things, and she still has the traditional ones. She has an eye and a feel for what looks good, and you can’t learn all of that. Part of it has to be ingrained, and I think she’s got that.”
Indeed, Bemiss is self-taught, artistically, technically and on the business side of things.
“At Smith-Cotton (High School), I painted, did oils, did clay. I was never happy with my artwork. When I got a magazine, I would look at the photographs before I would read an article. So I was always very visual, and I could never create with painting or drawing what I wanted to do with photography. At that time, I didn’t have the money for a camera to take the camera class.”
Several years later, she rectified that situation.
“We bought a used 35-millimeter from a friend and I’d ask questions of different people,” said Bemiss, who has also written a poetry/photography book and writes food features for the Democrat. “And I got ‘The Photographer’s Market Book,’ and that’s how I first started marketing my work. I just started sending out submissions and writing letters.”
At first, she shot flowers, partly out of her love of the colorful subject matter, partly out of pragmatism.
“I wanted to be a wildlife photographer, but I needed a lot more equipment — expensive lenses and blinds,” said Bemiss, who has three grown children in La Monte, Louisville, Ky., and Sedalia. “So since I had a family, I settled for garden photography and talked to garden magazines.
“In the late ’90s, I started thinking, well, they usually associate women’s photography with flowers, and I felt I had a deeper message than that. I’ve always liked the Southwest and the desert and the canyons.”
When the Bemisses went on vacation, Faith’s passion for pictures was often an annoyance to her children.
“The kids would be in the back seat going, ‘Oh no, Mom’s stopping again.’ It got to the point where I got more selective. And because of the economy, we’ve not gone (on long trips) as often lately.”
Bemiss was a long holdout to the digital era, finally purchasing a Nikon D-200 in 2007.
“I wouldn’t switch to digital because I was a purist, and then I saw that’s where it was going and that’s where I needed to be. And from there I progressed from plain digital to manipulated and layered photography.”
Despite the new artistic areas that digital photography has opened up, Bemiss gets nostalgic for the days of film.
“I did like the surprise element,” she said. “You have the instant gratification now, which has its pros and its cons. And you don’t have to pay to have a roll of film developed. But there was always that neat little surprise, like a package you could unwrap.”
Fortunately for Bemiss, photography and art in general has provided her with plenty of new surprises. She recently got back into painting; some of her work at the Liberty Center features paintings digitally blended with the original photograph.
And she’ll teach a Lifelong Learning class in January at State Fair Community College, combining photography with poetry, as she did in her 2009 book “Toward the Sun.”
“It’s gonna be on writing poetry and putting photos with your poetry,” Bemiss said, chuckling at the specific nature of the class. “So we’ll see how that goes.”
IF YOU GO
WHAT: “Into a New Era,” art by Faith Bemiss
WHEN: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, through Sept. 28
WHERE: Liberty Center Loft Gallery, 111 W. Fifth St., Sedalia
WEBSITES: lcaasedalia.com, faithbemissphotography.com