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For the month of February, Blacktooth has reached out to creative photographer and historian Missy Burton. In honor of Black History Month, we will celebrate this extraordinary artist by taking a closer look at Missy's phenomenal work behind the lens. In addition to her stunning compositions, we will also explore the full dynamics of Missy's passion, her background as an artist, and her unique perspective on being a woman of color. Beyond this you will discover an artist brimming with confidence, integrity and pride. Indeed, Missy is fearless. She is a delightful trailblazer who takes bold chances with her camera. She is also a strong reminder that we must always believe in ourselves if we are going to make a difference, that our finest statements must come from a place of courage and truth. Regardless of your background, your race or color, your gender – you can always take control of your destiny with a little faith and fire. But let's not dilly-dally around. Let's find out exactly how Missy sees this thing called the universe...
Missy, welcome to RepDigest. It's such a pleasure to feature your story. Please share a little about yourself – your background, where you're from, what you specialize in as an artist.
Thank you for having me! It's an honor to be featured. I'm originally from Tulsa, OK, but currently live in Dallas. I use photography and poetry as my preferred mediums to express my interpretation of life, love and the world around us.
You are the first photographer to be featured on RepDigest. How long have you been working as a photographer and when did you first take an interest in the craft?
My grandfather gave me my first camera when I was five. It was a Polaroid Instamatic. From the first click I was fascinated by how this camera instantly gave me the "super power" to freeze time. I took pictures of everything at first, then I started focusing on moments that I never wanted to end.
Do you work exclusively in digital, or did you have previous experience working with film?
I guess you can say the first half of my photography life was film, but I never got the experience with developing my own work in a dark room. For the last 20 years or so I've been all digital. The last couple of years I have developed a keen interest in the warmth of film imagery. I've been doing some research on which camera to get in order to try my hand at it. I have a Brownie camera from back in the day, and although I think that would be interesting to explore, I think I want to try something a little more complex.
What are your favorite brands to shoot with and which lenses are you accustomed to using?
I'm a Canon shooter. Me and my Nikon friends are always arguing over which brand is the best. Honestly, it's the one you think is the best. My favorite lens is an 18mm - 135mm. I like it because it pretty much gives me what I want in just about every scenario. My other favorite is a 70mm - 200mm. I also like to use the 55mm sometimes, but not as often.
Do you work with programs like PhotoShop or LightRoom to enhance and edit your visuals?
Yes. I use PhotoShop, LightRoom and a few other applications in post processing. I like to think of these tools like they are my paint brush. Every image starts in my head. I begin each photo-shoot with a detailed, carefully designed set. I am deliberate when choosing my subjects so that they complement the imagery that I ultimately want to convey. The key is to get the image out of the camera as close as possible to what I originally envision. Then I run it through various applications to get the final result. For example, I may use LightRoom on one image, but on another I may go in a LightRoom and PhotoShop loop to get the final image. It's a spiritual thing when I know it's done. I always know when an image is complete. It's like my imagination and my heart synch up and my brain gives me a thumbs up.
Do you shoot in Camera Raw? Is there a significant difference on the other side of production?
I always shoot Camera Raw because I want all the pixels available when I begin my creations. I also like having the original image to go back to should I decide to do something different with it.
What are your favorite subjects to shoot? Explain what you enjoy most about the subjects you choose to compose in your lens.
My absolute number one favorite thing to shoot is butterflies. That is my spirit animal. I'm a certified butterfly gardener and I've been known to travel far and wide just to capture a certain species. I recently went to Costa Rica to capture the Blue Morpho and the Glass Wing butterflies in their natural habitat. That was the hardest thing I ever did in my life, but it was so worth it.
You've displayed many classical depictions of the working black woman in the past. From a historical context, how is this subject important to you?
I consider myself an Artivist. My inspiration comes from my perception of the effects of social influences on human rights. As a woman of color, my vantage point tends to hover around women and more specifically women of color. I want people to know our history. I want people to see our humanity. Most of all I want to convey the magnitude of women's contribution to humankind. Nobody gets here without us. Nobody. That is divine...
As February is Black History Month, what special message would you like to send to other black artists – whether they be painters, photographers, poets or otherwise?
Always be true to yourself and never let anyone tell you that you are not enough. You are enough and the only thing you should be concerned about is being the absolute best version of yourself that you can possibly be. Let your light shine because that gift you have inside of you is divine.
As a woman of color, do you find it more challenging to make an impact as an artist? Are there still hidden barriers, stereotypes or discriminations in society that you have encountered or experienced? If so, how would you like to change these things?
Absolutely! I have to deal with so much discrimination as a female artist I probably miss most of the shade thrown my way as a black female artist. Every once in a while it's blatant though. That's where folks see my work and look the other way because "it's just too black". Other times are when I notice that I get invited to exhibit my work only during February (Black History Month) and June (Juneteenth). But you know how I get around that? I create my own lane. I finance my own solo shows and more recently I'm the co-founder of Msanii HOUS Fine Art located in historic downtown Carrollton, TX. My grandpa always told me to "Go around it, go over it, or go under it... just keep going." That's exactly what I'm going to do.
What kind of cultural impact do you think African Americans have made in the art industry over the past century? Do you feel there is a level playing field in 2020 as far as opportunity and relevance, or is there still much more work to be done?
I believe African Americans have made a huge impact in the art world despite there not being a level playing field. There are opportunities out there currently because African American art is very popular, but there is still so much work to be done.
How would you like your incredible works to be remembered by future generations? What is the most important lesson you are trying to express through your lens?
I want people to see the passion in my work and remember the stories that I tell. I want my work to be so impactful that people are discussing it a hundred years from now. I want them to see me as a great artist and a photographer that just happens to be a woman of color. The lesson I'm trying to convey through my lens is "I see you, but do you really see me?"
Missy, provide at least three important role models or mentors you've had in your life as an artist? What did these individuals mean to you as a professional?
• I inherited my grandfather's "eye" and his love for photography – for that I am eternally grateful.
• My husband because he is notorious for pushing me off the cliff and yelling "pull the chord baby!"
• Evita Tezeno is an amazing artist who took me under her wing as a mentee. The art world is cliquish and it's difficult to find someone to teach you how to navigate it. I have learned so much from her and the lessons continue.
• I'm also a part of a female artist collective. There are 20 of us and I can't even begin to tell you how impactful this group of women have been to me. They are all my muses.
Explain how you approach a new project or creative idea. From A to Z, what is your logical approach to establishing a scene, composing your shot and executing in post-production?
Typically, I'm awakened at some random hour with an idea that I have to go to my home studio to vet out. I begin each photo-shoot with a detailed, carefully designed set. I am deliberate when choosing my subjects so that they complement the imagery that I ultimately want to convey. This sets a strong foundation for the final result that I meticulously develop in my studio using digital manipulation. I then use specific care when deciding on the paper, mounting and framing for the final reveal, as they are all part of the story. Although I love working with color I am particularly drawn to black-and-white images because I strongly believe that the absence of color encourages the viewer to look beyond the obvious to explore the subliminal. I often use poetry to accompany my works to give voice to the walls.
When composing a visual, are you working to tell a particular story or theme? Also, do you find it difficult working with models or getting them to understand your vision or direction?
I love the storytelling aspect of photography and I'm a story teller. For example, my latest series follows seven generations of women. The story is an extension of the piece called "Dada" which is my interpretation of the archetype American Mammy. Viewers have connected with "Dada" in such a way that they started asking me questions about her personally. This dialogue inspired me to create an entire story of "Dada" which chronicles where she came from and how long it took her lineage to return to freedom. I worked with a historian on each character in the story to make sure everything was historically accurate even though my characters were fictitious. I'm very excited about the reveal of this work in 2020 as I think it is my best work to date.
You've been featured in many exhibits in the state of Texas. Have your images been displayed elsewhere? Any prominent shows on the horizon?
I currently have work in Cleveland at Framed Art Gallery. I have also been published twice this year in FotoShoot Magazine. I was chosen as one of the artists to be featured in the international FOTOFEST BIENNIAL 2020 in March 2020. This will be the first time I have exhibited on a large scale and I'm very excited about this opportunity.
What are your long-term goals as an artist and what would you most like your legacy to be?
I currently have a corporate gig in addition to being a full-time artist and now a gallery owner. My long-term strategy would be to retire from corporate America and focus on my work and building global awareness of the gallery. I hope that my legacy as an artist is that I was never afraid to pay it forward. For everyone that has helped me get to this point, I want to do the same for others.
Anything additional you'd like to share with the audience – fascinating statements or facts about the artist known as Missy Burton?
I am also a mentor for aspiring artists. I am passionate about teaching children to see beauty where ever they look. I want to develop after school and summer programs for creative children so they have a place to go to explore their gifts.
Bonus questions featured with each gallery image!