Member of the Month January 2018
Beth DixsonJanuary 4, 2018
All Photos © Beth Dixson
Having grown up in a rural community just outside of Portland, Oregon, Dixson has always loved hitting the road with her camera looking for a great adventure. She eventually wound up in the East Village of New York City where she has been working as a photographer for a number of years and now lives with her husband and their crazy cockatoo, Sammy. She’s currently working between New York and Portland.
Peter Berberian: What made you first decide you were going to be a photographer?
Beth Dixson: I received a camera from my mother at a young age. She had been a big camera buff and encouraged me to pick it up. In my late teens, I determined that I wanted to be a filmmaker or a writer of some kind. I pursued writing and art history in college and took photography and film classes on the side. (At the time, my school didn’t offer degrees in either.) During my film classes, I found myself drawn more and more to the power of still photography. Like many students, I was working and taking a heavy load of classes. I decided to take a break for a few months to clear my head, so I took the money I’d saved and went to Europe. All I had was my backpack and my camera. (This was before cell phones, so you really could get away from things.) I became so invested in visually interpreting what I was seeing that, when I returned to the states, I shifted all of my energy into creating and finding stories that I could capture with my camera.
PB: What do you primarily photograph?
BD: Primarily people. I think of myself as a lifestyle portraitist. I also shoot travel. I’m always trying to capture or create a moment that I think makes a person or place unique. I feel most successful when I can pull it off with a playful spin.
PB: Do you do anything before a shoot to prepare yourself?
BD: I was both athletic and a good student as a kid, so I’ve always maintained a pretty good work ethic. I prepare as much as I can and find out what I can about the location. I storyboard. I talk to everyone working with me and make sure myself and the people who hire me are on the same page as far as direction goes. I research the subject and find out what I can about them and how they’ve been photographed before. Then I keep everything in mind as I deal with the reality of what actually happens on shoot day.
PB: What is your favorite set up to shoot with?
BD: I miss my old medium format, but the reality is that I currently shoot everything on a Nikon D800. It’s treated me pretty well the past few years. My go-to lens is the 50mm. I try to change it up every now and then, but I always come back to it.
PB: Who are your greatest influences in the art world?
BD: There are so many. I’m one of those people who’s inspired by everything I see. As far as non-photographers go, the work of Egon Schiele and Marc Chagall give me as much joy as the work of Norman Rockwell, Picasso (blue period,) Marilyn Minter and Edward Hopper. The films of Peter Greenaway and Wim Wenders were hugely inspirational. My favorite artist of all is probably Gian Lorenzo Bernini. How it all influences me, I have no idea, but it all does somehow.
PB: What is your favorite photography quote?
BD: “I don’t think I could get beyond the nose.” -Irving Penn.
PB: Who are your three favorite photographers?
BD: There’s such a long list. There’s no way I can whittle it down to three, but I can manage six. Here they are:
Sally Mann. I love everything she does. I would love to be a fly on the wall and watch her work.
Martin Parr. The life, humor and compassion he brings to his work makes me smile every time I see it.
William Eggleston. So much of his work is wonderful in the simplicity.
Henri Cartier-Bresson. It all starts here really.
Annie Leibovitz. When she’s on fire, she can be magnificent.
Richard Avedon. Every genre he touched was beautiful.
PB: If you were to do anything else for a living, what would it be?
BD: Probably write or be a filmmaker. I seem to like finding and telling stories.
PB: What is your favorite photo that you have taken?
BD: This answer changes depending on how I feel, but this photograph has been making the top a lot the past couple of years. It’s a photo that I refer to as “Mother Dear.” She’s not my mother, but she’s someone who’s daughter refers to her as “Mother Dear.” For me, it perfectly encapsulates this wonderful woman I knew for a moment. For the shoot, we brought along an enormous tiara. She’s naturally quite the show woman, but there was one moment, between the dramatic actions where she calmly looked off into the distance wearing her family tartan and this enormous tiara. She looked like the Queen of Scotland. She’s a lovely, fun woman and I managed to capture who I saw her as, perfectly, in this one image.
PB: What is your favorite personal picture you have taken?
BD: Again, there are a few different shots that would work to answer this question. It’s always changing. At the moment though, I keep coming back to this shot of my mom. She had a severe stroke about a year ago, and there have been so many new difficulties she’s had to endure and obstacles she’s had to overcome. Throughout this crisis, the one thing that’s really stood out is how much her sense of humor is shining through the chaos. This photo is a constant reminder of that for me. She’s laughing through all the mess and hardship.