The Luminous Photography of Shawnee Tucker

by Catherine Petru

I was listening to an interview with the luminous Mary Oliver yesterday in which she recommends all writers write without a computer. I was inspired to compose this piece by hand , but was then told my writing was in fact tough to decipher. So I have typed up my handwritten interview of the simply lovely Shawnee Tucker for your convenience. You’re welcome!

Photograph by Shawnee Tucker.
Photograph by Shawnee Tucker.

Shawnee’s (shaw-KNEE) show on April 5th at the Collaboratory’s Backstreet Bazaar is called “After the Storm.” In our hour at Miro Tea way up in Ballard, I became a diehard advocate of Ms. Tucker’s. Girlfriend weathered a storm.

And her evocatively tactile photographs are evidence that, as Shawnee put it, “Wow. There is a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. There is another side, and you can get there like I got there. Life is good.”

“I was raised in a religious cult,” Shawnee explained to me. She grew up in Seattle’s Beacon Hill neighborhood with her father, from Kansas, and her mother, who became a Jehovah’s Witness when Shawnee was 18 months old. “We were not allowed to go to college. We were weird. We were outcasts.” This “mythology,” as Shawnee called it, haunted her for many years until she was finally excommunicated at age 18. “My whole world as gone.”

Shawnee supported herself and her twin boys as an account executive for Marriott. She actually enjoyed the restaurant and hospitality industries, but ever since she was a young girl, Shawnee had a love affair with paper and paint. She wanted to study art and psychology. She’s been a painter her whole life, but only now are her art and her deeply creative spirit making their way to the foreground – at age 61 :)

Though her adolescence was splattered with hardship, the storm to which Shawnee’s photography refers began at age 50. Her struggle is personal, of course, yet its themes are quite familiar – especially to women. So often – too often – we do not sense our own inherent, authentic worthiness, but “we are the source,” Shawnee stated.

The photos in her show were taken quite literally after a storm hit Seattle’s western coastline. “The beach was a hazard in the most beautiful way you can imagine.” The images, of driftwood and debris and water, capture this stunning natural phenomenon and, almost miraculously, mirror Shawnee’s sentiment about the power of being a woman, “being both soft and hard at the same time.”

In her painting, Shawnee considers herself a Fauvist, a style acquainted with Henri Matisse and sometimes Frida Kahlo. “It’s similar to Surrealism,” Shawnee explained, “It’s about psychology and spirituality – slapping the pain out there. The ‘lesson period’ – you have to break it to fix it.” Though “After the Storm” does not feature her painting, Shawnee’s photographs (most of which were taken on her Samsung Galaxy Note 3!) have a very Fauvist feel. Many look as if they could be paintings.

A decade after the onslaught of her personal storm, both Shawnee and her art are radiant – oh, imperfect and human, of course – but radiant, without a doubt. “You’re seeing Egyptian women’s heads in driftwood, and you’re like, wow, it’s all good. It’s all beautiful.”

You can see more of Shawnee’s work on April 5th at the Hillman City Collaboratory’s Backstreet Bazaar. The event will also feature the Steve O’Brien Jazz Band and treats by Chefs Ariel & Tarik, plus beer from Machine House. Fun for all ages! Starts at 7 pm.