Gayle Rothschild: “Photography is more than what is in front of the camera”

Photography is more than what is in front of the camera. The objective is to photograph what you feel, explore the unseen. It is easy to photograph what is there. We had the pleasure to interview with renowned fine art photographer, Gayle Rothschild, a prominent artist in the Washington D.C., and Maryland area. Gayle has been […]

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Photography is more than what is in front of the camera. The objective is to photograph what you feel, explore the unseen. It is easy to photograph what is there.

We had the pleasure to interview with renowned fine art photographer, Gayle Rothschild, a prominent artist in the Washington D.C., and Maryland area. Gayle has been working as a fine art photographer since 1982 after receiving her MFA degree from the University of Maryland. She took her first photography class at Photoworks, an arts hub and community of artists and students, devoted to the art of film and digital photography in Glen Echo Park, where she has worked as a photography instructor since 1983 and has served as the Director of Exhibitions at since 2010! Gayle’s work has been exhibited in many prominent art museums including: The Corcoran Gallery of Art, The Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, Texas, The National Museum for Women in the Arts, and most recently in the American University Museum Katzen Art Center. Her work is included in many museums and private collections around the United States. Most recently, Gayle has been making digital images and printing archival ink jet prints on thick, beautiful Hahnemule Photo Rag matte paper. The paper has a textural quality that adds a dramatic range of tones to the images. Gayle’s photographs range from landscapes and seascapes to photographs of foreign cities and an ongoing series of images of scenes of daily life.

Thank you for joining us in this series. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

In 1975 I received a new 35mmSLR camera as a gift from a friend who was stationed in Okinawa. I enrolled in a basic darkroom class at Photoworks at Glen Echo Park and was hooked- I instantly fell in love with photography. My fervor remains the same today and I’m still affiliated with Photoworks.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

My photographs are narratives. I like to tell a story. A class assignment when I was a student at the Corcoran School of Art in Washington, DC was to bring in a slide that sparked our interest in Photography. I nervously brought in a photo that I had taken of the Elgin Marbles in the British Museum in London. It was a picture of my husband standing next to the bust of a horse with its tongue sticking out. Somehow the angle of my husband’s head and his crooked tie made him resemble the mood of the sculpture. It was a silly shot but I loved it. When the slide was projected on the screen, the class burst out laughing. I was delighted that I was able to tell a joke with a simple photo.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I’m not sure it was particularly funny, but after carefully and nervously rolling my first 4 rolls of film, I inadvertently opened the film canister before processing the film, admitting light and destroying all negatives. It was a most embarrassing situation because it is a very basic rule. I learned that photography is a very precise art form and I became obsessive about giving it my full attention. There was also an assignment I was doing for a local private school where, after a few minutes of shooting, my employer casually mentioned to me that I still had my lens cap on. Oops!

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Much of my work is personal and much of my early work from the late 1970s explored my Jewish identity. During that time I made many portraits of my parents, Polish immigrants, who lived in Far Rockaway, New York for over 60 years. I photographed the neighborhood, many relatives, as well as images of Jewish iconography. These photographs are all silver gelatin prints shot with my Leica M6 film camera using a 35mm f2 lens. When my parents died in 2003 and 2006, there were no more portraits to be made. I began scanning into my computer objects that belonged to each of them. I combined negatives and scans creating digital collages. Those photographs are in the “And She Was” and “And She Was Combined Images” portfolios on my website.

Jean and Irving, Sage Street, Far Rockaway, New York, 1994

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

Keep evolving. There is always something new to see, something interesting going on in the world that needs documenting. Embrace new technologies. Teach, to share your knowledge and perspectives with others. Collaborate with other photographers to share work and ideas. See as many exhibits as possible to keep apprised of what other artists are doing. Submit your work to photography contests.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

I studied with a number of excellent teachers who were instrumental in guiding me to finding my own voice. Two special ones were the late Mark Power at the Corcoran School of Art and John Gossage at the University of Maryland where I received my MFA. The most enriching aspect of my career has been my involvement for over 40 years with Photoworks at Glen Echo Park. It is a photographic resource center where I took my first photography class. I have been working as an instructor there since 1982 and I am the Director and Curator of exhibitions (we launch 10 new exhibits per year) and even have a seat on the executive board. Photoworks’ professional environment encourages and motivates me to keep up with current technology. It affords me the opportunity for regular exchanges with other photographers and like-minded people. It is always stimulating. I am also extremely grateful to my husband whose support and encouragement was crucial in working as a fine art photographer.

Are you working on any exciting projects now?

I am currently working on an ongoing series of landscapes of the C&O Canal and the Potomac River. I began the series in 1991 when I purchased an old Plaubel Makina 6x7W, medium format camera. The larger film was conducive to landscapes and they were all shot in black and white. I began to take digital photography seriously around 2004 and continue to work that way today. Both portfolios are on my website.

Concurrently, like many other photographers, I have been documenting the COVID-19 quarantine, exploring how day to day life feels during these suffocating times. As you can imagine, the project is quite depressing as most of this work is devoid of people.

The silver lining of the quarantine is that it has provided me the time to archive my work. I was delighted to rediscover two portfolio boxes filled with 16” x 20” silver gelatin prints of street scenes from the 1980’s of Washington, DC and suburban Maryland. I have been scanning all of the 35mm and 120mm negatives and posting them on social media. These also can be seen in the “Quotidian Gestures” portfolio on my website.

Ladies Who Lunch, 1983, NW Washington, DC

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I can’t claim that my success has brought goodness to the world at large, but I know it has brought goodness to the people I have worked with, young and old. I have been in charge of the intern program at Photoworks, a program that provides an opportunity for young photographers to work with members of the Photoworks faculty, and to develop their interests in photography and arts management. I strive to always make them feel welcome to ensure that they have a place to belong and to help develop their interest in photography.

Furthermore, the exhibits I have curated have given many artists an opportunity to present their work in a professional venue, which ultimately provides them with a great sense of accomplishment.

I also hope that my photographs that have been purchased over the years are bringing joy to those who own them.

Can you share “5 Things Anyone Can Do To Take Stunning Photos”. Please provide an example for each.

  1. Photography is more than what is in front of the camera. The objective is to photograph what you feel, explore the unseen. It is easy to photograph what is there.
  2. The quality of light is a critical element. You must look for what the light is highlighting. Photography is the study of light.
  3. Know your equipment. Take different shots of the same scene and bracket your exposure and field of focus, i.e.: focus on more than one object in the scene.
  4. Compose carefully. What you leave out is as important as what you include in your frame.
  5. Study the work of accomplished photographers. Visit photography exhibits in galleries and museums. Look at the many photo books that are available.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

Add art to your life! In my career as a photography instructor I have encouraged and inspired many new photographers to pursue the art of photography, both as a career and as a lifelong pursuit. From teens to retirees, the enthusiastic pursuit of this mesmerizing art form has unleashed their creativity.

How can our readers follow you on social media?


Facebook: @gaylerothschildphotography

Instagram: @grothschildphotos

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