C.a. Shofed: Making the Arts a Force for Good
I don’t remember exactly when I first heard of C.a. Shofed, the fine art photographer, a.k.a. Craig, but I became aware of him through mutual connections. I contacted him by email after seeing his work online, where I found his compositions and usage of saturated color arrested my attention. I asked for an interview, to which he agreed, but I must admit, I delayed in putting it into motion. Then, this past November at the evening festivities after Trenton’s Art All Day, Craig and I formally met and we got up to discussing what we do and our plans for our work. I sensed such a laser-sharp focus and crystal clear view of his dreams that it was something that inspired me in relation to my own work. I instantly became motivated to interview him sooner rather than later. So it was with great pleasure that I present my interview with him.
STM: Craig, Thanks for taking the time out to meet with us so we can find out more about you. I find your photographs to be quite luscious; especially in the way you masterfully handle color in your compositions. I’m excited for this opportunity to interview you.
C.a. S: Thank you Thom.
STM: So, tell me, what are you all about?
C.a. S: That’s quite an expansive question. What am I all about? Let’s see if I can “readers digest” that down to a simple statement. I’m about art and making the arts in my adopted home of Trenton a force for good, using whatever success and skills I have acquired as an artist to help and teach other artists that come after me.
STM: Why do you think art exists in this day and age? What meaning does art have in your life and how did that meaning develop?
C.a. S: Art exists for many different reasons. Simple joy, to give voice to those that don’t have one, to decorate one’s living space. Art exists for whatever reason the viewer or listener that stands before it needs it too. Art means freedom to me. I don’t really know how to answer how that meaning developed for me. Art in some ways has always been in my life in one fashion or another. I think the city of Trenton help me recognize that art meant liberation or freedom for me.
STM: Can you tell me a bit about your history? Were you formally trained? How did you come to be an artist & photographer? And on that note, how do you like to be referred to – artist or photographer?
C.a. S: I’m not a formally trained photographer. I was formally introduced to the arts while working towards a degree in Advertising Design at Mercer County Community College. The base for that degree is Fine Arts. As a matter of fact, one of the first classes I took was on photography. I fell for that art form immediately while taking that class. My decision to become a working artist was made because of the many opportunities to exhibit in Trenton. The other factor was my second kidney transplant. While recovering from surgery I did a lot of creating. In that three-month recovery period I decided I didn’t want to go back to my job. I wanted to be an artist. I call myself an artist or a fine arts photographer.
STM: Some people say that photography is not art or that it cannot be considered the same as art because of its mechanical process. Do you feel that photography is art? Why? What would you say to those who don’t agree with you?
C.a. S: Art is subjective. Some people say RAP isn’t music, some people thought Andy Warhol wasn’t an artist. Yes, of course I think photography is art. If someone, anyone stands before something you create and finds beauty in it or it evokes some emotional feeling for them, it’s art. Even if it’s just one person that feels that way. We don’t have the right to tell anyone what art is to them.
STM: What is it that you most like to photograph? Why? And what do you intend to communicate in your photographs?
C.a. S: I like to photograph things people don’t normally find interesting, such as ordinary objects generally in an urban setting under attack by nature or manmade objects being reclaimed by nature. It’s not often that I’m trying to present a message with my artwork. Whatever scene I capture tells a different story to each viewer. Once I snap and print the picture it no longer belongs to me. It’s a moment for whoever stands before it. It’s more interesting for me to hear the messages or stories my artwork evokes from others.
STM: Tell me about your creative process. What inspires you? What are you looking for that makes you snap the picture at just the right moment?
C.a. S: Well as I mentioned previously, manmade objects in distress or those same objects being reclaimed by nature. Color! Color inspires me. I snap the picture when the drama and the color feels right. Sometimes I’ll see an interesting subject and I’ll come back to it when I feel the mood of the day is correct. I see the picture in my head and wait for the optimal moment to return and take that picture.
STM: In your production you utilize that vivid, saturated color, which first drew me to your work. Can you tell me about the actual process you use to produce these wonderful images?
C.a S: On my camera there is a setting that is called vivid. 90 percent of the time I’m shooting on that setting. That setting produces the “vivid” saturated colors in my photos.
STM: Many people, sometimes even artists themselves have the view that the starving artist’s image is true – of the artist languishing away, starving for the sake of his art. Do you find that to be so? What bearing, if any, does that view have on your efforts in an artistic career?
C.a. S: Art is a career, it’s a choice. It’s harder than most careers because artists are creators not business people. Most don’t know you need to hustle to sell or present your art before an audience. For most it’s just about creation. There is a stigma of selling out if you are successful. All that adds up to the image of the starving artist. At least that’s my theory. Yes, in the beginning you’re a starving artist. You make very little money, but if you keep at it you can make a living in the arts. I think most careers are the same. For me this view has no bearing. I’m an artist and I will be successful at it. I’m not in it to be “starving”.
STM: Did you find it to be relatively easy to get to where you are now in your photographic career?
C.a. S: Was it easy? No. I worked hard and constantly at my craft. I’m where I am because I work hard. I’m always working. When I’m where I want to be it will become easier, I hope. But this journey was made easier because of the supportive community in Trenton.
STM: How have you struggled? And what have been your greatest obstacles? How have your struggles affected your work?
C.a. S: Oh, I’ve struggled. Not having money to get into a show or frame a print, not being taken seriously at first. You need a body of work to get into galleries and museums and you must work hard to build that. I don’t think that struggle has informed or influenced my work, but it’s made me want to help others avoid the pitfalls I’ve had to deal with.
STM: Money, fame, notoriety; Artists always have something they want. What do you want? What is your biggest dream that you want to accomplish with your work? Do you consider yourself to be succeeding in this and why?
C.a. S: I’ll consider myself successful if I make a living wage. I think this year I’ve realized that goal. All the rest is icing. If more money, fame and notoriety come along that will afford me to do bigger projects and most importantly help the artists that come after me. My biggest dream, the thing that drives me is exhibiting at the MoMa.
STM: What was your biggest setback or failure? Where did it take you?
C.a. S: I don’t think in those terms. Mistakes, setbacks, failure are all just opportunities to learn and adapt. Big, small measuring such things in that way is a waste of time in my opinion. I learn and move forward.
STM: To what other activities have your creative abilities taken you?
C.a. S: My creative abilities have opened doors in civic activism. Something I truly didn’t expect.
STM: How important is it for young people to have an arts education?
C.a. S: It’s important for young people to have a well-rounded education. The arts are a part of that.
STM: How do you feel about the opinion that all photographers are born with an “eye” for photography? Do you think a penchant for photography is an inborn talent or is it a skill that is taught and developed?
C.a. S: Yes, I think some photographers are born with an eye for photography. That is not to say that anyone can’t take a photo, but it comes easier for some of us. You can see that in a photographer’s body of work. Something of them is in each piece they take. They have a style. Can that eye be taught? I think it can be honed. Which means sharpening a skill you already had.
STM: Looking back on everything you’ve done, is there anything you’re most proud of?
C.a. S: I’m proud of what my annual art exhibit Common Threads has become. I’ve turned into a showcase for the Trenton art scene in the suburbs where I grew up. I enjoy showing off the talented artists of Trenton. To give an alternate narrative to the one the local papers print every day about Trenton.
STM: On occasion, people who are not artists may ask questions which artists sometimes feel are not appropriate, like “How much do you make from your art?” or “It’s just a print. Why does it cost so much?” How do you feel about those types of questions? How do you answer them?
C.a. S: I don’t get that question very often, if at all. The galleries I exhibit in and the way I’ve marketed myself and my art I think have stopped the pricing questions. At least that’s how I figure it.
STM: What do you want people to know about artists?
C.a. S: We don’t work for free. Our time is precious, just like everyone else’s. Stop coming at us with “It’s great exposure”. We don’t ask you to work for us for free.
STM: On a personal note, what gives you a deep belly laugh? What gets your heart racing? What gives you the most joy?
C.a. S: Standup comedy by Chris Rock makes me laugh hard. Riding my motorcycle has been heart racing and very joyful. I gave up riding motorcycles for over 10 years. I just bought a bike this summer. I forgotten how much I enjoy riding.
STM: Who is “C.a. Shofed”? What is one thing you want people to know about you?
C.a. S: I’m just a guy who happens to be an artist trying hard to be the best human I can be. Oh, and lol It’s Capital “C”, lowercase “a” Shofed.
STM: Where can people find you and your work? Is your work for sale?
C.a. S: My work is for sale. You can find information about where I’m showing or inquiry how to purchase my art at amphorartworks.com.
STM: Craig, this has been great. Thanks for spending some time with us at Studio Tour Magazine!
C.a. S: You are very welcome.