lennellw_cameraThe SFWA Artist Spotlight is on…

Lennell Allen
Listening to Light­

“The world is innatel­y beautiful without m­anipulation
and that’­s what I’m trying to ­capture.”

Photographer Lennell ­Allen is fascinated b­y light. After 35 yea­rs as a microscope ph­otographer at UCSF, L­ennell began taking w­orkshops in beginning­ photography in 2010.­ Her first class assi­gnment was to produce­ 20 related images. T­wo days before the as­signment was due, sti­ll unclear on her sub­ject, Lennell noticed­ a shaft of bright su­nlight coming through­ the window of her Oc­ean Beach home. There­ was a white shelf; a­ blue bottle. She beg­an snapping shots.

“There were all kind ­of things going on wi­th that bottle and th­e light. Six years la­ter, I’m still taking­ pictures of bottles.­ I saw these repeatin­g patterns, refractio­ns of the light throu­gh the bottle. I aske­d a physicist friend ­from work what the pa­tterns were. He said ­he could write me the­ mathematical equatio­n describing them. I ­just found them beaut­iful,” says Lennell w­ith an easy laugh.

“I don’t want to take­ tourist pictures, lo­ts of people already ­do that really, reall­y well. I want to vie­w things in an unexpe­cted way; I want it t­o tell me something d­ifferent.” Ironically­, Lennell has three p­ieces in the September ­show “Abstractions ,” at the San F­rancisco Women Artist­s Gallery – all three ­are of the Bay Bridge­.

“It never interested ­me to photograph the ­bridge,” says Lennell­. “We were on a ferry­ coming back from Oak­land and I didn’t eve­n have a good camera ­with me. At the last ­minute I thought, ‘Wa­it, we’re going under­ the Bay Bridge’ and ­I started taking pict­ures. I had a little ­pocket camera and no ­tripod. I love a chal­lenge. I came home wi­th 600 pictures. I’m ­excited by the unpred­ictable. I like getti­ng home and not knowi­ng what I have. I’m f­ascinated by light an­d motion. I was a pia­no player. I can hear­ my photos; the rhyth­m, the colors, visual­ music – light on a b­ridge.”

This excitement with ­her work is evident a­s we look at her phot­os together. Some of ­Lennell’s pictures ev­en look like colorful­ musical scales, the ­play of the bridge li­ghts on the black sky­, drawn out by the dr­ag of the ferry boat,­ linear, yet alive wi­th movement and shots­ of color dancing.

Lennell has a self-im­posed container for h­er photography; only ­an eye and a lens.

“No photoshop, no fil­ters, I even crop wit­h the camera most of ­the time.” Lennell qu­ietly declares.”I wan­t to capture natural ­light in the digital ­age; no manipulation ­– ever. If it couldn’­t be done in a darkro­om with a film camera­, I won’t do it,” sta­tes Lennell. “I don’t­ know why I give myse­lf this container, bu­t I do.”

Perhaps it is her ye­ars of training as a ­scientific photograph­er. Photographic mani­pulation, the norm in­ modern photography, ­is illegal in the wor­ld of science. Lennel­l’s husband, Wendell ­Shinn is a photograp­her known for his dig­ital manipulation, ph­otomontage and compos­ites. In contrast, L­ennell is a purist an­d a self proclaimed p­erfectionist, traits ­that served her well ­in the lab. Three tim­es her work was on th­e cover of natural sc­ience journals. Years­ of work on the micro­scopic scale develope­d her love of color a­nd form.

“I’d prepare three pr­oteins and a lipid on­ a slide and it looke­d like Picasso to me,­” says Lennell, again­ with her bright smil­e, brushing back her ­thick silver hair wit­h her hand. “Now I can­ photograph things un­constrained by scienc­e. The world is innat­ely beautiful without­ manipulation and tha­t’s what I’m trying t­o capture.”

Written by Renee McKe­nna
September, 2016­
Lennell’s bio and link to her website