Online Member of the Month: Lesley Payne (Lesleypayne)

7 Online Member of the Month Lesley Payne ( is the quintessential “Iowa girl.” The 27-year-old photographer was raised in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and is a part of a close-knit extended family that lives in the area. Payne has great affection for the Midwest.

“I think I had an idyllic childhood,” she confesses. “I spent the obligatory junior high summers de-tasseling corn, learning that hard labor is not for me.”

When Payne attended nearby Coe College, she’d originally intended to become a ceramics teacher but emerged with a studio arts degree with an emphasis in photography.

“I had never taken photography classes before college but I fell in love with the medium. Photography allows you to capture the world and interact with it in a different way. I’m pretty shy so photography is a kind of buffer, where I don’t have to participate fully but I can capture the experience and keep it,” Payne states.

Upon her graduation in 2004, she decided to remain close to home. Currently, Payne lives in Des Moines, where the local arts scene is still in its infancy. In some ways, Payne feels that she and the city are maturing together.

“Des Moines is a growing arts community, and I am still in the early stages of my professional career so I think we are well suited for each other,” she states. “I attend gallery openings and art walks in the local area. If I have technical stumbling blocks, Curt Stahr, a professor at Des Moines Area Community College, helps work out a solution.”

Living in Iowa has had an interesting effect on Payne’s studio practice. In colder months, the sky is often overcast for long periods of time, washing out the surrounding landscape. For Payne, who shoots in black and white, these annual conditions tend to produce very gray images. Due to the capricious quality of natural light in the wintertime, about 90 percent of Payne’s work is done in the studio at this time. She also develops her own prints in a makeshift darkroom she created in her bathroom at home.

Many artists would feel constrained by these limitations but Payne has simply incorporated them into her creative vision. She finds random objects, sets up the lighting in the studio to give her images dramatic contrast, shoots up close to accommodate the small space and crops down in the darkroom. In her resulting body of work, Payne draws out an unearthly quality from the most ordinary objects by avoiding the easy identification of her subjects and instead exploring texture, form and contrast.

“I enjoy photography because the more successful images allow people to stop and look closer at an object that they would normally breeze by and not give a second glance to. I like bringing that mystery to people’s attention, while the subject is a secret between me and my artwork. Only I know exactly what it was,” she explains.

Although she enjoyed the direction of her previous work, Payne is now looking to challenge herself by expanding her subject matter and technique:

“My work is evolving from the small still-lifes. It still deals with perception like the smaller works, but I am experimenting on a larger scale with mirror images. This body of work is influenced by Rorschach tests. I have more research to do on the tests themselves to see if they will develop into one photograph for each test. I am (also) experimenting with technique. I am working on creating high contrast film images in the development process. The process removes most of the mid-tones, reducing the image to black and white.”

Payne has also been working on a series involving farm houses and another that focuses on cars.

“I’m trying to broaden my horizons to include more than just found objects. I’ve been trying to think of bigger things — larger objects, more common elements — that I could zoom in on and still get the same effect.” AC is the online community for Art Calendar and Artists are invited to create a profile and post an online gallery free of charge, participate in the discussion forum and take advantage of the other services at the site.