Shelley Koon

Shelley Koon


Photo: Matthew Koon

Visual Arts: Photography

By: Gail Obenreder

“My great aunt passed away when I was seven and one of the items at her house was…a mint green plastic box camera. I asked if I could have it and spent the summer photographing all of my friends.”

It’s been many years since Shelley Koon excitedly got that old Kodak – her first camera – and shot her first portraits. “My subject matter has shifted back and forth through the years,” along with her processes – from film to digital to computers – but “the excitement of photographing and seeing the images I’ve captured always remains the same.”

Koon grew up in Wood River, Illinois – a small Mississippi river town close to St. Louis, Missouri – and she lived for almost 35 years in the San Francisco area, working as a designer and art director. “Living in California, you don’t go far without seeing the amazing work of Ansel Adams,” who – along with Annie Liebovitz and Herb Ritts – was a constant visual guide. But she finds equal inspiration now in the region’s artists (“some of the most talented I have ever met”), especially reveling in the work of her fellow photographers and their “varied, unique views of the world.”

“Lace,” 2018, photography, 18 x 12 inches
“Liberty,” 2017, photography, 12 x 18 inches
“Infinity,” 2017, photography, 12 x 18 inches

Inspired by a 2001 exhibition at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Koon began to photograph forgotten structures and abandoned buildings, the preponderance of her practice since then. She loves documenting their history (“victory and heartbreak”) and seeing how “Mother Nature likes to quickly reclaim what is hers.” To capture the essence of a place, Koon uses bracketing, taking multiple images of varying exposures and stacking them in processing to enhance the color and create “a broader dynamic range of highlight and shadow.”

One of the challenges of her work is gaining access to these structures: Building owners are often reluctant to let her work in compromised spaces filled with hazards like asbestos, mold and open floors. Koon particularly loves when she can “visit a building that is scheduled to be repurposed,” amazed at what some of the structures can become.

These days she also finds herself drawn to fine art portraiture, “a genre I am looking forward to exploring more deeply.” The Division Fellowship will enable her to expand the content of her practice and also create her own photography studio. Koon has always loved education, taking a plethora of art classes in college and afterwards, and she’s in college again – now teaching photography and design at Wilmington University. “Truly humbled and honored to be recognized as an Artist Fellow,” Koon is also excited to meet other artists and art patrons, “always the best parts of my artistic journey!”

Artist website:

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