Visual Art 8-27-2007

State Fair Winners: Heather Matson, Photography

Heather Matson is the winner in the intensely competitive State Fair Fine Art Show Photography category (this is the category with by far the most entries; hundreds of photographers vie for the few spots available).


What’s the reason you show at the State Fair?

I’ve been entering the Fair Fine Arts competition for six or seven years. I’ve been in it four times, and every time I was amazed that I was accepted. The Fair has always been known as highly competitive and a great honor to even show in for fine art photographers. So I made it my yearly thing to enter.

Have you had any interesting reactions to your work from state fairgoers?

Yes, I have. On preview night I had brought my daughter [the subject of the photo] (who was well
past her bedtime and acting a little wild) to see the print. She has
seen it before but not hanging.

I should go on to say that the image is the morning after we spend
several hours in the ER putting her face together after our family dog
attacked … not bit, but attacked her. I still tremble and tear up
when I talk about or even look at the piece. The dog in the background is
the offender. He was a great dog, but the trust was broken and we
ultimately had to do the responsible thing. He was eventually put
down by our vet after this image was taken. Strangely, my daughter
wasn’t scared of him, and from time to time still asks where he is.
Children are amazing and so resilient.

Anyways… This woman recognized my daughter from the print and struck
up a conversation. She told me how much she was moved by the piece and
congratulated me on the award. She went on to say that she stood in
front of it and cried. She felt our pain. She also went on to say that
my daughter is healing well (which she is, looking amazingly good).

A few people had emailed me, saying things like:

“You know, Heather, the more I look at the picture, the more I realize it is
a very hopeful one. The ‘morning after’ is also the first day on the road to
recovery. That innocent little girl – what a tough little cookie she really

“Yes, I understand creating the picture must have been therapeutic – you had
to force yourself to look at the little face not in the first place as a
mother but more objectively as a photographer. Emotionally you didn’t run
away, and for that you should be very proud of yourself. So now I suppose
all you can do is to be patient and wait for time to heal both the real and
the emotional scars in all of you.”

“What impressed me was the contrast of the clear image of the little
girl against the blurry presence of the dog in the background, like a
ghost; and the contrast of the soft little face and the harsh stitches.
I hope it will all heal nicely; I saw many stitches but they were tiny
– the doctor must have done his very best.

“It must have been traumatic for you and your husband. I hope your
little girl is still young enough that the scary memory will fade soon.
At any rate, you have turned this accident into something very
positive. My compliments and congratulations!”

I have had a lot of negative reaction in the Fair comment book… I feel
these people have jumped to conclusions. Moments before the photo was
taken my daughter was talking to the dog through the screen door. The
fact that there are such strong reactions, positive or negative, means that
the image is hitting individuals very personally and emotionally hard.
That I find very interesting and I am proud to have been able to stir
the same emotions in strangers that my family had experienced. In the end, the reality of life isn’t always fair and easy to look at…

How do you make your work?

I have been working on a “Project Home” project since the winter. This
fit. My concepts so far have just happened. I am just looking to
document my family. In a way, confronting my family’s heavy dramas. Like
my grandfather’s Alzheimer’s and my father’s Hep C, a long history of
drug, alcohol and abuse etc. Happy to say that I have broken the cycle
but I have many emotional scars from my childhood. I have always viewed
art as therapy.

I work digitally now. Many, many years of film, and the health benefits of
staying out of the darkroom, helped my decision. I do, however, work to get
the same feel of film and the darkroom in PhotoShop.

Where do you do your work and live?

I’m a freelance photographer and work from my home and studio, both in
St Paul.

How did you become an artist?

Well, I’ve always been part of the arts ever since I was in school.
Then I went to college for fine arts and here I am today. It’s something I enjoyed, and I stuck with it.

Do you do your art full time?

I am a photographer… wedding, portraits, commercial, etc, etc, etc.

What would you like to tell people about your work?

Creating a sense of memory, mood and beauty is what I have always
worked toward, no matter what project I’m working on.